The proliferation of sex

Dear Daughter,

Sex is everywhere.

It’s on TV, magazine covers, in movies, music… you can’t be in touch with the outside world and NOT see or hear something about sex, really. In just the past few years, it’s become one of the most (if not THE most) prolific topics in our culture.

It’s difficult for parents to know how to handle this. We need to be more vigilant than ever to monitor what you’re seeing and hearing. But sometimes our vigilance falls short, or we’re not cautious enough. Other times we’re straight-up paranoid. If we don’t make it to the radio dial in time to keep you from hearing Jessie J belt out, “I’m feeling sexy and free,” we worry that you’ll be messed up for life. Like you’ll be lying around a crack house someday saying, “If only I didn’t hear the ‘S’ word in that song Domino when I was 9, my life could have been different…”

So yeah, sometimes we parents go overboard in trying to shelter you. But for the most part, I don’t think we do enough. I know for a fact that I don’t do enough. I sometimes take for granted that you’re a kid and you don’t even notice that half the stuff you see and hear is inappropriate. I cling to the fact that you haven’t had the life experience to know whether or not something is wrong. But my denial is foolish. Because there are plenty of other times when you DO hear the “S” word and look at me to see if I noticed it too. Or you cover your eyes when you see a young couple kissing passionately on a TV show commercial (many of which are shown on ABC Family. “Family,” really? That station is one of the worst for playing adult-themed shows/films.)

The thing is, I can’t shelter you from the proliferation of sex completely, unless I were to take away TV, movies, music… school. It’s everywhere and really can’t be avoided. And it shouldn’t be avoided altogether because you need to learn how to make good decisions despite all the junk being thrown in your face. It IS my responsibility as a parent, however, to teach you the good from the bad. To try to keep the bad away while you are young and innocent, but also to establish a foundation of purity, self-esteem and confidence in you so that, when the bad does leak through, you won’t be deterred by it.

Sex is everywhere. And our culture likes to make you think it’s everything. But it doesn’t have to be, and it’s my job to teach you that.

Love,
Mom

The Celebrity Obsession Problem

Dear Daughter,

Last week, a famous singer named Whitney Houston died unexpectedly. She was young, beautiful and insanely talented, so her death is considered a tragic one. Especially because it appears drugs might have been the cause.

It’s always kind of conflicting when famous people die. Even though we’ve never met the person, we’re still shocked and saddened when we hear of their death. We feel some sense of mourning, but might feel a little dramatic doing so because after all, this person is technically a stranger. We have no right to grieve in the way that their family and friends do, yet they were a part of our life in some way, so it’s somewhat legitimate to be sad. Maybe the death of a superstar makes us think of our own mortality, or that of our loved ones. Perhaps what we’re really mourning is the loss of such great talent.

What bothers me, though, is how the media has handled celebrity deaths in the past few years. I try not to be a “hate the media” type because I’ve worked in the media and never liked the label people put on us. But seriously, this past week, it seemed every TV station, at every hour of the day, was airing coverage of Whitney Houston. It started to feel a little overboard after awhile. My cynical self couldn’t help but wonder: a) if it was all for the goal of higher profits, and b) what other important news we were missing because of it.

One of my friends, Garry De Vries, had a similar sentiment and recently posted a profound statement about it on Facebook. I asked him if I could share part of it with you:

I respect the dead and I respect that Whitney Houston needed her moment but what about the others?… Why don’t we take the time to flash EVERY fallen soldier’s name and picture the day they pass at the end of newscasts as a sign of respect. They died so people like Whitney can be free and become famous yet we do not honor them like we should. How about we keep the flag at full staff for celebrities and keep the honor of half staff for people who dedicated their lives to our country or lost it in the line of duty. How about we talk more about the soldiers who lost limbs and are in wheelchairs and how we can help them instead of Lindsey Lohan’s next court date for being a drug-addicted idiot. How about instead of the Real Housewives and their egotistical lives we have a show about the widows of soldiers and single mothers and wives of soldiers overseas and help them.

Garry’s statement really hit me because it revealed just how much value our culture (myself included) places on The Celebrity. For some reason, we’ve become obsessed with the comings and goings of the rich and famous, and oftentimes those comings and goings are superfluous, having no real impact on our daily life. And the people who truly are making a difference—soldiers, teachers, scientists—usually go unnoticed and are sometimes even dismissed. This dichotomy sadly shows just how shallow our culture really is.

That’s not to say that Whitney Houston’s death did not deserve attention, because it did. Most people agree that she is one of the best singers—if not THE best—of our time. She has influenced many young musicians who have gone on to have their own successful careers. And I personally have several fond memories of lip synching via hairbrush to Whitney’s music during my childhood years. Her life does deserve a tribute, but so do the lives of many other influential people who will never receive the recognition they’re due, let alone 24/7 coverage on every TV station.

All this to say, Daughter… don’t get too caught up in the celebrity obsession that our society holds so dearly. It’s fun to know a little bit about what’s going on in celebrities’ lives, but not when they’re held on a pedestal that stamps out the efforts of those who truly deserve the credit. Let’s help shift the priorities of our culture and start paying attention to the real heroes.

Love,
Mom

Why I don’t want to marry Bruno Mars

Dear Daughter,

It’s been a while since I’ve picked on a pop star and/or pop song, and it’s just so much fun to do, so here’s my latest rant…

Bruno Mars has a new song out called “Marry You.” When I first heard it, I loved it because it has an old-school feel, like 60s music, and I absolutely love music from that era. But, like Katy Perry’s Friday song, the catchy sound distracts from the appalling lyrics. When I finally listened to the words of “Marry You,” I was so disappointed.

The song in general appears sweet because he’s basically begging this girl to marry him. But if you really listen, a few themes come across that are simply maddening:

1) Who are you, again? It appears that he doesn’t know this girl very well. “Is it the look in your eyes or is it this dancing juice?” (Dancing juice is alcohol.) So he’s basically saying, “I don’t know if it’s because you’re hot or I’m drunk but hey, let’s get married!” How romantic. I sure wish my husband proposed to me that way. Throughout the song it seems he wants to marry her just for the fun of it, not because he’s actually in love with her. In fact, the song has little to do with the girl at all; he’s mainly just trying to convince her to join him in his little prank.

2) Something borrowed, something… dumb? The point above is blatantly reinforced by the lyric, “We’re looking for something dumb to do.” So now marriage is dumb. Why couldn’t he have said “fun” instead of “dumb”? I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. If you’re looking for something dumb to do, Bruno, go teepee someone’s house. Marriage does not and should not fall into that same category.

3) All hail king alcohol. I already mentioned the “dancing juice,” which I’ll admit is kind of a cute, old-school way of describing alcohol. But the eloquence stops there. Because a few verses later he says, “Who cares if we’re trashed…” Nice. And then he says something about how they’ll take shots of Patron (a very strong liquor) to help ease them into the decision. What should be a lifelong commitment, something that should be entered into with clarity of mind, is here being degraded by alcohol, and lots of it.

4) The morning after. I think I would tolerate the song better if it weren’t for the following lyrics: “If we wake up and you wanna break up, that’s cool/ No, I won’t blame you/ It was fun girl.” Those words encourage the common belief that it’s no big deal to end a marriage, and they reinstate the fact that his desire to marry this girl is for the spontaneous experience, not because of love.

The song just saddens me because it is a reflection of our culture’s jaded view of marriage. It’s saying that marriage—one of the biggest decisions you could ever make and one of the most character-building things you’ll ever do—is as easy to walk into and out of as a convenience store. The song totally waters down any respect one might have for the institution of marriage. I’m sure Bruno Mars just wanted a fun, upbeat song that he knew would be a hit, but he’s promoting a dangerous perception of marriage, a perception that’s already pretty screwed up. We didn’t need this song to make it worse.

I told you, I’m sensitive about this all-too-popular view of marriage and I hope you will be too. I also hope that, if a guy were to someday write a song about why he wants to marry you, it’ll be filled with reasons why he can’t live without you. And it won’t include the words “dumb” or “trashed.”

Love,
Mom

Why we always want the next best thing

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but it seems that, when it comes to material possessions, we’re never satisfied. We could have the nicest, most luxurious items in the world, and yet we’ll always be on the search for something even better.

This became very real to me just last night. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting a Kindle, or some other type of e-reader. It’s funny because, being a die-hard fan of pen and paper, for a long time I was against e-readers. But eventually I came to appreciate their value and once I did, I really wanted one for myself. So finally I got one, just yesterday. It’s the least expensive Kindle on the market, but still, I was ecstatic to come home to it.

Until I saw the commercial.

While in the midst of downloading books onto my new toy, a TV commercial played about the new Kindle Fire, which is a bright, flashy, touch-screeny masterpiece of awesomeness. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want in an e-reader. I looked down at the Kindle in my hand. Suddenly its gray screen and plastic buttons seemed dull, archaic. A voice whined in my head: Man, why couldn’t I have spent just a few more bucks for the Fire?

I finally owned the one thing I’ve been wanting for so long, and still it wasn’t good enough.

This is a common way of thinking, especially nowadays when everything gets an upgrade every six months. We’re constantly made to believe we should have the newest, coolest version of whatever product we own. We’re always striving to keep up with the Joneses, to keep throwing our money at these things simply so we can say we have the biggest, best and brightest. Because somehow that determines our worth. It makes us look smart, hip, better than everyone else. Only, in reality, it makes us fools. Because it won’t be long before we’re panicking about having the next biggest, best and brightest thing. And the cycle continues.

Daughter, it would behoove you to come to terms at a young age with the fact that these kinds of material items will never satisfy you, so you might as well appreciate what you do have. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Kindle or iPad or whatever the “it” product is for your generation. Those things in and of themselves are good, useful resources that will likely enrich your life in some way. But they should not determine your self-worth, and you should not get wrapped up in the rat race of consumerism.

Whenever you have those moments when everything you own seems to be the second-rate version, try to change your perspective. Look at the many blessings you have in your life, like your family or friends, your passions or talents. Even look at the material items you do own and appreciate how fortunate you are to have them, while so many others in the world have nothing.

Be better than everyone else not by having the hottest product on the market, but by seeing the futility in having the hottest product on the market. Escape from the bondage of marketing and consumerism, and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Love,
Mom

Why you should be a Justin Bieber fan

Dear Daughter,

You’re funny about Justin Bieber. You go out of your way to proclaim that you do NOT like him or his music, yet I catch you singing his songs. You even made up a whole dance routine to “Never Say Never.” For someone who doesn’t like the Biebs, you sure do spend a lot of time talking about him. So I’m not convinced, my dear.

The thing is, I kind of want you to have Bieber Fever. Maybe not to the extent that you daydream about being his wife and you scream at the mention of his name. But I want you to respect him. Because I sure do.

I admit I’m kind of hard on pop music stars. Katy Perry gets most of my scorn, as you know, and Rihanna is becoming a close second. (By the way, shouldn’t Rihanna’s name be pronounced “Ree-hana?” Either that or it should be spelled Rhianna. Drives me crazy!) But Justin Bieber is one of the good guys, and I hope he stays that way.

Here’s why I’m a JB fan:

1) He’s uber talented. Unlike some artists who wouldn’t survive without auto tune  (*cough* Taylor Swift), Justin actually deserves to be a music star. His voice is amazing and he can play the drums better at age 17 than most drummers can play at age 50. We were worried there that once he hit puberty and his voice changed, he would be relegated to the list of has-beens, but he seems to be transitioning just fine.

2) He came from humble beginnings. We Americans love a good Cinderella story, and Justin definitely has one. He was raised by a single mom in a modest household. He didn’t have to go through Disney to rise to success. He started practicing his gift at a very young age, worked hard at it, and eventually got discovered by people who recognize true talent. That’s a lesson to kids that: a) you don’t have to be rich to be noticed, and b) hard work pays off.

3) He loves Jesus. In the documentary Never Say Never, it shows that Justin’s family is Christian, and he and his whole crew pray together before every concert. At one of the awards shows a few months ago, in Justin’s acceptance speech, he gave thanks “not only to God but to Jesus,” who he said has blessed him and is the one who put him in that position. There was debate about that line; some Christians were mad that he made it sound like Jesus and God are not the same, like he was denying the Trinity. But I think I know the point that Justin was making. All the stars thank God when they accept an award. It’s the thing to do. They throw God’s name out there right alongside the names of their producer or assistant. Justin was making a point that he doesn’t view God as just some random guy up in the clouds. He really does believe in and worship Jesus the son of God, and he gives Him the glory for his success. That is unheard of in Hollywood, let alone from teenagers. I love that JB isn’t ashamed of JC. (Ha.)

4) He has great hair. (Now’s a good time to mention that these are not listed in order of importance.) Take it from someone who’s had bangs for years: it takes a lot of work to make them look good. But Justin not only has perfected it, he’s also made a trend out of it. For the past year or so, tween and teen boys everywhere have been sporting the thick, swoopy-hair-across-the-forehead look that the Biebs made famous.

So, Daughter, I think you should admit to the fact that you really do love Justin Bieber, and when you do, I won’t tease you one bit. I’ll be right alongside you, singing and dancing to “Baby.” Now that I think about it, maybe that scene is precisely what you’re trying to avoid. Hmmm….

Love,
Mom

A Parent’s Anthem

Dear Daughter,

There are three British rock bands (well, two British and one Irish) that are each amazing and timeless and will be remembered for years and years. We adults will occasionally get into a debate about which of the three is the best.

The bands are U2, Coldplay and Muse.

I’m torn on this argument because I like all three of them for different reasons. U2 has played a very special role in my life. When I was in college I listened to them non-stop and went to two of their concerts. Their music, at that time anyway, just resonated with me; I have a very personal connection to them. Lately, though, I’ve been completely blown away by Muse. I believe the lead singer (I don’t even know his name) has more talent in his pinky than Bono (of U2) or Chris Martin (of Coldplay) have in their whole bodies, combined. Muse’s work is simply unprecedented; it’s musically complex and intricate, yet so powerful that it makes you want to go out and protest something. It’s music at its finest, in my opinion.

So where does that leave Coldplay? Overall, this band takes the bronze; however, there’s this one Coldplay song that is quite possibly my favorite song of all time. It’s one of those where, every time I hear it, I’m brought to tears by its beauty. It has these big swells that give you energy and, like, purpose.

But it’s the lyrics that really get me. I think they would get any parent. Because these are the words every parent wants to say to their children. It lists many of the failures and heartbreaking moments that can happen to a person, and then says, when those things happen, come home. I’ll make you feel better. I’ll ease your pain.

Here are the lyrics, and the video is below.

Fix You

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I…

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I…

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Daughter, I don’t want you to get hurt. I don’t want to see you cry or fail or fall in love with the wrong person. But these things will probably happen, and when they do, I’ll be here to help you through it. I will try to fix you.

Love,
Mom

Why some people do evil things

Dear Daughter,

There are a few things in life that are impossible to understand, that our human minds are simply not capable of comprehending. And one of those mysteries is: what makes some people do evil things?

We all hurt others at one point or another, whether intentionally or not. That, I can understand. What I’m talking about here, however, is straight-up evil. Like, dark and twisted, horrendous acts.

I don’t know why I watch or read the news. It can be so depressing at times. I hear a story about what one person did to another and all I can think is, “What on earth would make them do such a thing? How does the thought of doing that even cross a person’s mind?”

This past week, in our very own region, a 19-year-old girl was found dead, at the hands of her 18-year-old male friend. I don’t even like writing those words, especially knowing that you’re going to be reading them. But that’s the cold reality of the situation. I keep running through my mind what might have happened, and all I can come up with are questions. What made that boy so angry that he thought to kill the girl? How does a person get to that point? And then I think about the girl’s poor parents, and how they’re making sense of this situation. If something like that were to happen to you…

We want to hate people like that 18-year-old boy. We want to shove all bad people into the corner and label them as trash because of the horrible things they’ve done. And they definitely should be punished by law, if what they’ve done is illegal. But I’m coming to learn that what the bad people need more than anything else is love.

I refuse to believe that some people are born evil and others are not. I believe God has created all of us to be good (as in, not evil; we are still sinful), but some are pulled away from goodness at an early age because of their family situation or a traumatic instance or a psychological disease. If someone has been treated wrongly their whole life, they’re likely to treat others wrongly because that’s all they know.

Let’s take the instance of this teenage boy and girl. There are some reports that they used to date, which tells me jealousy must have been his reason for wanting to hurt her. Maybe he found out that she was interested in someone else and he couldn’t even fathom such a painful thought, so in his mind she was better off gone forever. Maybe he was never taught how to deal with his emotions in a healthy way; maybe he’s so profoundly insecure that jealousy tipped him over the edge.

My point is, there’s usually an underlying psychological reason why people do evil things. Those of us with healthy families and self-esteems find that difficult to understand at times because we can’t relate. But we must give grace to people who do bad things. When you hear such a story as the one above, instead of lashing out about how horrible that guy is, pray for him. He is clearly broken and needs help and love and guidance. And be kind to those people in your life who seem to be hurting. You might just give them the acceptance they need to keep them from doing something stupid.

There will always be evil in this world. But evil will always be defeated by love. So, love others like crazy.

Love,
Mom

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