Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Religion and Children

I grew up catholic, married a catholic and am raising children in the catholic faith. My son recently completed a year of religious education and we were confident he was studied up on the basics. Then this happened...

One afternoon he and his friend (who happens to be Jewish) were having a play date. I noticed them casually chatting about Jesus on the Cross (a figure in my son's room). I didn't catch much except how they both explained that they knew exactly who Jesus was. 

That night we had a large function at church. As a packed church was winding down, my little guy leans over and very excitedly asks "Mom, are we Jewish?" He spoke almost in a tone of I know we are, I'm just asking. I casually answer, "No, we're catholic." In my head I'm thinking: Duuuhhh?!? I'd never say that part aloud.

The look on his face was one of complete shock and disappointment. He went on and on... "WHAT? We're not Jewish?!? I want to be Jewish!" I was trying to quiet him down at this point and not laugh in his face! Mind you, we were right smack in the middle of church with a room full of Catholics! 

I leaned in and tried to get him to whisper just as he was ready to cry. I followed up, "Honey, we're catholics, but you can grow up to be whatever you want." "But why??" he continued! "Well, mom and dad are catholic." His response:  "I WANT TO BE JEWISH!

My son eventually got over how he and his best bud came from different religions. I knew at his age this wasn't a matter of his actual religion. He wanted to be so much like his best friend who he had already bragged to about being Jewish, too. Kids want to belong so desperately though this obviously doesn't mean we convert every time we change best friends. 

We all eventually processed this together. His friend's mom and I even thought we could teach each other's boys about Catholicism and Judaism. I felt it was all very open-minded of us. I was especially surprised at my sincerity when I said, "You can grow up to be whatever you want to be." Faith of any kind is accepted in our home so long as our children are truly happy with who they are or what they decide to believe in religiously.

My mother would completely disagree with me. I grew up in a devoutly catholic household that talked more about how you NEVER convert rather than how to PRACTICE true catholic values. My mother's constant faith was such a wonderful example of devotion and it still remains that way to this day. She's a true die-hard. I love her that very way. Yet I don't believe my children must remain Catholic simply because it's what we've been raised as generation after generation. Yes, I am Catholic. I practice my faith, but I will not expect my children to grow up and remain Catholic if they don't want to be. 

Love and gratitude is of most importance as is personal happiness. Every now and then we sit back and chuckle thinking of the time my son demanded to be Jewish in the middle of Catholic mass. As he gears up for year two of Catholic studies, he's clear that his family is Catholic. This doesn't mean he can't grow up and change that. We accept each of our children as they choose to be so long as they're on a healthy and happy path decided on by THEM.

Do you agree? 

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