Back to Basics in “Made This Way”

To many Catholics today, the idea of attempting to articulate what we believe on matters of sexuality to a culture that (perhaps rightly) views us with suspicion and hostility is daunting.

And yet for those who are convinced that a sexual worldview based in principles of natural law leads to flourishing, silence – especially when it comes to matters affecting our children – is no longer an option.

There seems a need to simplify our Catholic understanding of the nature and purpose of sexuality; to get back to the basics. Only then can we communicate about these matters with our children, family, and friends in ways that are emotionally and spiritually meaningful.

A new book, Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issuesprovides a much-needed blueprint for this task. Co-written by Leila Miller (editor of a groundbreaking book by adult children of divorce) and Trent Horn, Made This Way outlines ways to engage in serious conversations with young children and teens about sexuality.

Undergirded by John Paul II’s theology of the body, the book covers ten topics, ranging from sex outside of marriage, to contraception, homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion.

While each issue is important and timely in its own right, Made This Way is unique in its coverage of how to talk to children about an almost overlooked topic: divorce. The Church has begun to explore ways how to help and heal in the areas of transgenderism and homosexuality. The pro-life movement is stronger and younger than ever before.

But many remain afraid to speak clearly on the harm caused by divorce, and the infidelity that often accompanies it. Miller and Horn present a balanced approach, advising age-appropriate directness on the devastation caused by divorce, always in the context of sound Catholic theology.

I recently volunteered at the “Santa shop” fundraiser for my daughters’ Catholic elementary school. My job was to guide the kindergarteners who filed into the tiny classroom (filled with dollar-store trinkets) toward the “perfect gift” for family members.

My first assignment was a little girl with long, uncombed hair, oversized glasses and a sweet, apprehensive smile.

As she gingerly handed me the paper on which her mother had listed the intended gift recipients, I bent down to her eye level and read them aloud: “Ok, so we’ve got mom. And we need to get a present for dad. And then there’s Mac. Who is Mac – is that your brother?”

“That’s mom’s boyfriend,” she replied quietly, staring at the floor. “I don’t see my dad that much. But I get to see him at Christmas.”

It was one variation of a dilemma I’ve experienced too many times to count.  What to say to one whose very identity as child, or wife, or husband has been thrown into question through divorce?

Although the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality are a balm for the wounds of divorce in our culture today (especially for children of divorce), we seem to struggle to believe this is true. “The deed has been done,” we reason. It’s better for everyone to move on.

That morning as I watched the little girl pay for her gifts, I pondered how “moving on” is an unreasonable expectation for victims of divorce. This particular wound always leaves an indelible mark.

What is our responsibility as Catholics to this little girl? How do we help her connect the Church’s teachings on marriage to her own experience of abandonment? How can we help her commit to her future vocational call, whatever it may be?

To do so will require not just prayer on her behalf, or even positive role models. Miller and Horn remind us: it will require words, gently delivered by adults of influence in her young life. Not once, but repeatedly.

To the child of divorce, they offer affirmation: “Families are made to love one another forever and that didn’t happen in yours. Your family was dismantled without your consent. And now you are left with an anger and sorrow that is justified.”

To the child questioning his grandparents’ divorce, they bring spiritual clarity: “They may not realize how sad it makes God when marriages and families break apart. But God knows what will really make us happy and we should listen to Him.”

The book suggests children be informed that many divorces are not consensual (for teens, a brief but effective primer on the injustice of our system of family law is provided). This acknowledgment sets the stage for a beautiful lesson on the value of lifelong fidelity in sacramental marriages, even after divorce: “Your child (and you, too) have the power to choose love within a marriage, day by day, even when love it not returned – and even for a long time. God’s grace empowers us to love as He loves, without counting the cost, until death.”

A counter-cultural and ambitious message for children of today? Yes.

But the little girl from the Santa shop and many others in similar circumstances deserve to know the teaching of the faith on marriage, in all its fullness and splendor.

Dr. Hilary Towers is a developmental psychologist and mother of five children. A non-resident scholar at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR), she writes and speaks on the subjects of marriage and spousal abandonment.