Care and Feeding

I’m Against Catholic Teachings

Should I send my kids to Catholic schools anyway?

Photo illustration of a smiling young girl wearing a private school uniform.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a fantastic toddler and live in a large city, where we’re looking into private school options. We have whittled our options down to two. Both institutions are amazing places with fantastic, warm, loving staff and parents/guardians/students. One is Catholic, the other is Quaker. We’re trying to decide between the two schools and would love your guidance.

The Catholic school is academically rigorous, has great class sizes, is a Blue Ribbon school, and is a block from where my husband works in case of a midday school emergency. However—and I say this as a product of the parochial school system myself—it promotes Catholic perspectives on premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion, and other beliefs that we don’t subscribe to. The Quaker school, on the other hand, has a progressive curriculum, is designed around project-based learning, does not get homework-heavy until grade 5, and promotes core values that are in alignment with how we are raising our daughter.

The Quaker school’s curriculum—and general vibe—will help our kid develop into a critical thinker and a compassionate contributor to the world. HOWEVER, it is considerably more expensive (it would require some sacrifice on our part), and it would add another hour to our already hectic morning commute. In other words, it will make life more difficult on a day-to-day basis. Since our child will get an excellent education at either place, how do we pick between daily quality of life for us and the values system to which our child will be exposed?

—Waiting for an Answer From the Spirit

Dear Waiting,

Just a thought: Choose a public school instead of either?

Oh, right—you didn’t list that as an option. All right, then. For the sake of not muddying the waters of this discussion, I’ll make the assumption that the only public school option for you is one that is too terrible to consider (having experienced one of those firsthand myself, I am aware that sometimes there really is no good public option in a particular city at a given time). I’ll deal only with the question at hand.

Daily quality of life does not trump (please forgive the verb) values. And if you teach one set of values at home and your daughter is taught an entirely opposing other set of values at school, you will be battling for her soul. And either you win that battle (and she bristles at the values she is being taught each day in school—a bristling that is bound to undermine her otherwise excellent education) or the school wins it (and she grows up subscribing to beliefs you find abhorrent).

To my mind, choosing a school that will instill the values you hold dear—assuming you can indeed figure out a way to cut corners elsewhere to pay for it—is well worth some day-to-day inconvenience. Try this thought experiment: Propel yourself into the future and look back: if you chose the more conveniently located and less expensive school, would you think, “Oh, thank goodness we saved that extra hour of commuting every day and didn’t give up those pricey gym memberships/expensive restaurant meals/fab vacations/premium cable channels!”

In other words, try to take the long view and consider the big-picture quality of life that you wish for your daughter throughout her childhood and as she grows up. Does that matter more to you than the daily quality of life factors you mention, or not?

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are agonizing over a potential move due to imagined effects on our kids, ages 9 and 11. We (wife and I) dislike the house and town in which we live, and the schools are pretty poor and about to get much worse with a 25 percent budget cut. We are contemplating a move to a town 30–45 minutes away that is a nicer community where we’d be able to afford a nicer house, and where the schools are better, and we’d have a shorter commute. Our kids, however, are very comfortable and happy here—where they have lived all of their short lives, and where they have friends and activities and favorite hangouts. Neither of them are quick at adjusting to change, especially the younger one, who has gone through a great deal of anxiety about feeling like she doesn’t have friends and can’t make friends. And now, when she finally has some friends, we’re contemplating taking her away and making her start over! (I should add that although she now has friends, she doesn’t seem to have lost any of her anxiety about not having friends or gained any confidence in her ability to make new ones.) How do we figure out if this move is worth making in spite of a possibly traumatic transition?

—The Kids are Comfortable but We’re Not

Dear TKaCbWN,

It would be hard to find a parent who, for better or worse, raised her kid in a more drastically your-happiness-matters-more-than-mine style, which is why I feel confident advising you to go ahead and make that move to a place you feel will make you happier and will offer your kids a better education—with one caveat that I’ll get to in a moment. I’m giving you the go-ahead here because sometimes that cliché about how if you are happier, you’ll be better parents and therefore your kids will be happier too is true (to my mind, it’s most often used as justification to do something that is going to make the kids’ lives much worse—but I don’t see that in this situation). But I’m also doing so because going to better schools is no small thing, even if the kids don’t/can’t appreciate that right now, and also because working through this transition is going to be good for them. It will be difficult, for sure. But learning how to deal with change is part of learning how to live in the world.

I believe that I discounted that important truth when my own child was young. I don’t have many regrets about the way I raised her, but all the regrets I do have center around the times I didn’t do something because I felt it would be too painful for her. Conversely, some of the child-rearing moments I am proudest of are those in which I took a deep breath, followed my healthy instincts, batted away the neurotic impulses masquerading as good motherly instincts, and made a decision that made my daughter’s life a bit tougher in the short term but was much better for her long-term.

For the record, my single greatest regret is that I kept her in a very bad and stupid school for way too long because change was so painful to her. I’d already had to take her out of a chaotic, dangerous school environment once, and no matter how much the second school infuriated me (a teacher who taught the children that the moon landing was a hoax, then made them promise not to tell their parents that he’d done this; a teacher who repeatedly mocked my daughter for using “big words” when she spoke in class, for example), I couldn’t bring myself to put her through another transition so soon after that when she, like many children, found change very difficult to process and accommodate.

On the worst days—when she was obviously bored to death, when teachers “corrected” her writing by introducing errors, when she came home in tears because classmates had bullied her (or a teacher had!)—I would raise the possibility of moving again, and she would become so distressed I would immediately walk it back, telling myself that starting over at a new school would do more harm than good. I was wrong. And I knew better even then: I just couldn’t bear to see her suffer, even briefly. She’s 26 now, and I still find it hard to forgive myself for this.

So here’s the bottom line: If you believe this move is going to be better for all of you in the long run, it is absolutely worth the temporary jolt to your kids’ lives. Yes, they will need more support than usual from you, so make sure you offer it. Be patient and be kind. And remind yourself, as often as necessary, that your kids will be more resilient for having worked through this.

But now I must offer that caveat I promised. If “nicer” is code for whiter, or “where our neighbors have more money,” I take back everything I’ve just said except for the principle itself—that is, that what is good for your children in the long run is not necessarily what’s going to make them the most comfortable in the moment. I just want to make sure you think hard about what “what’s good for them” means. Make sure it’s good that you’re actually talking about.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I, both white, moved to a relatively small town before we had kids. The town and immediate surrounding area are very liberal and somewhat diverse, but not far from the center of our town it gets very conservative and less diverse. We had the forethought to move into the best school district in the area in anticipation of our future children, but did not pay attention to the specific school they would attend, since all of the schools have the same curriculum and the school district as a whole has an excellent reputation in our state. The day care that our kids (one 3.5 years old, one 4 months old) attend is pretty diverse and families are encouraged to come in to share their own cultures and traditions and talk about their family structures—my daughter has celebrated Lunar New Year and Eid; helped to make Japanese, Lebanese, and Slovakian food; and learned about gender identity.

Through families at the day care, I have recently learned that the elementary school our kids are currently districted to attend is the least diverse of all the schools in the district; it draws from some of the more conservative areas. Less important but still a concern: Only one of our daughter’s friends from day care will attend the school that we are districted for.

Right now moving to a different neighborhood is not an option, but we have discovered that the district is willing to let parents petition to transfer their kids to an elementary school elsewhere as long as the parents provide transportation to and from the school. Since we’ll have to pick our kids up from after-school care anyway, the only extra burden on us will be dropping our kids off in the morning rather than relying on a school bus. There are two much more diverse schools on our way to work.

But even though it seems that the pros for requesting a school transfer outweigh the cons, there is something that is holding me back. Perhaps it is the privilege associated with being able to take my kids to and pick them up from school without relying on school transportation. Maybe it’s that choosing a school that is not our districted one makes me feel like I’m looking down on our neighbors that we’re friendly with who plan to send their kids to our districted school. I don’t want to appear as if I judge them for their decision not to transfer their kids to a more diverse school. Is choosing a more diverse school worth requesting the transfer, or should we stick with our districted school? I would hate for my kids to lose the wonderfully diverse environment that our day care exposes them to, but is that a good enough reason to request a school transfer?

—School Transfer Conundrum

Dear STC,

Yes.

I am sorely tempted to leave it at that. But I will qualify my response slightly—because if it were obvious, you wouldn’t be asking—and say that being exposed to children from all backgrounds, religions, cultures, races, and ethnicities will enrich your children’s lives in ways that no teacher, book, or academic program ever can.

Dear Care and Feeding,

All my life I’ve wanted to be a mother. But I don’t know how to square that desire with the fact that children born after 2010 are basically doomed to grow up in a world of climate change, pollution, and mass shootings. I know I have the meme-able fatalism of my generation, but when I look past the jokes I’m very afraid. It seems to me morally wrong to have a child whose existence in this world will be marred by the very real threat that they will die in a climate-related natural disaster or be shot in algebra class. And yet I still want to be a mother! I’m in my early 20s and still feel like a child myself, so I wouldn’t want to have a kid for at least 10 years (especially in my expensive city). I’m also gay, so becoming pregnant wouldn’t be easy or cheap.

This conflict leaves me feeling angry with the people who write in to the column who have infants (and then I feel guilty about that and swimming in a deep pool of anger and guilt, mixed with desire). How do I make a choice between my deep wish to be a mother and my knowledge that I would be doing a great disservice to a child just by bringing them into the world? Am I overthinking this?

—Scared and Conflicted

Dear SaC,

You are not overthinking. You’re thinking. And you’re thinking clearly, if you ask me. We live in frightening times; the future looks bleak. But we mustn’t give up! We must do all we can to make things better. There are resources you can consult to help you get started—for example, on climate change. You might even think about running for political office yourself.

And then there is this: Having a child is an act of hope. If you want to have a child, then when the time comes that you feel ready to do so, I urge you to act hopefully, not fatalistically or fearfully. Because, honestly, if we give up hope, we’ve given up everything.

—Michelle

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