It was Nick’s golden birthday. He turned seventeen-years-old on October 17th, and we celebrated in style. My wife made a special teriyaki chicken dinner at Nick’s request. The decorations were Notre Dame football — Nick’s favorite team. The plates, napkins, tablecloths, and helium balloons were Fighting Irish top to bottom. The cake, naturally, featured a Notre Dame endzone scene complete with goalposts. Amid all the party goodies and celebration, my wife and I were thankful for our pro-life family and attitudes toward the sanctity of life that had given us Nick.
As the festivities progressed, the conversation around the table became boisterous. Along with a small cache of wrapped presents, the premier gift for Nicky was that two of his older siblings made it home from college for his big day. Much ribbing and laughter went along with celebrating the birthday boy.
When we got to the cake, the conversation ebbed. Nick stood up. He motioned for quiet, and we gave him our attention. “I have a prepared speech for you,” he said. “It’s my birthday, and I want to say that I am thankful for my life and that I was born. I know a lot of kids like me don’t get to be born. I am glad that my parents decided to give me my life – so that I could have a birthday.”
Nick has made this declaration in various forms on different occasions over the years, but it never gets old. You see, Nick has Down syndrome. He is well aware that many kids with Down’s are aborted before they ever see the light of day. Nick’s right to celebrate his precious life — a life “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14).
The Heart of Raising Pro-Life Kids
On the other hand, the gratitude he expressed was hardly necessary. As do his six siblings, Nick knows that my wife and I would never have chosen abortion for any of our preborn children. My kids know that with absolute certitude, and they’ve always known that.
I think this is at the heart of raising kids who know the sanctity of life: The witness of moms and dads who are utterly and unequivocally committed to protecting human life from conception until natural death. That witness can take a variety of forms. It just happened to be the case that the primary pro-life witness we’ve made in our family is Nick himself. His presence in the world and his rich and full life are testimony of God’s providence and grace. After you meet Nicky and see his smile, genuineness, and enthusiasm, you’ll have no doubt that the world is a better place because he’s here. And that’s absolutely true for all boys and girls with Down’s. Ask their parents. Ask their siblings. They’ll be delighted to tell you.
But what if you’re not blessed to have a child with Down syndrome, either by birth or adoption? How can we form passionate pro-life hearts in our children? This seems especially difficult in a world that seems obsessed with solving problems by destroying life instead of nurturing it. Here are 4 ideas that we’ve found helpful in our family. See if they resonate with you!
Four Ways to Teach Your Kids the Sanctity of Life
1. Talk About Abortion
Talk about abortion — a lot. Is it uncomfortable? Awkward? Only at first. Around our dinner table, hot topics like abortion come up frequently. We rarely attempt to curb discussion of controversial issues. Younger kids benefit by hearing the terms and the debate, which will generate interest and a desire to probe further.
To be sure, we managed those discussions to ensure age-appropriate themes. We always urged our kids, no matter their age, to ask for clarification if they didn’t understand what we were talking about. Moreover, as parents, we made certain that we were thoroughly informed and up to date on the issues, which can be a daunting task. There are plenty of reliable resources to do that, including the organization National Right to Life, but I’d advise you to rely primarily on local or state pro-life organizations. That way, you’ll be connected with a supportive group of folks who’ve been there with their own sons and daughters, and they can tell you what worked and what didn’t in their own pro-life family formation.
2. Care for Those in Need
Caring for the poor might seem like an odd prescriptive for raising pro-life kids, but I promise you it’s essential, especially as your kids grow into adolescence. They’re going to hear that pro-lifers only care about babies (and their moms) before birth, not afterward, and you have to counter that argument with concrete action.
It’s not enough to spout statistics about the charitable outreach the Christian community extends to moms and families in need. Instead, we need a family culture oriented to care for the poor. There are two ways to create this culture. The first way is through the checkbook. Let your kids see you giving money away to both organizations and individuals in need. The second way is to serve directly — like volunteering at soup kitchens and food pantries, especially pregnancy care centers and homes for pregnant moms in distress.
A frightened mother is considering abortion
3. Be a Public Witness
Being a public witness takes the conversation from inside the home to outside of it. Like the suggestion to care for the poor, it further concretes our words into action. The reality of abortion may — and probably should — prompt us to do things that will make us plenty uncomfortable but will teach our children that defending the sanctity of preborn human life is serious business. Examples include a peaceful, prayerful protest at abortion centers in your community and even participation in pro-life family marches — especially on the January 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade in Washington D.C.
4. Have Another Baby
If our goal is to form our children in a pro-life mindset — one that recoils at the idea of abortion and embraces the intrinsic, infinite value of all human life, no matter what — then what better object lesson can we give than welcoming life ourselves?
Besides, what greater gift can we give our children than another brother or sister? Certainly, our greatest gift to our son Nicholas was his little sister, Katharine.
Adoption would be included under this rubric of family expansion as an expression of our love for life. There are also other less permanent forms of hospitality — welcoming aging parents or other relations who’d otherwise end up in nursing homes, for example. These kinds of steps entail tremendous risk and lots of unknowns, to be sure. But what’s our goal? If we wish to ingrain a thorough pro-life perspective in our children, then there’s no better way to demonstrate that than by incarnating sacrificial love in another family member!
A Counter-Cultural Approach to the Sanctity of Life
Note that the previous four ways of demonstrating the sanctity of life — altruism, education, activism, and radical hospitality — do not depend on a Biblical worldview or Christian commitment. Clearly, it’s compatible with Biblical values. However, the four ways to teach the sanctity of life and create a pro-life family are defensible independent of any particular philosophy or faith orientation.
That’s crucial because, let’s face it, there is a good chance that at least some of your own children may stray from the faith (at least temporarily) as they grow older. This is a trend that is hard to deny and one that is growing. We do what we can to steep our sons and daughters in Scripture and help them develop strong prayer habits as part of a personal relationship with Christ. Yet we can’t protect them forever from broader culture’s anti-religious undertow, not to mention the blast of godless propaganda that dominates popular culture and social media.
And what if you do have children that reject the faith you raised them in? They’ll also be likely swayed by the world’s arguments in favor of solving problems by assaulting life — abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the whole deadly morass of what passes as social (and, tragically, legal) norms these days.
Be Proactive in Teaching the Sanctity of Life
But you have a say in that — at least while they’re still home with you. Be proactive in forming their pro-life sensibilities. Ground them in reason and rational argument; teach them logic and embryology; show them videos of preborn human life, and bring them to the bedside of those who are living large at the end of life. Equip them with the old-fashioned common sense that once made abortion unthinkable and mercy-killing a contradiction in terms. Teach them the sanctity of life early and often.
Is it possible? Yes, I know it’s possible. In fact, it’s highly likely. The growing numbers of pro-life young people who reject God and religion provide powerful testimony of its feasibility. They’re the ones who want to support progressive politicians but can’t bring themselves to support those who promote greater abortion access. And they’re also the ones who’ll be unlikely to choose abortion themselves when faced with a problem or inconvenient pregnancy.
Come to think of it, that last scenario provides one more powerful means of forming pro-life families — an extension of the radical hospitality I mentioned earlier. If and when an adult child, regardless of faith status, decides to make sacrifices to welcome an unexpected human life God happens to send along, we do well to make like the prodigal son’s dad and rush out with open arms and celebrate!