This is the second part of this post. The first part is here.
Raising Prolife Children
Our children live in a world that is often hostile to Catholic teaching and moral thought. While roughly half the people in this country are at least nominally “pro-life” the media and especially the cultural and educational institutions of this country tend very much to the “pro-choice” side. One of the jobs of Catholic parent’s is to equip our children to go out into the world and be able to defend their faith.The earlier we start preparing our children for this the better.
The early years – Where do babies come from?
What is the first thing you can do to help your child become firmly prolife? Save your child’s ultrasound picture. Fetal development is the first and best tool in the pro-life arsenal. While your child is still a preschooler you can teach them the very basics of “babies”.
- Follow a real pregnancy week by week. – It is most helpful if you can connect this information to a baby they will know. When a sibling is expected, or a cousin or a friend’s baby – as long as they will see the pregnancy develop and the baby grow. A child who follows a pregnancy like this is forever connected to the idea that babies begin growing in their “mommy’s tummy” and that this growth process is an uninterrupted line through childhood. When I am expecting we have used common objects like raisins, apple seeds or pin heads about the baby’s size. Never, ever avoid the reality of pregnancy – no storks or cabbage patches. Babies don’t suddenly appear at the hospital to be brought home.
- You can use real pictures of fetal development from the internet to learn about the growth of the unborn child. Talk about the pictures, even the weird looking little fetus with arm buds and tails and remind the children often that all people, even they, went through these stages too. My children have found it amazingly wonderful that once upon a time they had a tail. Show them the picture from their ultra-sound, “this was you when you were in my tummy.” Nothing is more powerful than connecting with the unborn child they once were.
- Read books about developing babies. There are many good options, Angel in the Waters which tells the story of a baby and the baby’s guardian angel and is particularly Catholic, but there are more options. Checking out the local library is likely to yield a ton of results that you will find appropriate.
- Pray for babies yet to be born and the mommies and daddies and families waiting for them. You know you are praying for all those women this very day facing an unexpected and alarming pregnancy, those women struggling with the decision to abort or not; your children know that they are praying for all mommies to be happy and healthy while their little, tiny babies grow inside.
As children grow
Growing up in a family committed to the culture of life one of the strongest witness any child could have for the rightness of the pro-life movement. All too often the arguments for the “pro-choice” stance are actually arguments against false characterizations of those who are pro-life. The claim is un-apologetically laid that those who are against legalized, uncontrolled and elective abortion are only concerned about the welfare of the unborn at the expense of all others. This spurious argument is easily bared to be the lie it is when one looks at the lives of most pro-life proponents. We need to live as part of the culture of life.
- Offer help for mother’s in need. Support your local crisis pregnancy center. Donate toys, clothing, diaper… what ever they need. Include your children in these activist. Take part (or organize) parish fund-raising for pro-life causes, both the alternatives to abortion locally and help for the poor and needy, especially woman and children, world wide. While it is appropriate to teach our children chastity and to never glamorize unwed pregnancy, crisis pregnancy support saves lives. Showing an example of mercy is undoubtedly a good. As children mature we can discuss the disadvantages (both moral and practical) of single motherhood and intercourse before marriage, but mercy to those in need does not need to be suspended because we are blessed enough to know there is a better way.
- Honor the lives of all. My children have the advantage of having a sister with a severe disability. They see day in and out the struggles and the blessings both of being a family touched by disability and of those living with disability. My oldest has reached the age where she occasionally confronts someone advocating abortion of the disabled. This rightly sets her into a fit of indignation – the person thus advocating is speaking about her beautiful sister. While she could not and would never diminish the struggles she also knows first hand the blessings. We absolutely have to teach our children that having a disability is not a frightening, horrific thing. Support your parish families with disabled members.
Volunteer at the Special Olympics and other organizations that help the disabled. Some schools have “peer” programs where normally developing children are paired with children with learning disabilities to assist them in their social development.At the very least never show fear or hesitation around a disabled person. Treat them exactly as you would anyone else.
As an example: Several years ago one of my online friends confronted, first hand, the bias against the disabled in our society. Her husband’s brother and sister-in-law had died in a car wreck, leaving my friend and her husband in custody of their niece and nephew. The deceased couple had adopted a boy with spina bifida and then a little girl with autism. The boy was nine, had just lost his parents, moved across country to live with his aunt and uncle. While his aunt was enrolling him in the third grade class at a private school (regular academic) another mother saw his leg braces and said with contempt, “Oh, we are enrolling these kids now?” Apparently everyone in the office was too slack jawed at the woman’s rudeness to come up with an appropriate response. I am afraid my own would have been less than ideal. As can be imagined the hurt the boy experienced was very, very real. While this one woman’s response was extreme their are many who would have thought the same, but wisely held their tongues. There is a ever growing part of our culture that views those with disabilities as “burdens”; at best tragedies for their families and drains on the “system” and better for everyone if aborted. (for further evidence of this topic note some of treatment of Sarah Palin over her son Trig) We have to fight this mindset tooth and nail.
On the other end of life my children have had the opportunity to see my grandmother age. She is 85 and lives near us. They love Granny and see her as valuable and worthwhile. Even as she suffers from the affects of age and dementia. Do not be afraid to bring the elderly into your child’s life. Age is not something to fear; we are only stepping closer to Heaven and honoring and loving our aged relatives sets the example of families caring for their own with love and compassion instead of shifting this duty and (at time) a burden onto the state – which has neither love nor compassion.
- Pray for those who are suffering, the poor, the sick and dieing. Pray for a softening of the hearts so that people who are different won’t be discriminated against.
- I am not sure when is the most appropriate time to introduce the concept of abortion to children. My own children have grown up in parishes that aren’t afraid to pray for an end to abortion and they hear Catholic radio in the background with “pro-life moments”. So they hear the term and eventually they ask the question: “What is abortion.” Three of my children asked at around age five. My own mind revolts at not being truthful with my children, so my response has been something along the lines of “Abortion is when a mother is pregnant and doesn’t want her baby so she has the baby killed before it can be born”. I am sure there that some people who would object to that description as too harsh.
I actually thought about it for a long while before I came up with it. First I wanted the explanation to be short, honest and “horrific” in a way. I wanted it to be slightly shocking, because abortion is shocking. I use the word “mother” instead of “woman” because mother implies a responsibility for the child. I didn’t say “she has a doctor kill the baby” or “she goes to a clinic and they kill the baby” because I didn’t want my children to associate doctors with killing babies and I didn’t want to go into the questions of “what is a clinic”. I also wanted the word “killed” in there so there was no confusion on that. The above explanation is also open enough to invite questions. My Josh’s first question was “Why would someone do that?” and it led to some discussion about the reasons why some woman feel that is the best thing to do, but how horrible it is and how selfish it is.
My own experience and the insight I have seen talking to other parents and friends is that the way abortion is first introduced colors the way a person views abortion on a profound level. If your very first introduction to abortions is something like “Abortion is when a woman finds out she is pregnant but it isn’t the right time for her to be a mother so she goes to the doctor and the doctor ends the pregnancy before a baby can grow.” and your first introduction to the concept of pro-life is “some people think that abortion is wrong so they want to force a woman to have a baby even if she know that is the wrong thing for her.” your perception of abortion is focused on the poor woman forced to have a baby. If your first introduction to abortion is about the murder of the child and how those who are pro-life are trying to make it safe for all babies waiting to be born than the paradigm shifts. If you view abortion through the lens of the woman’s “rights” it is difficult to consider the child; if you view abortion through the lens of the baby’s right to life it is almost impossible to not be pro-life (though I have known a few people who managed it).