Worrying About PK Syndrome

Heading back from the last of our diocesan Roman Missal workshops on Tuesday, a fellow diocesan director shared a story that confirmed a fear I’ve had for some time: that Preacher’s Kid Syndrome (the tendency for the children of Protestant ministers to rebel against the faith) is alive and well in the Catholic Church.  Of course, in the Church, it’s not the children of ordained ministers we need worry about, but the children of lay ministers working in parishes and dioceses. This director’s son no longer practices the faith, at least in part because of his experience seeing his father let go from a diocese for no other reason than the bishop wanted to “move in a new direction.”

This is something I’ve worried about for my own children. I’ve worked for the the Church in one way or another since I was 18 — full-time since I was 22, shortly before our oldest was born. Anyone who has worked for the Church knows that it isn’t the perfect, holy workplace that you might expect. The Church is full of sinners, and I’ve seen plenty of bad management, poor HR practices, and institutional politics to back up that truth.

Will my children be able to hold on to the faith while exposed to the very human side of the institution? Many of the DREs and other lay ministers I encounter talk about having children who have walked away from the faith. How many did so because of the  cognitive  dissonance between the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” and watching their parents struggle to work with other sinners on behalf of Christ?

I’d be interested to know if the National Association for Lay Ministry  or any other organizations have ever tackled this question: keeping our children in the faith when they grow up so close to the institution. There could be some real value in having some conversations around those sorts of close-to-home topics.

Thoughts for a New Father

My best friend and his wife recently found out that they will be welcoming their first child into the world this spring. At his invitation I sent him the following thoughts about fatherhood, having endured loved it through nine years and four kids. The remarks have been edited to remove personal information.

#1 – Congratulations! You are no longer in control of your own destiny.

Here’s the thing: you are now 100% responsible for another human being in this world. You have established a relationship that, short of death, cannot be severed or broken. (And I’m not even sure death breaks it.) You have to make sure that this little person is fed, cleaned, clothed, educated and loved. Every decision you make from here on out will have to include this as part of the equation — everything from “Should I take this new job” to “What type of milk do I buy for the family?”

So forget about the myth of the autonomous individual making his way in the world. It’s not true to begin with, and now that you have a child it’s even less true.

(By the way: Your wife is 100% responsible, too. It takes 200% to raise a child.)

#2 – You will be amazed at what you will endure for your child.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: within the first year of your child’s life you will be graced with the following bodily fluids flowing from your child onto your person: urine, poop, vomit, regurgitated milk, mucus, and a couple I still haven’t identified. If you have a boy, you’ll get it within six months. (Our oldest was so consistent about trying to pee on us that we had our own little maneuver when changing him: we’d take his diaper off, then immediately use it to cover him back up because you could be sure that as soon as fresh air hit him there would be a stream shooting up.)

The thing is, you won’t care one bit. I know I was worried about how I would handle these things, but the first time our oldest looked into my eyes, smiled, and vomited all over my shirt, I didn’t give it a second thought because I was so much more concerned about him and how he felt. The “oh-my-God-my-child-just-unhinged-his-jaw-and-spewed-on-my-leather-upholstery” reaction gets pushed out of your mind because you’re so focused on making sure that your child’s OK.

#3 – The most important thing you can do for your child is put your wife first.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that your relationship with your wife is more important than your relationship with your child. It only takes a few minutes on Google to find statistics on how divorce and broken families screw over kids in major ways. You and I are both fortunate enough to come from families that, despite lots of trials and tribulations, have remained intact. I don’t know about you, but seeing my friends who have parents who are divorced, I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Not that they aren’t decent, well-adjusted people, but I also know that they’ve had to endure a lot more crap in their lives than I’ve had to, even given my family issues. Having an intact family has been a great blessing in my life.

One of the promises I made to myself when my first child was born was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that he had that same advantage. Which, ironically, means that I invest more in my relationship with my wife than with the kids. Which, again, isn’t to say that I come home, throw some food into their room and say goodnight. But I want my kids to know that I love their mother and that they are a result of that love — and are loved as a result.

#4 – Decide now what your values are.

This is important for two reasons: a) so that you can pass on your values to your children, and b) so you know where you priorities are. The first is pretty straight forward: start thinking now about the lessons you want to impart to your child so that you won’t be reacting later on to lessons he’s learning somewhere else. (Children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment, whether you mean them to or not. This was hit home to me the first time my oldest started talking about Star Wars, even though I had never tried to intentionally pass it on to him.) And start thinking about what values you will and won’t allow into your house (via tv, the internet, etc.).

The second is a little more subtle. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the things that I have to give up in order to be a halfway decent father. There are so many conferences, classes, and other opportunities out there that I would love to participate in that, if given the chance, I could be gone every other weekend. But I know (and my wife reminds me) that doing so would be a very bad thing for the family. So we compromise and work out what things I do and what I don’t.

The point here isn’t that I’m “paying the price” for putting my family first, but that my wife and I make those decisions together. If she thought we could maintain a happy home life together even if I was gone more often, then I’d be packing a lot more suitcases. But that’s not a decision I can make on my own. By talking through our values and how we’re going to put them into practice, she gives me a level of accountability that keeps me from doing anything to the family that would compromise my stated values. That’s a good thing.

Children and Church

As the father of four children (ages 8 1/2 years to 4 days), Beth Lewis Samuelson’s reflections on children in church resonates with me:

What does a child-tolerant church look like? First, the church ”and all of us, really ”must remember that where there are women, there are children. Today, with the widespread use of birth control and the prevalence of abortion services, the bittersweet burden of motherhood is no longer seen in the wider culture as a normal phase of life, but rather as a lifestyle option. As a result, many people don’t wish to be inconvenienced by children, who are seen as someone else’s “choice,” not the collective responsibility of (in this case) the church community. At an infant dedication ceremony, the entire congregation enters into a covenant with the parents to help raise the child to love and serve the Lord. That is what I remember hearing as a child, as I sat with my parents through many a long church service.

In a child-tolerant church, families with small, squirmy children are truly welcomed, not separated and exiled. An infant’s vocalizing, a dropped toy, the movement of a restless child in a pew ”all are viewed with tolerance, if not sympathy. Parents whose small children start to scream get up and take them to the cry room or the church foyer. The few moments of noise as a child is carried out are endured by the congregation and politely ignored. No one enjoys the disruption, of course, but all are mindful of having been in the same position or, at least, that all are called to “suffer little children to come unto me.”

I’m aware that, when I was young, my parents went to separate Sunday liturgies and kept my sister and I at home. While I am sympathetic to those who wish to spare others from distractions during Mass, my wife and I decided early on that we would take our children and celebrate the Eucharist as a family. Even on Sundays when my wife sang with the choir we would attend an earlier service as a family.

The bottom line for me is: children who are baptized members of the Church have every right to participate in her liturgical celebrations, just as any adult. I can’t imagine that anyone would ask an elderly person with severe Parkinson’s disease to leave because they constituted a distraction; nor would we expect a couple caring for an older mentally handicapped child to do so. So why we expect children to be tucked safely in a cry room or nursery is beyond me.

We must welcome all members of the Body of Christ. Christ suffered and died for all — even the toddler throwing Cheerios at the back of your head during the Gloria.

“I just don’t want to be limited by anything.”

This may well be the mantra of our age. It describes our attitude towards everything from food to television, children to transportation. (In fact, the direct quote above came from a recent episode of This Week in Tech during a conversation about bandwidth caps.) It is a message reinforced by the television we watch, the magazines we read and the ads that appear in both: get more, eat more, exercise more, have more fun. More. More.

What this attitude fails to realize, of course, is that we are finite beings. Despite what we are told in ads, we cannot “have it all” — and even if we could, how would we find the time or energy to enjoy it all? Imagine how difficult it would be to keep track of it. (To say nothing about the taxes!)

We have perverted free will — and our language to describe it — to such an extent that we put bandwidth caps and children in the same category as obstacles to our freedom. This is a gross failure to make some fundamental distinctions about authentic happiness and freedom, and one need only look at our culture to see that we are the poorer for it.

A Good Childhood

An interesting new study out of England blames the break-up of families — and the cooresponding damage inflicted on children — on the “enlightened” self-interest of parents:

The wellbeing of millions of children across Britain is being damaged by adults’ aggressive pursuit of personal success, a three-year inquiry by the Children’s Society concluded today.

The society “ a charity allied to the Church of England “ blamed the problems of young people on “a belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others”.

It said this “excessive individualism” was the cause of high rates of family break-up, unhealthy competition in schools, unprincipled advertising and acceptance of income inequality that left millions of children living in poverty.

(h/t: First Things)