My parental responsibility

My parental responsibility

I’ve come to the realization that much of what we as a Church and a society do for children assumes a certain kind of abdication of duty (or even ignorance of such) by parents. Now, let me pause here and say that this is neither a criticism of parents or of those who engage in these practices. This is more about larger trends than about anything observed as the actions of any particular people.

Let’s start with an example. At some point in the past 40 years, as a Church we started the trend of children’s Masses. In some places this means music directed at children; or the children receive a special Liturgy of the Word with Scripture paraphrased into simpler language; or they are called up to the sanctuary where they sit around the homilist and the homily is directed at them. But why must this be so?  The way it should work is that the homilist speaks to the whole congregation, not just the kids, and then the parents spend the week breaking open that word for their own children. And eventually the children grow to understand and appreciate the Mass and Scripture and homilies for what they are.

I’ve always thought that the danger of “personalizing” the Mass for particular identity groups — children, teens, young adults, Charismatics, divorced, gays, etc.— was that it trains people to believe that a more universal expression of the Mass is not for them. When the 18-year-old who has spent the last four years going to rock-and-roll, skit-filled youth Masses where it’s all about him, what happens when he goes off to college or into the world and is presented with a regular parish Mass? Will he determine that it’s just not for him anymore? Have we fallen into the marketing demographic trap?

But back to my original point: It’s not just the Mass where the Church assumes parents aren’t doing the job. Safe-environment programs do that too. Schools make similar assumptions. I’ve heard more than one public school union apologist claim the need for one or another ideological indoctrination programs — like homosexual-education curricula—on the grounds that parents can’t be trusted to educate their own children “properly” or even that parents can’t be trusted not to be hurting their own children. Or that parents can’t choose where to educate their own children, whether in private schools or homeschooled, because they can’t be trusted to know what’s best for the children.

Our political leaders do the same thing. Recall Bill Clinton’s famous moment of truth in which he revealed that he wouldn’t follow through on his promise for a middle-class tax cut because we couldn’t be trusted to “spend it right.”

We’ve fallen into the trap of ceding these responsibilities to others and failing to demand that our rights as autonomous citizens and parents be respected. We’ve got to start taking our own duties as Christians, as Americans, as parents, as men and women seriously and stop abdicating them to others, no matter how well-intentioned they are.


  • “We’ve got to start taking our own duties as Christians, as Americans, as parents, as men and women seriously and stop abdicating them to others, no matter how well-intentioned they are.”

    I think this last sentences sums up so much of the whole problem. It’s the good intentions (you know, the ones that pave the way to you-know-where) that create a lot of the problem. There are actually a lot of parents (too many) who actually want (if not outright expect) things to be handled by other people—in school or religious education. Our children attend public school, but we keep a very close eye on the presentations and have a good working relationship with the teachers and principal. We’re blessed with people who “get it” in terms of how to handle sensitive subject and don’t rush what kids are ready for (or should be handled in home). Our school hall currently has a display of religious items: advent wreath, nativity scene, menorah, and lights from Diwali. 
    Our parish is in another school district and they had to have an organization to fight homosexual teaching down to 6 or 7 year olds.
    I teach in our parish religious education program and too many families assume that all they have to do is drop the kids off, pick them up, and maybe attend a couple parent meetings. But we even get complaints about the few meetings!
    Sorry to ramble, but it’s the “well intentioned” part that gets me. Just because someone has a good intention does not automatically mean that they are working in the best interest of your family. But good intentions have a way of becoming policy or procedure. I don’t want my kids to be bullied or become bullied, obviously I don’t want them at risk of a predator, and I don’t want them to discriminate against others—BUT, that does not mean that every program, video, or activity that comes down the pike against these things is necessarily what I want them to see! There are ways to handle these issues (for parents, for a parish, and for a school). But you have to keep an eye on what your kids are being exposed to—even the things with “good intentions.”
    Sorry to be so long—your post just sparked a couple separate responses.

  • I can’t agree more. We are facing this problem head on right now with our kids and the parish “children’s liturgy of the word” (which is currently being used to practice for the Nativity play…but let’s not get into THAT now). Our kids don’t go, and though no one has said anything to us, our kids watch the others leave and feel left out. It is hard to explain in a way that doesn’t hurt someone. I don’t want my kids feeling or acting “holier than thou”, nor do I want them feeling that they are somehow missing something great and resenting their time at Mass. The practice not only breaks up families during Mass (when parents need to be whispering in ears and calming wiggly legs), but it puts parents who are trying to teach their kids about the Mass at odds with the rest of the parish.
    It is one of those area in which I feel like the Church has really dropped the ball and left me hanging…while I try to do what the Church teaches and be my child’s primary educator.

  • The prime examples of what you are discussing are religious education and sexuality education.  If parents are the primary educators, then these programs should be optional and designed as supplements to what is done at home—but the general assumption is that these programs are all that is necessary.  WRONG.  But if you do a good job at home and want to opt out because the instruction is lousy, you can find yourself branded as wanting to keep your kids ignorant. 

    This phenomenon occurs in conjunction with religious ed programs and diocesan programs as well as secular ones.  As a diocesan educator, I fight this mentality in myself all the time.  As a parent, well, I fight this mentality all the time…

  • When I look at reading levels in this country, graduation rates, juevenile crime rates, and early drug use – not to mention the bad behavior I personally see displayed by many children and adolescents in restaurants, airplanes, churches and malls, I think there is reason to believe that many parents are failing their children. In that respect, shoud we be surprised that the Church and other institutions behave as though parents can’t be trusted to some degree?

  • Sadly, there are too many parents who don’t know HOW to be parents or for some reason think that it’s better to be a friend than a parent. I’ve actually had parents tell me that they can’t say “no” to their children, or they just don’t know how to correct their kids’ behavior. People are amazed that we limit our kids’ TV watching and video game time. I had one parent say that their kids “wouldn’t stand for it”! Some people just don’t even consider that TV and games in children’s bedrooms (with near constant access) is a bad idea.  I’m not pretending it’s easy – we have a son with issues who is very difficult to discipline at times, but we never forget that we are the parents!

  • The children’s Mass is far older than forty years, though under a different form. In parishes with parochial schools, children all went to the same Mass, usually separate from their parents and other family members, and sat by class with their teacher (almost always religious women). Children were in the front pews and everyone else sat behind. Certain devotions were done both before and after Mass. I don’t recall if the homily was directed to us, but it was certainly dealt with throughout the week in religious education classes.

    The idea that parents had a primary role in the religious education of their children is something that comes from Vatican II. It was the parish—through parochial schools—that had the responsibility. This is probably why it is so hard to convince parents that they have any role in it—let alone the primary one.

    Religious education prior to the Council gets mixed reviews. While the Baltimore Catechism was a useful common text, it was often “supplemented” by the teachers who engaged in all kinds of extravagant (heretical) teaching. I still remember being told that if I bit down on the Host—or if it even touched the side of my tooth—my mouth would fill up with blood.

  • While the children’s Mass may be older than forty years, it is not much older than this century. As Phil Lawler showed in his book, the root causes of so much that has gone wrong since 1965 are found in the decades before. In other words, the institution was not healthy long before the rot was visible.

    Actually, the primacy of parents is not from Vatican II, but it was generally ignored for a long time.

  • In my experience the kids Mass, the folk Mass, the teen Mass, are all potentially ripe for liturgical abuse, because somehow they are not considered as serious as “regular” Mass. And really, they aren’t as serious as even a “low” Mass—how can they be, with all the other changes in the service.  Fortunately no one in my house, not even my 6 y.o., wants to get up for 9 a.m. on Sunday for the kids Mass. We do Saturday p.m. or the higher Mass later Sunday morning.  She’s fine at either one.

  • As far as I’m concerned, we come to Mass as a family and we will remain at Mass as a family – together! I’m not splitting up my family because someone thinks they can do a better job instructing my children than I do.

    That said, my brother’s girlfriend is a social worker in Miami. She works with teenagers who get in trouble with the law. She says what saddens and upsets her the most is how many of the parents simply don’t care. When the kids need to go through a program, the parents’ response is generally along the lines of “Do I need to be here for this?” So I understand that there are parents who simply don’t get the job done and, as a community, we all need to do what we can to help them and their children.

    But why assault ALL children with sex ed? Why ask ALL children to attend a children’s version of the Liturgy? Why use a blanket repair policy for everyone instead of simply directing it at those who really need it? Is it fear of type-casting or something? I don’t get it but I won’t let me children fall into the net if I can possibly help it.