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For Your Marriage

Dennis and Mary Jo Weiss have been married for more than 30 years. They write about a shared love of nature, prayer, and their children and grandchildren from their home in Hamburg, New York.

The Boxes We Create

I remember attending a Catholic conference at our church a number of years ago. We had our five children there, and I was sitting with one of them on my lap.

At the break, a woman approached me and asked, “Do you homeschool your children?”

I replied, “No, they go to the parish school here.”

“Oh,” she replied, “You were so loving with your children, I thought that surely you were a homeschooling mother.” And she walked away, apparently with little left to talk about.

It was not the first time that I experienced a divide between those who choose to educate their children at home, and those whose children attend Catholic or public school, nor the first time that I got the “message” that if I really loved my children, I would educate them myself.

I realize this is a sensitive subject, and I want to state up front that I have a great respect for those who choose to educate their children in the home. What I have a problem with at times is the attitude that there is a “best” choice. This attitude tends to polarize, label or “box” people out, and negates the unique action of grace in each family.

We are all called to educate our children through a faithful example of Catholic family life in the home. In that aspect, there is no difference in our responsibilities. In fact, it seems that the opportunities for fellowship and support are often more plentiful in the homeschool community.

I recall asking someone from our local homeschooling group whether my oldest daughter could attend a “Soldiers of Christ” event – their teen group – at a time when I was seeking to help her find a wider circle of faithful friends. I was told in no uncertain terms that this group was only for homeschooled children – another box with clear definition.

Is it not part of mercy to reach across those lines we have drawn to help another in need?

Over the years, I have been in and out of many homes in my work as an occupational therapist, and it has made me realize that each family situation is unique. The commonly shared value is that loving families sacrifice for their children. That sacrifice may take different shapes or forms, and in many instances it is difficult or even heroic.

For some families, educating at home is a tremendous and viable option. For other families, a local Catholic school presents their preferred option. For still others, the public school is what the family chooses, or it provides the special education services that a child with a disability needs. None of these choices is “better” than the others.

Instead of noting differences, let’s recognize that all parents need support, encouragement and fellowship in raising and educating their children. When parishes offer opportunities for families to interact and get to know one another, stronger communities can form. At this time, when the Catholic family is so under attack, let’s focus on how we can be of help to one another, rather than focus on that which divides us.

The Year of Mercy, as declared by Pope Francis last year, inspired us to contemplate the deeper meaning and demands of mercy. Perhaps we can look within to find and overcome those areas of our lives where we have safely, neatly, and impersonally “boxed” others out. And when we find them, let’s ask God to open those boxes and let His grace enter.