Catholic Schools Week was celebrated earlier this year. Thirty-five years ago, my husband and I started our family. From the moment we laid eyes on our little baby girl, we made a decision — we would do whatever it took for me to be a stay-at-home parent. Four years and two babies later (and another baby two years after that), another crucial decision was made — we’d send our children to Catholic schools, regardless of the cost.
From a completely objective view, my husband and I were probably the last people who should have been sending our children to private schools. After a downturn in the machining industry, John had taken a job with a start-up company and was barely making more than minimum wage when we started our family. It was hard enough making ends meet without adding in the cost of schooling for four children.
To be honest, John probably would have been fine sending our kids to a public school. He had attended public schools since he was in second grade and had turned out just fine. I had a few more years under my belt, having attended a Catholic school from first through eighth grade, but that experience was so impactful that I wanted our children to have that same experience as well.
I’m not sure how many couples would live the austere lifestyle that John and I did so I could continue to be a stay at home mom and we could send our kids to Catholic schools. It wasn’t always easy, but those were joyful days. I’d go back and live them all over again in an instant if I could.
My career was put on hold for 15 years until our youngest child started second grade. While John always worked full time days, I did various jobs around his work schedule so we didn’t have to hire babysitters — everything from being a Tupperware sales rep to selling plasma.
As far as money goes, we had a budget and we stuck to it. We were married eight years before we even had our first credit card and once we did get one, we paid it off every month religiously. Working with a Christian financial planner, we felt comfortable splitting our 10 per cent tithe between our church and the tuition bill.
We were thrifty, that’s for sure. We took one vacation each summer, staying with my brother and his family in Minneapolis and spending a day at the Mall of America. I invested in a hair clipper set so I could cut our son’s hair, the girls wore their hair long so very few haircuts for them. We had take-out food once a week, either from J.D.’s Drive-In where you could get six double cheeseburgers and a box of fries for under $10 or from Little Caesar’s where a large one-topping pizza was only $5. Most of the kids’ clothes were hand-me-downs purchased from friends who had older children, from the uniform sale at school, the occasional rummage sale or the neighborhood thrift store.
There were many a day that the featured meal for breakfast was oatmeal cooked on the stove and mac and cheese for lunch. That was back in the day when I was cooking three meals a day, all from scratch and usually with a homemade dessert as well.
It might be hard for couples now to imagine life with no cable TV, using cloth diapers, hanging clothes out on the line to conserve electricity, no date nights for mom and dad, and taking your kids to only one movie a year, usually the newest Christmas movie where we split one large popcorn and one large soda between the six of us. Once every two or three years, John and I got a weekend getaway which I earned by raising money for the Bowl for Life.
We taught our kids to live within their means as well. Each child got a stipend on payday twice a month (started at $15 and eventually went up to $20) and with that money they paid for their school supplies, clothing, entertainment with their friends, and gifts.
Thankfully, we qualified for tuition assistance, even if it meant mounds of paperwork to fill out to get it. One year we were even blessed by an anonymous person or couple in our parish who paid a year of tuition for our oldest daughter who was in middle school at the time.
For us, all the sacrifice has paid off. We have four wonderful young adult children, all in solid relationships and our married children each have three children of their own now. Our children are highly educated (Catholic undergrad and grad school — The Univeristy of Notre Dame, University of St. Thomas, St. Louis University, Marquette University), are working in their chosen fields, and, most importantly to us, they are still members of the Church. Can we say for sure that those decisions we made all those years ago brought about those positive outcomes? It’s hard to say, but I’d certainly like to think so. Our children have told us they appreciate the Catholic education they received. This beautiful cycle continues — all of our school-aged grandchildren are enrolled in Catholic schools now as well. The blessings keep coming and coming!