Welcome to our ongoing series about sexuality and relationships! This is a guest post from my dear friend, Pío. Pearl in Oyster is blessed to be the wife of a wonderful husband and the mother of a delightful three year old girl. She lives in rural Central California and blogs about the intersection between faith, motherhood and gentle discipline at gracefuldiscipline.blogspot.com.
*******Like many young girls, I was a little bit boy crazy in junior high, high school and even college. I seemed to more readily befriend boys than girls, and so I constantly had an eye out to see if any of my guy friends were showing signs that they had a secret crush on me.
I knew all about secret crushes, you see. I’d often heard the story of my parents who were friends for three years when they suddenly realized they were in love, got engaged weeks later and were married in a matter of months.
In elementary school, if a boy teased me or gave me any sort of hard time at all, my mom would attribute it to that boy having a secret crush on me and not knowing any better way to get my attention.
Too, Mom would joke around with us kids about which classmate we’d grow up to marry. When I’d share one of my crushes with her, she’d encourage and participate in speculating and fantasizing what a future with whoever it may be would be like.
|Image credit norika21 on Flickr|
As I said, I was constantly on the lookout for signs that romance was about to bloom. Inevitably, I developed a few secret crushes of my own in the process. I internalized the message that romance, marriage and having a family were the primary goals of living, and without them life was less worthwhile and worse, that without them *I* was less worthwhile.
I dreamt and longed and yearned for my first kiss, and then after it happened at a party the night I graduated from eighth grade, continued to dream and long and yearn for the first kiss of the next new relationship, the next first date, the next “real” relationship. Whenever I was serious with someone, then I dreamt and longed and yearned to get engaged, plan a wedding, and so on. I was too busy dreaming and longing and yearning to notice if the fellow I was with was even right for me most of the time. As a result most of my relationships were with guys that were poor matches for me for one reason or another.
The message that romance is waiting to bloom around every corner and that life is less worth living without “that special someone” didn’t just come from my mom or from my obsession with Anne of Green Gables.
Romance novels, teen magazines, women’s magazines, movies (especially romantic comedies) all carry the message, and it’s fairly pervasive in TV sitcoms and dramas as well.
Romance novels and romantic comedies have been called “porn for women.” It’s not just because some of the scenes can get steamy, but because of the unrealistic expectations they set up. Just as all bodies are perfect or airbrushed and exaggerated in proportion in a girlie magazine, all life is unrealistically centered on romance in those entertainments. The souls and emotions of the people portrayed in the pages and on the screen are no more real than the bodies enhanced with silicone, makeup, lighting and digital wizardry in a pornographic image or film.
These are not the messages I want my daughter to grow up with.
Not only does it objectify the male gender as a means to fulfilling romantic dreams, but for me at least, it resulted in a limited understanding of my own value as a human being, and a reduced ability to trust God with my romantic future.
My self-worth became tied to a shifting set of romantic ideals, from whether or not a boy expressed romantic interest in me, to whether or not I was in a relationship; to how long that relationship lasted, to how serious that relationship was. The bottom line was that the closer to the ultimate goal of marriage and babies I seemed to be, the happier and more worthwhile I felt.
I had no sense of waiting on God’s timing for the right person to come along. In my mind, it was up to me to be attractive, to flirt, to be on the lookout for the “special someone” to come along.
In college, this sense of desperation made me an easy target for an emotionally abusive man, and made it more difficult to extract myself from the relationship once his true nature became clear. It made me more willing to experiment with physical intimacy and less able to maintain boundaries in the face of so called “romance.”
So what does this mean for Sexual Education in a Christian Home?
There’s not a simple formula answer. Certainly it’s a complex set of interactions between society and parenting, psychology and spirituality.
However, I can start by being conscious of the way I talk to my daughter about romantic relationships, not just when she is a teenager, but throughout her life. I especially want to guard against the temptation to do any fortune-telling of my own about any male friends she may have.
How can I actively fight the messages society sends that a person’s worth is tied to their “success” in romance?
Certainly I want my daughter to view motherhood and marriage as important and valuable, so downplaying the importance of those parts of life isn’t the whole answer.
I think the solution boils down to where she draws her value from and what she puts her trust in. I want her to feel loved for who she is at every stage of her life. I want her to be able to rest in God’s timing and trust His plan for her life.
I hope that attachment parenting and gentle discipline have given us a good start toward those goals. As I responsively met her needs as an infant, I taught her to trust and feel loved. As I gently discipline her with grace, I hopefully reflect God’s character. I can’t live her life for her, but I can set her up for success as much as possible with the spoken and implied messages I give her.
This is part of a series about how we teach our children about sexuality. As parents, we have an incredible responsibility. We need to give our children accurate, age-appropriate information, not only on the physical aspects of sexuality, but also on the emotional and spiritual ramifications. I hope you will join us in this discussion with your comments, links, ideas and stories. For the entire series, click here.