Monday, October 18, 2010

Homecoming, and Catholic parents

So, we were at Christendom's homecoming last weekend. It was really fun, and I sure wanted to stay later (we left at 8:30, with baby already sound asleep in the wrap). I loved seeing all of my old friends again, and also one or two people I've never been close to before but felt a lot more kinship with now that we've graduated.

I noticed something interesting, though. Everywhere I go, I look at the babies. It's just what I do; I've always done it, but even more now that I'm a mom. Normally I see that the majority of babies are in strollers or carseats, plugged with pacifiers, sucking on bottles. And yet, at my alma mater, I saw at least 20 babies and not a single bottle. In the "nursing mother's room," there were at least a dozen women and their babies in there nursing when I went in. There were few strollers (including ours, which didn't get much use) and a lot of wraps, slings, and similar carriers. The result was a LOT of babies at the event, but not a lot of crying.

It got me thinking. Parenting was never discussed in all that much detail in any of our classes. We were not told how to parent. Yet here we were, parenting the same way. Women I'd never even met while in college were mothering exactly as I do.

And yet, when I think about it, I realize most conservative Catholic moms that I know tend to be more on the "natural" side too. I only know of one who bottle-fed, and she seemed quite aware that she was the exception. It seems most of the people on the Catholic forum I read prefer natural childbirth, breastfeeding, gentle sleep methods (i.e. no crying it out), and other natural things. I'm even more likely to find people who are into natural food and natural medicine.

Why is this? What are the connections between the Catholic faith and natural parenting?

First I considered myself. Where did I learn to parent that way? Mainly from my mother. Where did she learn it? I'm not sure. Is it that Catholics are more likely to learn how to parent from their own parents, since we have larger families are more likely to see our parents raising our younger siblings? (This was the case for me -- I knew nothing about babies till Joseph was born.)

Perhaps, also, it's because so many Catholics are descended from immigrants, and weren't there for the era of Victorian and early 20th-century sternness that happened in our country. Maybe it has to do with our regard for tradition.

Partly, I'm sure it has a bit to do with our rejection of contraception. Those who don't contracept know that breastfeeding helps space babies (which I think I should talk about more, and probably will, sometime), so it's the obvious choice. Besides, when you have a lot of kids, it's easier to pop the baby in a sling and take care of the others than it is to carefully time naps and bottles. No wonder cloth diapers are so popular when we're all pinching pennies and handing things down.

Or maybe it just makes sense. Charity, respect for others, the value of every life (no matter how small), self-sacrifice. Catholic women look to Our Lady as our ideal, and we can't see her sleep-training baby Jesus or weaning him at 3 months.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to have such a supportive community.

Does anyone have any other possible reasons for this connection? Or have you not experienced it at all?


MichelleKendall said...

I think how Catholics view their faith spills over into how they raise their children.

I am by no means an expert on Catholics or the protestant faiths. While I was rasied in the Church, I attended public or secular schools until I started my graduate studies at Notre Dame. So you may wish to take this with a grain of salt:

What I have observed is that Catholics tend to follow the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" principle. They focus on their own soul, not their neighbor's soul. As my Nana used to say, "I have a hard enough time keeping myself out of trouble, let alone the rest of the world."

That isn't to say that protestants don't focus on their souls or their relationship with Jesus. It just always seems they spend an inordinate amount of time preserving the appearance of holiness/virtue/faith and trying to convert others.

A corrolary of this is how children attend church/mass. In the Catholic tradition, children are with their parents. There is a special place in heaven for Catholic mothers! The smaller children are in the cry room and the older children are being watched over by their parents [my own had the policy of: "if you don't embarras us in Church we will take you to get a slurpee"].

Many of the protestant churches - especially the non-denominational ones - separate the children from the parents. There were constant trips to youth camps, youth retreats, youth classes, separate youth services with special youth miniters. The focus on youth activities encourages a "communal parenting" that I have never seen in the Catholic church.

I think these philosophies carry over into parenting techniques. I agree that a lot of it is practically driven for the reasons you mentioned.

But I have also noticed that my friends from deeply faithful families were raised by parents who were determined to do what was best for their children regardless of what others thought about their methods. Whether this was attachment parenting or strict authoritarian parenting - their goal was the wellbeing of their children.

Whenever my protestant friends talked about their upbringing they always seemed to mention what the church told them to do, or how they were taught to do things by their youth classes. It always seemed to be "community upbringing" that was the most common denominator.

It therefore doesn't surprise me if these people tend to follow more of the "herd" philosophy on proper parenting.

Then again - what do I know :P

Sheila said...

That wouldn't surprise me. I have known a lot of Catholics who try to tell you what to do, how live your life, and how to raise your kids, but most don't, and it doesn't exist on an institutional level.

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