Monday, June 13, 2011

Of parental concern

Sometimes it is extra-difficult to parent teenagers. You want them to have enough life experience so that they won't flounder helplessly out there in the big world of a college campus. But then again, you want to limit that life experience in a number of crucial ways, sometimes because you remember from your own painful experiences, or also because the state of the news today and how it tends to stand your hair on end.

Along the way, as your kids make friends, you get to know those kids and their parents, and you hope as your children's friendships develop that you're going to be able to trust the friends' parents to basically have the same goals and values that you do. I mean, we've all heard about the parents who have that notion that kids are going to drink anyway, so "they might as well drink at our house where they can be safe and where we can confiscate their car keys." Which is, let me say, a FABULOUS parenting philosophy until someone wanders off and drowns in the neighbors' pool. Or falls off a second story deck onto the patio below. And just for the record, without mincing any words, if you're one of those parents, my husband and I think you're an idiot and a criminal and our kids won't be visiting.

It's fairly easy to keep your kids away from people like that, although I have to say that home schooling has probably helped us a lot in this respect; our girls' friends are mostly other home schooled kids, and the parents of their public and private schooled friends are generally the more conservative type who'd never dream of doing something as boneheaded as deliberately serving alcohol to a group of minors.

But here's a problem I've come across several times as the girls have grown older and it's one that worries me a lot. This affliction is one that besets Christian parents, both Catholic and Protestant, and it's one that makes me utterly helpless with anger and turns me into the kind of mother who has to tell her children "No, absolutely not. You cannot spend the night at their house" much more often than I want to.

Because it isn't my kids' fault when adults are stupid, but they're the ones who end up suffering.

The affliction I'm speaking of is this: "My kids have been raised in a Christian home and they're very devout themselves, so I know I can trust them to behave in a Christlike manner and uphold the morality of Christianity in general and our home in particular."

This is a hard one. Because I really do trust my kids. I think Meelyn and Aisling are wonderful girls and I'm with them pretty much every hour of the day (or at least in near proximity) that they're not sleeping or working. I'm completely convinced that their relationship with Jesus is real and it's a relationship they experience personally on a daily basis; He's not just someone they take notice of in passing on Sundays as they go forward to receive Communion with a casual and disinterested "Hey, Jesus. What's up?"

However, I also know they're human. And they're young. Since they're young humans, there are things that my husband and I, as responsible parents, need to be on the lookout for, to protect them. Because we don't want bad things -- including unintentional bad things -- to happen to them.

The latest problem that's come up had to do with the prom. Aisling was invited to spend the night at a friend's house to have kind of an afterglow, where several girls could sit around eating popcorn and deconstructing every single minute of the evening. The friend's family lives on the opposite side of Indianapolis, and we had plans the next day that were going to make it difficult to drive all the way to the west side of the city to get her, so I told her no, she couldn't go this time. She was disappointed, but Aisling is a good girl and she understood the logistics of our schedule the next day and didn't kick up much of a fuss.

I'm so glad we didn't let her go. Because it turned out later that the friend's parents had a boy/girl after prom sleepover that night.

I heard later from another mother that the boys slept on one floor of the house and the girls slept on another, but they were all accessible to one another, of course, because they were under the same roof of a single family dwelling, albeit a big honkin' house. But I heard from Aisling that her particular friend, the girl whose house this was, stayed up all night with her date, cozily ensconced in the family room, and talked until dawn.

First of all, let me say this: If the girl told Aisling that nothing sexual happened between her and her boyfriend there on the sofa, I feel I have no choice but to believe her. I know the girl vaguely -- she's been here a couple of times for sleepovers -- and she seems to be a very nice girl. I know a lot of people would just brush this off and say, "Well, it was definitely a provocative situation, but nothing happened so just let it slide." But I don't roll that way, I just don't and I'm too far gone in this parenting thing to start letting situations like this slide now. My point is, something could have happened so easily. Not because the girl and her boyfriend are bad kids. Not because they don't love Jesus with their whole little hearts. Not because they're (theoretically) committed to staying chaste before marriage, which is what I have always assumed other Christian parents of my generation were teaching their kids with something more enlightened than what my parents told me, which was, "Don't have sex because you might get pregnant and we'll kill you."

My beef in this boy/girl sleepover situation isn't nearly so much with the kids as with the adults.

First of all, as I told Aisling when we were discussing the decision to just have her come home after prom, is there really anything wrong with just going back to your own house and falling asleep in your own bed while drowsily recalling all the lovely events of the evening? I really deplore this part of our culture, which has been around since I was in high school, where the prom just isn't a formal dance, but a huge cultural event that calls for dinner beforehand and then the actual dance, then an after-prom party, then an early breakfast cooked by several tired mothers before everyone heads home at seven o'clock in the morning. Often there's the rental of a Hummer limo involved, and not just the one formal gown, but also the cocktail dress for the after-party and a casual outfit for breakfast. It wears me out.

Secondly, this boy/girl sleepover thing strikes me as incredibly stupid, almost as dumb as renting a room at a hotel for a bunch of prom attendees to share. And it's even dumber when the kids in question have been raised in Christian homes where the virtue of chastity has been explained and taken somewhere beyond theory and into actual practical experience as the kids have grown older. Because we all know what can happen, right? An emotionally extravagant evening like the prom, the glamour and romance of formal gowns and tuxedos and dancing in a beautiful place with lots of friends around...and then the intimacy of hours spent together unchaperoned, in the small hours of the night. We all know what can happen. WE KNOW IT.

So why put our children -- and someone else's child -- in the way of temptation? Why would an adult do that? If sex outside of marriage is wrong, and most traditional Christians agree that it is, and we've been coaching our kids to save their virginity for their future spouses (and, as a bonus, avoiding unintended pregnancy and/or disease), then why put them in a situation where their self-discipline is going to put to a test that they might not be able to endure?

It's like saying to a kid, "Look, I know you're really, really hungry. And I know that I've told you that this big dinner, this thick, juicy slice of prime rib cooked to perfection and baked potato with melting butter and a crisp, green salad with garlic croutons and the best and richest blue cheese dressing, topped off with French silk pie, this is food that is for certain occasions only, not just any time you want to sit down and indulge. But listen, I'm going to put all this food on the table in front of you and I want you to sit close enough that you can see it and smell it, but DO NOT TASTE IT. Don't even think of taking one single bite. Because that would be all kinds of wrong, and if you do, I'll be so disappointed in you and so will your dad, and not only that, it will also be a sin. So don't even think about it, all right? Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go set the table."

It's not right and it's not fair. It's wrong to do this kind of thing to teenagers. It's immoral. And no Christian person with a brain in his or her head would ever do something like this, especially if they'd have the gall to be dismayed when their fifteen year old gets pregnant. Because she was a good girl! He was a good boy! And so much was expected of them, what with how they'd been brought up and all, as Christians!

This is the concern we've had lately. And this is why Aisling, who really likes this girl, can't go to sleep over at her friend's house. Not because the friend is a bad girl, but rather because her parents can't be trusted. Their judgement isn't sound. We don't know them all that well anyway, which is a bit of a strike against them these days. But now? Now that we know they feel that there's nothing wrong with hosting boy/girl sleepovers? They are off our list, forever. Let them do their social experimenting with someone's else kids, if other someones are thoughtless enough to let them do it.

Plus, I'm really mad at them for making my job as a Christian mother even harder than it already is. They've given me one more thing that I have to say NO about in a list of no's that's already a long one. And they've let down our side, the side of Christian home schooling parents who I'd imagined before to be fairly well united on major things like this. The only bit of relief I have in the whole situation is that at least they're not Catholics. That would have just added insult to injury and this situation's already bad enough as it is.

This is one of the things we've been discussing a lot in our house lately.


Whosyergurl said...

Shelley, first of all, glad to see that writer's block period has passed.
Secondly, I whole-heartedly agree and often had the title of "the BAD Mom" or "the MEAN mom" even among some of the PARENTS when my daughter was growing up. Oh well. Only you can decide what is best for your child and then stick to your own beliefs. I admire you. xo, Cheryl

Amy said...

So, how do you really feel about this situation? LOL!

Honestly, you've hit the nail on the head of an issue I've been considering for a while. As our oldest heads to high school where there are LOTS of families I don't know, what do we do about sleepovers? I have one friend who has a blanket "no sleepover" policy. I'm inclined to follow her lead.