Although I was raised a devout Catholic — none of this Easter-and-Christmas-only business for us, we were in the front pew every single Sunday — I’ve not been to a religious service in years and, other than Passover Seders with family, I’m not sure my kids ever have. In general, I firmly believe this is a good thing. I certainly don’t forbid them from going to church and, if they were interested in going, would definitely facilitate that, but, for the most part, I think they’re much better off spending Sunday mornings in swim lessons than in church. And yet, as a parent, I recognize that there are some benefits to raising church-going kids that I’m missing.
First off, there’s the whole sitting still for an hour during the service. I know that, in some churches, the kids are diverted off to a more kid-friendly service or some sort of Sunday school, but when I was growing up, we were right there with the grown-ups for the entire mass. We learned very quickly to be able to sit still and amuse ourselves without moving more than a finger or two. I am highly skilled in twiddling my thumbs, even to the point of being able to circle each thumb in a different direction at the same time. I can sit in a room and imagine the chandeliers are hovercraft waiting to be untethered from their chains and flown off to fight the alien invasion. I can suffer through the most inane meetings and presentations without losing my smile, all because of all those Sunday mornings spent in church.
I’ve worked hard to make sure my kids can behave properly in such situations, be it a church service, a concert, or official ceremony, but I can’t say it has been easy. I think that weekly practice sessions would have made it much simpler, especially with the threat of eternal torture in hell for misbehaviour hanging over their heads — not to mention my mother’s wrath (admittedly, the more fearsome punishment.)
Speaking of the fires of hell, that’s another benefit of religious parenting I’m somewhat envious of. While I understand the psychological damage that telling kids that if they make a mistake they’ll burn for all eternity, I think that, as a punishment, it carries a fair bit more weight than sitting on the stairs, taking away their computer/television privileges, or even the ultimate punishment in our house, calling their teacher. There are times, when I’m tired and upset and the kids are getting on my very last nerve, that I wish I could say “if you keep that up, you’ll suffer eternal agony in hell!” and not have them laugh at me.
My memory isn’t all that great these days but that’s certainly not the Catholic Church’s fault. Thirty years or more after giving up my godly ways, I can still recite the Apostle’s Creed (mostly) and the Lord’s Prayer from memory. We recited both during mass each week and the latter before dinner each night as well. I’m sure there were plenty of other prayers and creeds I memorized and, although the rest are lost to time and old age, I think they were good exercise for the old memory banks.
The Lord’s Prayer came in handy in another way as well. We recited it together every night before dinner and heaven help the kid who started eating beforehand. We eat dinner together every night and our rule is that no one begins before everyone is seated and served. Sometimes, it’s hard for the kids that get to the table first to remember to wait for everyone; saying grace would be a definite starting point to help them wait.
Lastly, I can see that, sometimes, having kids who have been taught to unreservedly accept what they’re told without question would be welcome. Masochists that we are, we’ve taught our kids to think for themselves and question things that don’t make sense to them and, believe me, that can make for some trying times on occasion. Having obedient little drones might be nice once in a while.
Now, are any of these worth indoctrinating my kids in a belief set that makes no sense and is contrary to what they see in the real world? I don’t think so, not for one second. That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t be wistful for some of the side effects of such an upbringing now and then.