You caught me: guilty as charged. Catholic guilt that is. I’m two years into parenthood, and the mom guilt is real: I haven’t introduced religion to my daughter, but what is the role of religion in raising her? I think that religion can play a prominent and positively impactful role in a child’s life. I’m not here to debate that…
I’m here to reflect on takeaways from my Catholic upbringing that I can apply to raising my own child.
To start, there are these day-to-day practical takeaways from my Catholic upbringing:
1. Always wear a sensible skirt. And by no means wear slacks! (I think this has changed; many family and friends of mine who are in the older generation don their black pants or – dare I say – jeans, and head to church each week. They are still in God’s good graces!) I wore a uniform from First Grade through Twelfth Grade. More specifically, I wore a plaid and/or solid pleated skirt getup. In the lower grades, the length of the skirt wasn’t an issue until you had an overnight growth spurt. Thank goodness the hem was wide and Mom could let it down before class started. In middle school and high school, we had to kneel on the floor while the principal checked that our hem was touching the floor. For a long time in my early adulthood, I mostly wore pants because of the novelty. But when I finally started buying skirts for college parties at Forever 21, I said a silent Hail Mary at how short they were. The knee-high pleather boots at least covered most of my bare flesh. My daughter is only two, but I think she looks the best (and must feel the most confident) in a dress that hits – or falls below – her knee. Coincidence or not?
2. Meatless Fridays. During Lent (the 40-day period leading up to Easter), Catholics traditionally refrain from eating meat on Fridays. This is why you see a lot of roadside advertisements at churches for a fish fry in March and April every year. “Meatless Monday” has the benefit of alliteration, but any designated day of the week to go vegetarian or pescatarian can be a healthy choice. Not to mention, meatless options often freeze better and are shelf-stable for longer than meat. And, if you’re Catholic, you can spare yourself some of the guilt (see Takeaway #3) by practicing this on Fridays. In my home, we serve the gamut of food options, and my daughter has not – yet – turned up her nose at beans, fish, Quorn nuggets, or vegetables. I hope she continues to appreciate a diet of variety.
On top of the day-to-day practical takeaways, there are psychological lessons from my Catholic upbringing that I will apply to raising my daughter:
3. There’s always something to feel guilty about. Whether it’s the white lie I told someone when they asked if I like their new glasses, or I skipped the optional zoom work happy hour, I feel a heavy weight on my shoulders at most times. That’s the guilt; the Catholic guilt to be exact. It’s so hard to explain because it’s inherent. It’s so present it’s palpable. Those of us raised in Catholicism joke about it, and not because it’s funny, but because it’s true! Catholic guilt is real (just like mom guilt). It serves as a check-and-balance for our morality. Although nothing ever feels like the right decision, whether or not it’s right. While I wish no one to feel such a weight on their shoulders for harmless things, I will teach my child about right and wrong, and the personal suffering of harming others.
4. Let go, and let God! In high school, my boyfriend invited me to his youth group at a progressive Catholic church (yes, there are such things) in the ‘burbs. The nun who ran it wore dreamcatcher earrings and tie dye t-shirts. We talked about scripture – how we interpreted it. Our annual weekend retreats culminated with an elaborate interactive rendition of Godspell. One message that was always buzzing around was to “Let go, and let God!” Don’t worry, be happy. Trust. Have faith. I still say the phrase to myself all the time. I even told some classmates who were peer-pressuring me that I was “high on life”. This positivity has stuck with me for the most part. While it might be annoying to others at times, I find it very helpful both personally and outwardly to be optimistic and look on the bright side; I hope it rubs off on my daughter.
Last, but not least, are the takeaways about loving your neighbor. Here’s one:
5. God bless whoever needs the help. My childhood best friend went to a different Catholic school. She told me that her priest taught her class to say “God bless whoever needs the help” when they heard a fire, ambulance, or police siren. I thought she was really cool, so of course I started saying it, too. That was in 1990, and I still say it (usually to myself) every time I hear the sounds of emergency response vehicles. I no longer say it to be a cool kid; I say it because it feels good to put that positive vibe out into the universe. I strive to teach my daughter about caring for others and acknowledging positive intentions. This is what I think they mean when they refer to the “power of prayer”.
I’ll admit that I am not a practicing Catholic. Much of my family continues to be active in the Catholic church, though, and I am the godparent of not just one, but two lovely people who were baptized in the Catholic religion. My reasons for not practicing are personal, and there’s no need to explain. I do, however, feel confident in using these lessons from my Catholic upbringing in raising my daughter because they instill honesty, health, and kindness.