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Where Do Our Children Feel Safe?

Few people would disagree that we've become a divided society with our own thoughts and beliefs taking precedence over tolerance and understanding. But what is it doing to our children?
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Written by Rosemary Strembicki

Sitting in a cathedral in the middle of Florence celebrating the feast day of the city's patron saint, John the Baptist, I felt like a 10-year-old again, perched by my father's side, safe, secure and a little full of myself as a Catholic among Catholics. I understood little of the Latin liturgy, but the music and the rhythm of the Mass were very familiar and comforting. I don't often attend church services at home, but every time I do, those same feelings of faith and belonging come rushing back. It made me wonder: How do we instill the spirit of faith in our children today?

Each one of us has a different understanding of those words, "spirit" and "faith." Few people would disagree that we've become a divided society with our own thoughts and beliefs taking precedence over tolerance and understanding. But what is it doing to our children? Where will they find the comfort of security and belonging when they're adults? Where will our children go to get in touch with whom they are?

Some of us find it in a faith community or among others of similar beliefs; others in activities of shared enthusiasm; sports, literary groups or hobby clubs. Sometimes it's family celebrations where traditions provide the comfort of the familiar. But no matter where it's found, our children need a place that can provide a structure to support their journey of self-discovery.

What they experience as they grow will influence their perception of the world for their entire lives. Where they find comfort and how they calm themselves are lessons that they will revisit time and again. Those feelings of safety and security are what we strive for throughout our lives so providing calming, predictable experiences for our children throughout their childhood is essential to their development of a strong sense of self.

The question is what does that look like? Is it a doctrine of strict rules with a strong hand to provide guidance, or a suggestion of what's right and wrong with a wide berth of experimentation? Each family will make it's own decisions relying on parents' history and culture. But how it is applied is the key. A loving, safe environment is a place where mistakes can be made and learned from, a place where the ideal is the clear expectation but the learning curve is understood. Whether it's practiced in a faith community, on the playing field or in daily personal interactions, our children need an understanding of what is right and wrong and a respect for one another.

As a child, I never questioned the expectations; I dutifully followed the rules and rarely bumped up against any consequences. As an adolescent, I challenged everything and pushed the limits trying to figure out my true beliefs. And now, as an adult, I can reflect on all of that history and gain an understanding of whom I am and where I'm going. But it's been a life-long journey. Luckily, I had a strong, secure platform from which to take the first steps. It taught me that most of what our children need is love, security and acceptance. The confidence that that early environment provided was essential in shaping my sense of self. Feeling loved, knowing the rules and learning from the example of the adults in my world, both good and bad, is what shaped me into the adult that I am today. I'm not sure if my parents had any understanding of their influence, but we owe it to our children to find that understanding and to be intentional in the choices we make in framing their world.

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