Help! My Son’s Public School Teacher Wants to "Share Christ’s Love." Can I Stop Her?

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 3 2013 2:27 PM

One Classroom Under God

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a parent whose children feel pressured at school to become Christian.

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Q. Re: From Proselytizing in the Classroom: Thanks for your suggestion. We're atheists, so the suggestion to share the wonderful things about my faith with the children is a bit more complicated, but we do talk about science a lot.

A: Ha on me! One commenter suggested that if the situation becomes too difficult for your children you could contact Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (www.au.org). But if it's not intolerable, the best way to deal with this is by learning how to be in a culture with deeply held believes that are different from yours. Religion doesn't belong in public school classrooms. But making a federal case of its every intrusion will only make it more difficult for your children.

Q. Just Friends? I know this is a topic of age-old debate, but can a man and woman really just be friends? I've spent a lot of time with a guy friend over the past eight months and we've become very close. Our time together has led to physical intimacy a handful of times, but mostly just companionship and a bond that always seemed different from those I've had with other close male friends. Because of the confusing nature of our relationship, I was recently forced to clarify things. His response indicated he wasn't traditionally a faithful person and that he cared too much about me to put me in that situation. I can respect that, although I'm a bit disappointed, and we both indicated we'd like to continue spending time together. My question is: Is this realistic? I've already noticed some distance between us, which breaks my heart on some level. I understand that I've opened Pandora's box by having a "real" conversation about the state of things, but if he cared about me before and still does, shouldn't we be able to remain close? Always appreciate your POV on matters like this.

A: You don't need me to direct you to search the phrase, "Friends with benefits." Your question isn't really global, you just want to know if you can convert this guy you really like and are occasionally sleeping with into a boyfriend. I'm sure you heard violin music when he made a sincere face and told you he cares for you way too much to let you think you're going to be anything more than a special type of buddy. If you're looking for a real romance, stop sleeping with this guy because your emotions are too high and you're only going to get more disappointed. Yes, a man and a woman can be friends. But I don't think you can be just be friends with him.

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Q. Openness About Alcoholism: My fiancé recently got into an accident after drinking and got arrested for a DUI. This was by far the worst thing that has ever happened after drinking, and through this he recognized he is an alcoholic and is now in recovery and treatment to maintain long-term sobriety. This has been stressful for us with our wedding in October, but we will get through it. My main concern now is that my parents do not want to tell my grandparents (who came to stay with them from abroad for the wedding), saying it will make them very upset and anxious, and that they may not accept him and our marriage if they find out. I feel that they need to know for us to have an honest relationship, and this secret is eating me up inside (my fiancé also feels that way, but says he will leave it up to me and my family). I understand that they may not attend our wedding if they find out, and I will be very sad if that happens, but I would rather that than feeling like we are frauds hiding something and knowing they might not be happy for us if they knew the truth. What do you think?

A: I think you need to postpone the wedding. Your fiancé is an alcoholic who could have killed a lot of people. If it took being arrested for him—and you—to recognize he has a problem, then you both have a problem with his drinking. I know your dress is bought, the catering menu is planned, the deposit has been paid, but look at what you're planning to do. You are planning to marry someone with a serious substance abuse problem who will have had virtually no sobriety behind him when you two tie the knot. That is not a good way to start a marriage. I agree with you that this problem has been hidden for way too long. I think you should talk about this with your family, at an Al Anon meeting, and in therapy with your fiancé. Just imagine what a fool you will feel if your groom decides that your wedding day is no time to forgo champagne and starts drinking to celebrate the start of your new life together.

Q. Re: Proselytizing: I live in the South, too, and even though we are Christian, I feel that statements of religious doctrine are inappropriate in public schools. When I feel a teacher has crossed the line, I don't hesitate to contact school administration. I instruct the administrator to make sure the teacher doesn't know whose mom complained, because I don't want my kids to be singled out. Part of the reason I do this to make sure my children aren't made to feel bad if their beliefs differ from their teachers, but the other reason is that I empathize with people like the letter writer, and don't ever want their children to feel like they don't belong at a public school.

A: Good policy. But I think the original letter writer has to make a distinction between Christmas carols and a discussion of creationism in science class.

Q. Parental support: My son and daughter-in-law decided to have an abortion and confided in me for moral support. Outwardly, I have said everything I need to support their decision, but inwardly I feel resentful and aggrieved. I know rationally this is their decision and it's not my place to judge. But I keep thinking about the grandchild that "could have been" and find myself jealous of grandparents out with young children. I had my only son after a long period of fertility issues so I also find myself angry at the two of them for not appreciating what a gift it was to conceive a baby, even though I know I shouldn't be thinking this. Some days I am so upset I make excuses not to see them, for fear I will say something hurtful to them which I will regret forever. How can I get over this?

A: Say something hurtful to a therapist. I can totally understand your pain at this news. But you already appreciate that you can only lose by weighing in on your sense of anger, anguish, and loss. You haven't said why they decided not to proceed, but your berating them will only create a chasm between you. You don't indicate your son and daughter-in-law never intend to have children, so I hope that you will become a grandmother one day. Whether or not you ever do, preserving the quality of your relationship with this couple is paramount. So find a professional, go for the number of sessions you need, and work this out.

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.