Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mommy Jeans

Dear Lucy,

Today you are five months old. Right now I am the center of your world and the apple of your eye but one day I will not be so central to your world. In fact, I'll probably be the one that you would love to sweep under the carpet when your friends come over to visit. You'll love to put me in a closet when I remind you to be home by 9 o'clock or tell you that you can't wear that skirt because it's too short.

I may not be 'cool' by your standards. One day you'll hopefully understand why I'm not aiming for 'cool'; I'm aiming to love. Unfortunately, in today's society these two cannot coexist. 

I call it the "Mommy Jeans Syndrome", and our culture suffers from it and promotes it. We all know the type--outdated, ill-fitting, tasteless, unflattering mommy jeans. Unfortunately, this is how the youth is often taught to see their parents. It's when a child sees his parents as people behind the times; their old-fashioned sense of morality is outdated, tradition is 'uncool' and has no meaning, and parents are seen as ignorant, bumbling idiot who are out of touch with the youth of today. Parents are belittled and seen as a hindrance to freedom, and personal expression. Parent have increasingly become caricatures in the minds of the youth; they are relics from some prehistoric age where technology was synonymous with a Polaroid camera and fashion was at its height when 'mommy jeans' were the style. 

Stop that.

I'm talking to the entertainment industry. As Lucy begins to take an interest in TV--the colorful array of images in motion, and interesting sounds, voices--I have embraced the parental taskof monitoring the messages that these kid shows convey.

Wait a sec, you're probably thinking, didn't you say that Lucy is just five months old? Yes, and that it why it is so critical to censor (oh yes, I used that word!) what she is watching. According to the renown education philosopher, Maria Montessori (a devout Catholic!), a child's education starts at birth. Children (especially under age two) have "absorbent minds" and an enormous capacity to learn. What they learn at this tender age lays the foundation for the formation of their conscience and for the distinction between good and evil. What we allow our children to to be exposed to when they are young has a profound impact on their intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and even emotional development.

But what do kid shows have to do with 'mommy jeans'? I'm currently reading Michael O'Brien's A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. In his book he talks about this resurgence of the centuries-old heresy Gnosticism. He writes, "The error of Gnosticism is that knowledge can be obtained and used to perfect oneself while circumventing the authority of Christ and his Church" (54). He talks of a "new" or "modern" Gnosticism that has invaded our culture. It is disguised in some of those "feel good" sayings that our entertainment industry is overrun with: "'If you watch this, you will know more, be more grown-up, more smart, more cool, more funny, more able to talk about it with your friends.'--'Right and wrong are what you feel are right and wrong for you. Question authority. To become what you want to be, you must be a rebel.'--'You make yourself; you create your own reality.'--'We can make a perfect world. Backward older people, especially ignorant traditionalist, are the major stumbling blocks to building a peaceful, healthy, happy planet" (63).  Sound familiar?

Don't you love that last one?

It is truly alarming how often the entertainment industry depicts parents as foolish, outdated, or oppressive for standing by tradition and morality. Let's look at a few examples.

Remember this one? Of course Ariel's father, Triton, is depicted as a tyrant--an oppressor of her dreams, romantic impulses, and self-expression. Her behavior is rewarded by the teary repentance of her father who becomes the actual means by which she achieves her desires.

How to Train Your Dragon is a basket case. Apart from the dangerous mixing of symbolism (i.e., 'good' Dragons), the young boy, Hiccup, breaks from the Viking tribal tradition of dragon slaying and befriends a dragon. Hiccup has a strained relationship with his father because his father, Stoick,  represent traditional viking values (i.e., dragon are evil). In the end, Hiccup is justified in disobeying his father.

How about Mulan? (Again) Apart from mixed symbols (a 'friendly' dragon) and the feminist undertones, Mulan rebels against her family and their traditional values. Is she punished for her disobedience? No, but she does receive a special reward from the emperor and is celebrated by her country. 

There are countless more examples of how disobedient behavior in children is rewarded and the parents are proven 'wrong' and depicted as out of touch with their children's generation. I fear to even venture into the Disney channel sitcoms. This post would become a book.

Modern parents tend to complain about the disdain that much of our youth have toward tradition and conservative values, yet we allow these very messages into the youths' minds through providing and allowing contaminated movies into our home. If we expose our children to entertainment that are in essence contradictions to what we teach them, we are sending our children mixed messages. More specifically, if we allow our children to watch material that present parental authority and conservative values in an unfavorable light we are undermining our own authority.

"The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called "the domestic church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity" (CCC 1666). Our family, as the domestic church, is basically a greenhouse for the universal Church. We plant little seeds, we give them a sheltered (yes, I used that word too) environment , and we provide for them physically, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally until they are called to their vocation (and continue even then!).

Interestingly, the very poison that administered to the domestic church, is spooned out for mother Church. How is the Church portrayed in kid movies? Let's see.

The Church is seen as oblivious to problems around her. (The Little Mermaid)

She is depicted as shallow, preoccupied with appearance and her priests as lustful. (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame)

However paganism and pantheism are okay (i.e., Pocahontas, Lion King, Mulan, Hercules, and The Little Mermaid--in the latter Catholicism was actually taken out of the original fairytale).

O'Brien explains that scientifically we enter a trance-like state after watching TV for just thirty seconds: "This
allows the material shown to bypass the critical faculty, so that images and ideas are absorbed by the mind without conscious reflection" (63). As adults, we ourselves are not immune from the power of visual entertainment. It's going to be hard for my husband and I to draw the line between which movies are allowed and those that are not allowed. If we ourselves are desensitized to much of the bad material in movies, how will we ever be a good judge of our children's movies?

As a new parent--and in anticipating the challenges of the future--I'm learning how truly difficult it is to raise a child in truth and holiness in these times. It's hard to mold a young conscience and it's hard to keep a properly informed conscience. For discernment purposes, my husband and I have decided to go on a two-week "TV strike" in an attempt to "re-sensitize" ourselves. Weeding out some of the noise of TV will allow us to hear where we should draw the line with TV entertainment for Lucy.

After all, I don't want entertainment to dictate how Lucy should see her mommy or the values and morals I teach to her. If morals and conservative values are the equivalent to wearing Mommy jeans, so be it. I'll wear my mommy jeans with pride, and perhaps Lucy will wear them one day too.

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