February 10 was our anniversary of coming into the church. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already. In a way, it seems so recently, yet in a way I feel more and more as though I have been home for a long time. The more I learn to live the Catholic faith the more I realize that my entire life was leading me to this point.
Lately I have been contemplating how the teachings of the Church inform child rearing. I was raised a certain way, with certain standards that we were expected to attain and certain discipline techniques to help us get there. Then there was the theoretical motivation for the techniques my parents were attempting to live up to. This in turn was developed in part by certain doctrines and beliefs about God, man, sin and salvation. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the doctrines anymore, and it is difficult to separate the child raising techniques from their antecedents in philosophy and Protestant theology.
For example, as a former Calvinist, “total depravity” factors largely into the way children are perceived and has a huge influence on what is expected of children, even in infancy. I know not a few Calvinists who started spanking their children at a few weeks old, seeing persistant crying as wilfullness and therefore sin. Many would recoil in horror and call this child abuse, even many fellow Calvinists, but there is no denying that the underlying belief in man’s utter sin and misery from the moment of conception, unable to do any good and inclined only to evil, is a major contributor to this kind of end result.
The pastor of the Presbyterian church we used to attend actually sent me (and as far as I know still sends out to new mothers) a series of letters each time a new child was born. One of these letters was on the topic of schedule vs. demand feeding. The pastor advised mothers to immediately put their babies on a schedule, and warned against demand feeding, because the child must learn from its earliest days that the world does not revolve around him. Giving in to the child’s every request for food is merely teaching him to be selfish.
In contrast, from what I understand, it is Catholic belief that sin cannot occur until there are also present certain mental faculties as well as a level of maturity and understanding that one is doing something morally wrong (I believe, beyond simply knowing that he was told “no” but also reaching past this to the concept of morality.) This is commonly referred to as the age of reason. And, it is said that a child cannot actually be guilty of sin until this age of reason (not defined in years, as far as I know) is achieved. This must have serious implications to discipline and training, mustn’t it?
Not to mention sacramentology completely changes the picture as far as baptized infants are concerned. While the Church does teach that man is conceived and born in sin, the Catholic position is that baptism washes away sin and provides regeneration. Thus, from baptism on, a child is actually not totally depraved, but a recipient of the graces of his baptism. Therefore we must not expect to see only the effects of the natural, sinful nature, but also the effects of his regeneration.
And just for another example of far-reaching consequences of theology in this area, a Catholic friend (also convert from Presbyterian background) was just telling me that she thought a lot of the strict disciplinarian type homes where there is justice and not a lot of mercy, is due to the fact that Mary has no place. She softens the impact of discipline justly due us by interceding for us just as our own mothers were inclined to do. This opens up a whole separate line of thought, since where I come from, a mom is supposed to feel guilty for “covering up” for her children to Daddy, or giving them a second chance and not telling on them. This kind of behavior, quite natural in a mother, was either overlooked and swept under the rug, or else seen as “undermining” the authority of the father who was trying to bring order and teach his children to have character. Is this the right way to look at it, or is it actually something to be praised in a mom that she has this instinct to cover? Is it something in which we are to emulate our Blessed Mother?
So, I’m open to your opinions on this topic and related issues. Any thoughts, comments or conversation starters? Books, tapes or experts to recommend? Experiences to share?