“Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents.” Familiaris Consortio
The day will come. For our family it’s come and gone. The day your child brings home the note from school saying they will be starting their class instruction in love, personal responsibility, and human sexuality. My oldest has been bringing these notes home every spring for a few years now, but this time felt different. He’s getting older, his body is changing, his voice is changing, his mannerisms are changing. He’s growing up, and it will soon be time to address some specific and sensitive issues with him regarding his sexuality.
Our son attends a wonderful Catholic school, and we trust his classroom teacher to handle delicate subject matter faithfully, but we also know we are his primary teachers–particularly in the area of love and sexuality. If your child attends a public school, this role as his primary teacher will entail looking over his human sexuality resources and lesson plans carefully. You may choose to have him sit out during that portion of the school day, and take on all of the instruction in this area yourself. Not every school curriculum will “enter into the same spirit that animates the [Catholic] parent”.
Regardless of where your child attends school, an array of emotions is sure to flood your heart when the reality of rearing a middle schooler sinks in. Here are the three that have been weighing most heavily on me:
Excitement–My husband and I have been teaching natural family planning and Theology of the Body for Teens for years. We’re comfortable with this subject matter, and it’s exciting to finally have the chance to teach the fullness of the beautiful Catholic vision of love to one of our children.
Apprehension–What if my son isn’t receptive? What if I don’t approach this subject in the right way for his temperament? What if my approach pushes him away from the beautiful Truth rather than drawing him into it?
Paralysis–Where do I start? What resources should I turn to? How do I read, absorb, and convey the information found in those resources by TOMORROW?!?
So here are some ideas for working through the above emotions and starting down a fruitful path as we educate our children in the school of love:
Feeling Excited (or not so much)? Even though my husband and I are well versed in this subject matter, it is still a bit nerve-wracking to talk to our own children about it. Knowing where to turn to for answers we may not know (see links below), being on the same page with one another (how will we specifically approach the subject of pornography or homosexuality with our son?), and trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead the way helps us to look past the potentially “uncomfortable” topics and remember that it’s all about leading our children to a life style filled with gloriously satisfying promises–and that’s exciting!
Feeling Apprehension? Last night, as I finished looking over my son’s regular school work, I simply stated the facts: “Your teacher said you talked about Love at school today.” (Yes–I spoke with his teacher after school, picked up the parent guide that accompanies my son’s workbook, and gleaned a few more details about the course from his teacher.) My son shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah”, and I told him that his dad and I would be talking to him some more soon about the things they were discussing in school. Phew! The door was opened, my son knows we’re involved now, and the next conversation will be even easier to start. Follow your instincts, keep things simple, and trust the Holy Spirit to give you the words you need.
Feeling Paralyzed? You can’t read everything at once. You can’t know every single answer off the top of your head. You can’t convey the entire Catholic vision of love in one 15 minute conversation with your child. Live the teachings of the Church with your spouse, create a joyful, well-rounded family life, and trust that so much of what you are already doing is laying a foundation of authentic love for your child. Then, turn to a few trusted resources and get informed. (try the links below-I’m currently re-reading the book by Dr. Greg Popcak) Little by little, the ideas for how to approach this subject with your child will flow. More importantly, he or she will see that you care, that you are trying, and that you desire the very best for him or her.
My son may appear to just be starting “sex ed” in school, but this is something my husband and I have been teaching him ever since the day he was born. Love, joy, responsibility, modesty, self-discipline, and every other facet of his personhood has been trained for this moment. My son sits on the cusp of manhood, and we’re ready to move forward–together.