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Real Romance Begins with Parents

by Pia de SolenniOne of the best perspectives on parenting girls that I’ve heard came from a woman I knew in D.C.Latin American immigrants, she and her husband were both hard workers and dedicated to their growing family. She related how her husband took it upon himself to start a tradition with his young daughters: giving them flowers. Typically, it was on their birthdays. He wanted them to grow up accustomed to being treated well by their father so that they wouldn’t fall for the first guy who said something nice to them or spent a little money on them. He wanted them to realize that they were treasures to be cherished and not cast about like something worthless, taking it all off for someone who couldn’t care less the next morning. As their father, he was shaping their expectations for romance, not only in the way he treated their mother, but in his gestures towards them.I couldn’t help but think of this story when I read the recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?” by Jennifer Moses. In her article, this self-identified member of the “feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation” explores the fundamental tension of young girls allowed to dress in sexually provocative ways. After more than forty years of feminism, girls now coming of age seem to value themselves as little more than cheap trinkets and, therefore, have no scruples in advertising blatantly what once was either cherished or at least somewhat monitored by the surrounding culture.Obviously culture has changed over the decades; in some ways not for the better. But this scapegoat is too easy, as Moses acknowledges. Instead she suggests the conflict that mothers experience, having lived eschewing norms and traditions but are now faced with their own daughters who are cued to do the same but to an even greater degree. Yet these same women have regrets. She cites a woman who explains, “If I could do it again, I wouldn’t even have slept with my own husband before marriage. Sex is the most powerful thing there is, and our generation, what did we know?”Now they face the daunting reality of being “hypocrites” and sparing their daughters the pain that they experienced. Moses acknowledges the pornographic culture that’s hard to miss unless you live completely isolated. And she duly notes that the role models provided by the media fail to meet the real needs of girls and young women.But the conflict of being the hypocrite is an implicit suggestion that the surrounding culture doesn’t determine everything, and that individuals (and families) can exercise their freedom to live differently, to live better.In the accompanying video clip, when asked about why some mothers allow their daughters to dress inappropriately, Moses offers that it’s because those mothers themselves were “pimped out” by their own mothers who didn’t teach them to respect themselves.The armchair psychologist cum moral theologian in me agrees with Moses, but wonders about something even deeper. The immigrant father I mentioned earlier was teaching his daughters to have the expectations of romance and family, the expectation of a lifelong union.The girls that Moses describes are living in a hook-up generation on steroids. There’s no hope of real romance. There’s rarely even the hope of a date. There’s no hope of a future, at least not with this particular person. Their actions are only about the immediate present.Real love means being wholly committed to a person come what may, not for the moment, not just so long as the feeling is there, not just as long as the partner is attractive, not just as long as one’s needs are met, not just as long as plans don’t change.In addition to the culture of promiscuity, and even contraception, which Moses clearly identifies, children continue to grow up with a culture of divorce and various family-like arrangements. Like the preceding generation(s), they don’t see an overwhelming number of married couples who are committed to each other and who really work to build lasting romance within the couple.To a great extent, one’s reality is determined by one’s environment. Yes, we can easily see the influences of media and the surrounding culture. But we also need to take another step back and see the influences of family or the lack thereof. Children of either sex get their most basic notions of love, relationships and romance from their parents: what they see (or don’t see) at home. Moses notes that “some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews” are the exception, knowing how to teach their sons and daughters to respect themselves. But all of these communities have what are called traditional notions of marriage, love, and romance. And it seems that these notions or values directly impact what they are able to teach their children. (Sadly, it would appear that the Catholics she’s known haven’t similarly set themselves apart.)Yes, the world may in fact be overwhelming and contrary to the values that help us grow into healthy individuals, capable of love and self gift, but reality really begins with the experience closest to us. The way that spouses treat each other and, in turn, their children has a direct impact on their children’s expectations for love, romance, relationships, marriage and family. So while Moses’ evaluation of the problem definitely resonates, I think she’s only scratching an already uncomfortable surface. Her own account suggests that the problem is even deeper than the surrounding culture.Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian. She writes and travels for speaking engagements from Seattle, Washington.(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)http://www.headlinebistro.com/en/columnists/desolenni/040411.html


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