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Betsy Kneepkens: Which children are really ‘sheltered’? Those who don’t know about Jesus

Some have suggested that my husband and I have sheltered our children.

I cannot deny the fact that we intentionally made decisions to shield our kids from potentially harmful situations or incidents that would negatively impact the foundation we were trying to provide them. I am not just talking physical circumstances but emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, as well. We worked hard not to expose them too early to specific experiences where the visual scenes would forever plague their memory. Often — I mean very often — my children did not participate in activities that were commonplace for other children.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Now, any parent with more than one child knows that each child needs to be treated differently based on the kind of kid they are. A child’s aptitude for responsibility, patience, intellectual curiosity, moral development, and other characteristics must always play a part in what is allowed for one child and maybe not the other. With that said, our allowances were rarely adjusting down, but instead, some of our children waited longer for a privilege to be obtained.

Some of the more simple examples of our “sheltering” would be not allowing our children to sit in the front seat of the car until they turned 13 and believing that PG-13 did mean PG-13. It included not letting our children own a cell phone until they were at least midway through their freshman year of high school and deciding that dating as a couple was a potential privilege at 16. We don’t have cable — or television in their bedrooms, ever. If they went out in the evenings to a friend’s house, we called the parents, and on dance nights, they were prohibited from spending the night with friends of the opposite gender.

Most importantly, Sunday Mass was never trumped by anything or any situation, and prayers we say at home, like grace before meals, were prayed no matter where our family found itself. Indeed, these are just sort of guideposts for our children, but one can get the idea of what it is like in our household.

Now we did not allow our children to participate in scenarios that were life threatening, like walking in a dark alley late at night, but we did see great value in exposing our children to people from all backgrounds. Opening our children to make a connection with individuals who live differently than us was essential to their healthy development and their call to be disciples. We discussed worldly events, whether exciting, disappointing, or sometimes dangerous, so that they might hear a different side than what would otherwise be shared in the media.

As a family striving for faithfulness, we were careful to share the good and beautiful about our Catholic faith and the ugly and truthfulness of the human failing of our church as well. We welcomed others in our home that came from other faith traditions or no traditions at all. We explored the differences and were able to articulate why we knew that Jesus was indeed the way, the truth and the life.

Often, when others commented that my husband and I sheltered our children, the remark was not intended to be flattering. The perspective was frequently critical, with the potential of encouraging us to be a bit more “progressive.” Perhaps we are stubborn, but their comments had little if any impact on our ways of parenting.

I share this because during this past year, I encountered three different individuals, unknown to each other, who as I got to know them better, came from what I would call a “permissive” sort of upbringing. Each of these people were young adults in their mid-twenties. In different ways, they shared that their parents essentially allowed them to make their own decisions on faith and morals. All three of them were obviously still alive, but they had fascinating and yet risky life encounters. From my limited perspective, it appeared they were paddling through life, but their oars were not rowing in any particular direction.

I think our culture would say these twentysomethings were not sheltered as children. Yet through lengthy discussions, I found a very interesting common denominator between all three individuals. They each heard the name Jesus, and they knew the Bible was a book, but they claimed not to know anything about either.

Of course, upon my discovery of this information, I was blown away. I would not have been so perplexed if they didn’t believe in who Jesus was or what the Bible teaches, but not to even know anything about them was mind-boggling for me. The most excellent story of all time is the story of our salvation through Christ, and they never heard it. Our Savior’s arrival was significant and changed the course of history, not just for believers but for all of humankind. Every person that is granted formal education has a right to know this information.

My initial reaction was, “How can our society not believe children are overly protected if they have been denied the opportunity to know who Christ is and what the ‘Good News’ is all about?” Therefore, I am pretty confident these individuals were sheltered, because in all three situations I had the privilege of sharing the truth of Christ and observing their reaction.

In each of these cases, these young adults wanted to know more. They were overwhelmed by a desire to pursue a more in-depth understanding, and they were perplexed by the fact that this reality was withheld from them. From my standpoint, how is denying a child the knowledge of Christ not considered by our culture as sheltering a child?

In a few short weeks, we will be blessed with the reminder that Lord came and changed the course of history like no other event before or since the birth of Christ. As faithful, we need to take to heart the gift that someone did not shelter us from this truth. Sadly many young people have been poorly served by parents who believe they are being “progressive” to withhold the greatest story of all time from their children.

I will gladly claim the title of being a “sheltering” parent if those who give me that label include the information of our willingness to share the truth of who Christ is and what he has done for every person who was, is, and will be. Merry Christmas to all, and tell everyone who has not been gifted with the story of Christ, the truth of existence, even if you will be persecuted for doing it!

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.