Betty Duffy

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Choice

When we were kids, my parents, and pretty much all the parents we knew enrolled their kids in public school without a second thought. As my mom has said before, she knew there were hoods, and there were good kids, and assumed there wasn't much intermingling between the two.

Intermingling, no. But by the time I was in high school there was some behavioral cross-over. It was possible for a hood to get good grades (old news). It was also possible, actually, almost guaranteed that the good kids were drinking and having sex.

So my generation of publicly schooled adults approaches our children's schooling decisions from this perspective: if it was that bad when I was in school, it's probably worse now, with cameras everywhere to record bad behavior and broadcast it to the universe.

Damn. What am I going to do now that I have kids and can't afford private school, and don't feel called to home school?

If I had the answer I'd tell you.

It's this whole business of choice that bothers me--that I am prohibited from being as blissfully confident in my decisions as my parents were allowed to be. Because it's not that I don't trust my kids, or that I don't trust God to guide their life experiences through the more difficult stages of adolescence.

The problem is that I don't trust myself not to be a lousy parent. I don't trust myself to give them everything they need at home, and I also don't trust the world to prepare them well for Heaven. It feels like everything is going to have huge, life and soul-threatening consequences--that there's nothing I can do to minimize or protect them from the suffering of bad choices.

And bad choices are what I made, and what my husband made, and what we still occasionally make, and what our kids, fruit of our loins, stock of Adam and Eve, are also probably going to encounter.

Facing the odds, it's easy to wish for a reprieve from our free-will. Save me from this propensity for bad choices Lord! Save my children!

And we long for a simpler time and place where bad choices are not so easy to make, where procuring our daily bread occupies so much of our waking consciousness that we have no time or energy for sin.

I was talking to my cousin last week, about how sometimes we wish our husbands would come home from work and say, "That's it. We're moving to Haiti to become medical missionaries." We're going to the third world to suffer the sin out of our souls, to scourge away our desire for every stumbling block to Heaven. Because on our worst days, we're not sure we're going to make it.

But maybe lack of confidence and the over-abundance of choice are the particular suffering of the modern Catholic.

I haven't read it, but my cousin told me about a book I need to read called "Consoling the Heart of Jesus." In today's cultural climate, one of the only bright spots is that Christ has declared now a time of Divine Mercy. Perhaps now, more than ever, because of those challenges mentioned above, Heaven is closer than it once seemed.

Perhaps these choices we have to make are not a trial so much as an opportunity to unite our divided hearts to Christ's merciful heart.

One of the supposedly comforting responses I heard to a miscarriage is, "You have succeeded as parents. You have a child in Heaven." But that was not my success. It had nothing to do with my wishes. If it did, the child would be here.

I am not comforted by any hope for my "success" as a parent, but only by the hope that I can say with confidence, "Jesus, I trust in you…" to be where I cannot be, to forgive what I cannot forgive, to comfort sorrow.

When my son was about five years old, he was very curious about Heaven and Hell. I told him that our choices either lead us closer to Heaven or away from Heaven, and our goal is to be as close to Jesus as possible at the end of our lives whenever that may come.

He asked me, "So what if someone's life is a good/ bad pattern that ends on bad?" And I told him, with every confidence, "Then we trust in the mercy of Jesus to save those who can't save themselves." So do I believe that? I have to.

He has only sinners to work with.


Kimberlie said...

That last paragraph is what it's all about as a parent isn't it? We do what we can to help our children to draw closer to Heaven and we trust Christ to make up for our lack. We can't protect our children all their lives from bad choices, just as our parents couldn't protect us from our own bad choices. I think it's my own bad choices that lead me to be so scared that maybe my kids will make some of them as well. Scares me to death and sometimes to tears to think about them doing some of the same things I did. I just really hope and pray that the foundation I am giving them, the foundation that I lacked growing up in only a nominally Christian home, will somehow give them a compass direction to go back to if/when they go off track.

Lord have mercy! I am so not an ideal/good parent and I am so afraid my kids will pay for it.

Julia said...

I think sometimes we get our knickers in knots because we don't clearly see the *good* choice. And the truth of the matter is that sometimes we aren't given good choices. Sometimes we're given a choice between lousy and worse. We ask for guidance, do the best we can, and slog it out. And we reassess as we get new info, and make new decisions. And so on.

Even if we make all the very best choices we can, and turn toward God at every intersection we reach, we won't escape the fact that our children have free will -- as do all the people they meet. Our kids *will* make bad choices. People around them will, too. That's not a what-if, but almost certainly a fact.

And if we've lived out our faith, our kids will eventually recognize their bad choices for what they are, and they will regret their decisions, and they will correct their paths, and make amends and apologies as needed.

If we can teach our children that much about life, and that much about faith, I think we are doing pretty well. Fall. Confess. Make amends. Give thanks. Go on.

Calah said...

Oh, goodness, this post is amazing. I think like this all the time. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this whole post. I think I'm going to print it up and hang it above my bathroom mirror.

Thank you so, so much! I'm really glad to know that I'm not the only one who feels like this.

Erin said...

I think at some point we HAVE to trust ourselves that we've done the best WE know how to do, even if it's "not as good as so-and-so has done." I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, and so long as you give your decisions a good, long, serious thought, then you have indeed done your best. You do your part and meet God halfway, and he'll take the reigns from there.

I say this as a non-parent, but I've heard my parents say the same things many, many times. I've learned a lot from them -- they who sent us to Catholic primary school, homeschooled us through high school, and adopted a 9-year-old boy too. They "been there, done that" so I listen when they talk. They don't consider all their decisions to have been perfect, but they know they did their best, and I absolutely agree. As their child, I have no regrets about my younger life, even though I know it COULD have been different. I would not be the person I am today, had my parents not made the choices they did.

Dawn Farias said...

"that I am prohibited from being as blissfully confident in my decisions as my parents were allowed to be"

I think this a lot, too! Not just regarding schooling, either, but food/diet, tv watching - all of it.

JMB said...

I don't think the world was any better or worse back in the day than it is now. And I think a common mistake that parents make is that they think that they can protect their children from sin. We live in a fallen world.

Back when I was growing up in the 70s, there was porn all over the place. We couldn't even drive into NYC because Port Authority/ Times Square was such a hell hole. Every kid in my hood (Catholic, Prot or Jewish) knew that in Al's Barbershop in the back room were the skin rags. We all smoked cigs and refer with nary a bad conscience. In fact, we would smoke butts on the bus on the way to my all girls private Catholic high school. It didn't help matters that the drinking age was 18, and when they raised it to 19 we would drive 5 miles to upstate NY and drink there.

My parents were good people. They loved us and prayed for us. But they didn't fret over protecting us. Because they knew that ultimately it is our choice. I'm not saying that they didn't discipline us or let us know that they didn't approve of our behavior, they did. But they understood that it was way beyond them. Besides, not all kids do bad stuff. The worst offender in my family was my older brother, who is now a priest. So there. And we were Catholic schooled and public schooled. Prayers and sacraments matter.

MrsDarwin said...

I think it's so key to realize that you do your best, but you just can't keep your kids from sinning. I've seen parents try to prevent their kids from ever falling into sin -- in school matters, in relationships, in everything -- and the results get manipulative and ugly.

Of course, that's not wholly what you're talking about here. Every parental schooling choice comes with payoffs, though: with public or parochial school you might worry about the outside influences your kid is exposed to, but many have been the days with homeschooling where I've seen that my kids seem to pay less attention to me as an authority figure since they see my little flaws and failings all day long. They know when I can be distracted by the computer, and when I can be ignored. They know when I'm so tired of hearing them squabble that I'll toss them in front of a glowing screen. They know there's no higher authority figure around here for me to resort to, until Dad comes home, and that's not for HOURS.

I think as a homeschooling parent you do sacrifice some of your parental authority because you're undertaking the educational journey together.


I all your comments, here or at Bearing's or my place. Have you ever thought about starting your own blog?

MrsDarwin said...

That should read: "JMB, I love all your comments..."

BettyDuffy said...

I agree, it is time for JMB to start a blog.

Young Mom said...

I don't trust myself to be the perfect parent either, that's one fo the reasons I am not interested in homeschooling. I have so much anxiety about the whole thing, after growing up homeschooled over protected and manipulated. I don't think that homeschooling would be a good choice for my parenting.

Dawn Farias said...

I suspect that part of the reason why parents today (myself included) are tempted to overprotect is because our poor parenting is blamed when the kids do eventually go bad.

And if only the poor parenting could be changed into good parenting, then none of the bad would happen.

JMB said...

Mrs. Darwin & Betty,
How do you start a blog? I am such a luddite in these matters. I am also very shy - I feel like JMB is a secret me, I don't know if I'd like it if people figured out who I was - I am very quiet on my FB page. But thank you! I love your blogs.

BettyDuffy said...

JMB, It is very easy to start a blog. Go to blogger, and follow the prompts. I'm telling you--I know how to do nothing on computers but this. And the first post is always the hardest. But once you get going, I don't know how to describe this, except to say it's like buying an expensive article of clothing. If you wear it twice, the price per wear cuts in half. And so on. Same with blogging. Each post you write is...less costly--because you have this whole body of work invested to back you up. Change your name if you want and leap in.

Dawn, I think you made a good point. We know technically that our kids have their own free will, but we've assimilated some aspects of the mommy culture wars that says your worth as a mother depends on how your kids turn out. It's probably a little bit true--but it only goes so far. And I hate that there's a twinge of vanity in there, that my worth depends on their success. But the other side of that, is that I really do ONLY hope that they go to Heaven, and I suppose that means I have to accept it if one of my kids becomes a convict or a coke-head if that's the catalyst for his deep interior conversion to Christ.

Young mom--I have not felt called to home school either. And by that I mean that I recognize my weaknesses in a lot of areas--without negating my strengths in others. Nevertheless, I tried it this year with one of my kids who has a learning disability and who was having trouble at school. I'm glad we did it, and it was a nice experiment, but over the big picture, I don't think I've done him any huge favors. What it comes down to, is that I can't save him educationally or spiritually, really. He needs some real professionals in his life. And his friends. He really misses them.

MrsDarwin said...

JMB, blog anonymously! As you know, MrsDarwin ain't my real name, nor does Betty go by Betty (though I call her that in person anyway).

Dawn Farias said...

Anonymous blogging is a good idea! Go for it!

I think I'd be a better blogger if I was doing so anonymously. I would take more risks and be more truthful, I think. I'd definitely be more interesting.

Anne said...

Way back when in my earlier days of parenting, I struggled like you, wanting to send my kids to Catholic school but unable to afford the tuition. My mother-in-law said, "Any school can be a good school as long as you're involved." I took her words to heart, enrolled my kids in public school and practically attended with them, I was so involved.

Later, we sent them to Catholic school, not because the public school was bad, but because they so badly wanted it. How do you say no to kids who ask for a Catholic education?

But now, with my oldest three in public high school and doing well, and my youngest two still at the Catholic grade school, we find ourselves once again in over our heads financially and are seriously considering public school once again for the babies (5th and 7th grade next year.)

It's hard contemplating going back, feeling a bit like a failure, knowing that my kids are so happy where they are but also knowing that somehow they will survive the change.

Educational decisions for our children are really some of the toughest we make in life, aren't they? I guess all we can do is muster up the strength to support our babes through the tough times and then lean heavily on God, as always, to do the rest.

Best to you and your family as you "choose" your educational paths for your children.

melanie said...

My kids all go to public school- albeit a small, pretty special place. They are SO FAR thriving and still very decent people. I am very involved- last two years been pres. Of our PTO. Only stopping because I am having another baby- my fifth this side of heaven ( careful when you say that "healing" prayer I talked about in an earlier comment :-)) anyway, funny story, when it was time for my third to go to his first confession, we had a talk about sin, and what are his sins etc. And I was giving him various examples of sin and we were running down the list and it turns out he's not that sinful, BUT, he said to me, well, I think about doing those things all the time, I just don't actually do them. I almost died trying not to laugh. So, you know, it is what it is. I just pray a lot for my kids, that they'll keep the faith inspite of me. That makes me feel better!

Elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for writing this post. It spoke to me in every way. Although we do homeschool, I mostly find myself questioning so many of my hs'ing choices so really, now I'm forced to make just as many decisions as I would were my kids in school. Oh bother...
But I really wanted to say that reading "consolling the heart of Jesus" was one of the best life choices I have ever made. I have such a devotion now to St. Faustina and her humble heart. I also have a relationship with Christ that I've never had. One of my favorite stories about St. Faustina is when a sister living in her convent asked her to ask Jesus whether or not a certain sin weighing on her had been forgiven. When Faustina brought this question to the Lord, He told her that it wasn't the sin that saddened him. It was the fact that this nun had no faith in his mercy, that His dying on the cross was not enough for her. That gave me a perspective of my own life I have never had before. His Mercy is endless and vast as the sea... I'm so glad for that!!
I would highly recommend the book!