It all starts at home

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The consequences of human sexuality’s misuse have always had far-reaching effects, particularly on recent public display through the sex abuse crisis in the Church, the burgeoning #metoo movement and the Supreme Court nomination. It has been hard not to feel somewhat helpless as a parent of young children.

What kind of world am I sending them into? What kind of church environment will they experience? What can I do to protect and prepare them? Who will they be able to look to as role models for healthy relationships?

As I’m sure many of you can relate, during the early teen years, I was moved by an idealistic desire to “change the world,” to “seize the day” and make my life have lasting legacy.

Once I had kids, I realized that they were my best bet, my golden ticket to fulfill those desires.

And watching these “crises of sexuality” in the Church and culture at large, my husband and I have doubled down our intentional efforts to teach our children about self-respect and respecting others. We are getting more and more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with our teenage son, leaving no topic on sex and relationships in the dark.

Surprisingly, or not, the reasoning that seems to resonate the most with the kids is that we treat others with dignity, respect and kindness because Jesus is in that person, because Jesus is in them. We try to give them a sense as siblings of protecting and nurturing each other. We try to be examples of healthy communication and affection in our marriage. I try to physically connect with each child in a positive way. Of course, it’s easier with little ones who want to snuggle and can fit on my lap, but a meaningful hug for my 14-year-old helps him fill his need for healthy connection, too.

And like every family, our good intentions aren’t always good enough. We raise our voices, we lose our patience, we say things we regret and we fall short more times that we want to admit. But that is real life. And when we we apologize and forgive each other – saying specifically what we are sorry for, looking each other in the face – and we remind ourselves and each other that every day is a new day. And we bring God’s forgiveness into the equation, reminding ourselves and the kids that he is always ready to forgive, give us his grace to get up and keep moving.

Our parish high schoolers recently attended a Christian chastity event. During the parent session, it was reaffirming to hear statistics that show parents, not peers, are most influential for their child’s sexual values. But I was disappointed to hear the basic message to the students reduced to “abstinence until marriage.”

There was a broader focus of honoring God with your body and mind, but it disconnected when the young man presenting talked about the commitment ring and what it represented. He said not to take it off until your wedding night. But, breaking into a line of “Let’s Get it On,” he casually continued, then you let your bad selves do whatever they’d been wanting to.

I had hoped I misunderstood. When I approached one of the leaders to ask – feeling like the message lost all credibility at that moment, especially when he joked uncomfortably and then said the same thing in different words – she assured me that the kids need to hear things in their own language.

I shared my hope that we could our Christian youth to a higher standard.

I was glad for the kids who needed that basic first message. There was a full auditorium and, for many, it could have been very influential – at least for those who weren’t slouched down, fiddling on Snapchat and Instagram. I digress.

But, I was ecstatic when my son told me the same casual comments seemed off to him, and that the kids from our parish group were all sharing similar confusion. Many of the kids on the way home expressed their desire to learn more about the Catholic view of sexuality.

I applauded our CRE and shared the experience with Chris Hurtubise. At local and diocesan events and through catechesis – especially when it’s being backed up at home – our kids are getting it. They are assimilating what they are learning. But we need to remember that it’s not the Church leaders’ responsibility – in fact, many of them need our witness – it is ours as parents to help them find the alternate message our kids as asking for.

That there’s more to chastity than just abstinence. That sexual purity isn’t about not crossing a certain line of behavior. That a fuller understanding of how our bodies are made in God’s image and likeness goes beyond unleashing yourself in marriage.

The breadth and depth of Catholic sexual morality – the Theology of the Body – is something our kids want. They are asking for it and for more of it. They want a different message than the world gives them – and parents, if we’re not participating in the conversation, what they hear at Catholic youth encounters will only go so far.

At the recent Fall Conference, two things Bishop Ricken said underlined for me that my efforts at home were the right ones. First, he reminded catechists that they cannot let parents shirk their responsibility as their children’s first educators in the faith. Second, and this was a concluding point, that “this is the age of the laity.” I know we have many, many holy and dedicated priests and bishops – but the real changes in our culture will happen only if they start at home.

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