Our family is weird by today's standards. In more ways than one.
The first oddity is our undying devotion to the Catholic Church and all she passes on to us from God. Yes, all. No, we don't think women priests are a good idea - it can't even be done. No, we don't think that contraception is okay sometimes. No, we don't think that abortion is okay in the cases of rape and incest - those babies are not guilty of anything. No, we don't think that homosexuals are able to get married. Yes, we love our priests and bishops and the Holy Father. We pray for them all, and we obey the Church, even when it's hard. That not only makes us weird in the general world out there, it also makes us weird to a lot of Catholics. That makes me a bit sad, but that's life, you know?
Next comes our strange decision to keep our kids with us at home and teach them here. Homeschooling is more accepted than it was 15 years ago, and I am so grateful for the parents who fought so hard to
gain reclaim our right to be the primary educators of our own children. The Church teaches that all parents are their children's primary educators, and when I applied for the religious exemption in our state, I referred to this right in my explanation of why I'm homeschooling. It's a God-given right for me to teach my children, to have them educated how I see fit, in order that they gain Heaven.
Even though homeschooling is not frowned upon by most people any more (thanks, Tebow family!), we are still looked at askew sometimes by parents who cannot imagine having their children around them 24/7.
Me? I like my girls. I love having them around, and it's not because I want to shelter them. They're really neat people. They're funny and smart and witty and great to be around. I feel a little bad for parents who don't like being with their kids. I feel bad for the kids, too, because if your parents don't like you, who will?
But anyway, we are weird for homeschooling. We do things like have school in our PJ's sometimes, or take field trips that last a week, like when my parents took them on a field trip to Washington, DC. Or take tours of old churches as part of school. We read Shakespeare and the kids make my husband and I act out the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet, or the scene in Juliet's tomb, with me lying on the couch while my husband pretends to stab himself and die on the living room floor. Because doing that while your third-grader cheers you both on is really not very normal. (It should be. Lemme tell you what, ladies. Try acting out that balcony scene with your husband and then try containing yourself until the kids are in bed! WHEW!)
We're also weird because we shelter our kids from a lot of things we feel they aren't ready for. Things that are now considered normal for kids to have or do. While they do have access to a computer for schoolwork, both girls have parental controls on the internet browser that limits where they can go. Neither of them are allowed on YouTube to just watch videos, even of stuff we think might be okay. (You NEVER know what those "related videos" will be!) They are not allowed to have Facebook accounts, which is not a big deal for the nine year old, but does make the 12 year old look strange to her friends.
They don't have cell phones, either. Oh, there have been times when they're away all day on a Youth Group trip or a dance rehearsal where we'll loan them a phone (Travel Man has a work cell and a personal cell). But they don't have their own. And they won't for a long time. We've said to them both that we'll start the discussion when they turn 16 and start doing things like drive and work. Until then, they'll live. Heck, I didn't have a cell phone until I was in my 20's, and I lived. I'm sure they won't implode.
This is actually something we've had to really explain - not to other parents, usually. The ones who say anything are usually the ones who lament the day they bought a cell phone for their child. The ones who have no regrets don't usually try to persuade us; maybe we look like we just don't care what they think. But to the kids, and especially to Big Girl, who is blazing the path and has to be the first one to ask for everything.
The thing is, there is an unrestricted internet on that phone. And texting. And calls to who-knows-who. Frankly, I don't let them just call anyone on the house phone, or just start sending emails to just anyone. (As a matter of fact, the kids are white-listed on their email accounts. Each new address sent to or received from must be approved by a parent first. Permissions can also be rescinded.) But with a cell phone, that's impossible to control. Not only can I not control much who's called, I cannot control who is sending messages to my girls. And, while at 12 and 13 that's probably not a concern, I know what happens when hormonal teenagers have cell phones with video, still cameras, and an unlimited texting and messaging plan. And why take the risk of exposing them to any of that early? At this point, neither of them have enough sense to know who should have their phone numbers. I know they'd give them out to everyone they're friends with!
Now, it's super-hard to protect their purity when we go out. I'm not even talking about the mall, where we avoid an entire section to avoid Victoria's Secret's gigantic soft-p*rn window-display posters. I'm talking about walking between Spencer's and a T-shirt place where my kids have almost nowhere to look without taking the chance of them seeing something vile. I'm talking about Wal Mart's checkout line where Cosmo sits, usually without the blinders, proclaiming that it has great ideas for … well, you know. But while Cosmo is still out in front on the smut parade, even the more tame magazines display big headlines about being sexy and the gossip magazines talk brazenly about hook-ups, shack-ups, break-ups, and babies out of wedlock as though it's all peachy-keen, hunky-dory, good and healthy stuff.
And teen girls are being pressured to start dating earlier and earlier. You're a loser if you don't have a boyfriend when you're 12. If you're not getting to go out alone with that boyfriend by 13 or 14, you're just really a weirdo. Don't forget to wear that sexy outfit! Lace leggings and a miniskirt! Yippee!
This Culture of Death is trying to dress my girls like hookers, push them into dating early, and then will throw condoms at them and tell them that they just can't help themselves because they've got hormones and stuff and gosh if you love him then why not it's just sex and everyone does that eventually get that virginity thing out of the way and have you seen Sex and the City yet?
Well-meaning people have asked me, "What's the big deal? To her, having a boyfriend means they sit together and like each other."
I had to think a lot about what that means. Not to her, but for real. What, in real life, does it mean to have a boyfriend? Where does it lead? What is the reason people date? Do I even WANT her dating, or do we want more of a courtship situation? There is something I don't like about it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
I've been praying since my Big Girl was born about how to answer these questions - and questions about growing up and human sexuality - because I needed to be ready with good, clear answers with reasons behind them that I could explain. My answer had to be more than "No," and "Because I said so."
I was finally confronted with having to give answers recently, and I'll share those answers with you in Part II.
(UPDATE: Part II can be found here.)