Thursday, November 15, 2012

Presenting…My Overprotective Parenting Mistakes

Of all the parenting mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learned the most from the two I’m about to share.  I’m sure there are plenty more to come as every day of my oldest daughter’s life presents a new round of unexpected challenges.  I do take comfort in knowing that daughter number two is often spared.  I guess it’s the curse of the first born to be, well, born first.

Mistake number one came to my attention just last week, although I suspect I’ve been making it for far longer.  We don’t play Taylor Swift music in our home.  When forced to reveal this prohibition to other moms, after I apologize with limited sincerity, I explain that my first encounter with Taylor Swift was viewing her on an award show singing “You Should’ve Said No.”  She started out in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, but halfway through the number two gentlemen ripped them off to reveal a scanty black dress that was soon to be drenched by indoor rain. This was my introduction.

(The costume change occurs just after 1:17, and from that point forward the performance's shortcomings in the realm of family-friendly entertainment become increasingly evident.)


The lyrics to that particular song are also troublesome for  me.  As I like to use every teachable moment, my daughters are accustomed to analyzing song lyrics.  Songs such as Miss Swift’s quickly become problematic:  “Mama, she sounds angry. Why didn’t he just go home?” and/or “Begging for forgiveness?  Is she talking about Jesus?”  And even if my daughters don’t ask such questions, is an angry 18 year-old’s boyfriend’s infidelity what I want occupying their then nine- and six-year-old brain space?

Here’s the mistake part.  My older daughter came home from school last week and, in a manner both cheerful and innocent, said:  “Mama, I told Friend T today that Taylor Swift is a ‘Sinner Singer’!”  Oops.  Parenting foul on me.   As I felt myself shrinking at the thought of how this might go over with Friend T’s parents while at the same time briefly admiring the creativity of my daughter’s alliteration, I recognized my parenting error.  I had forbidden something without even attempting to explain why. 

My daughter is used to being the odd girl out sometimes.  While that reality bothered her once she started kindergarten through about second grade, as she has developed confidence, leadership skills, and more trust in me over the past eighteen months, she no longer questions my guidance on most things—but that made me lazy.  I didn’t explain my Taylor Swift aversion because she didn’t ask, but she logically proceeded to substitute an assumed explanation.  Neither Miss Swift’s clothing selection nor her choice of lyrics makes her a sinner, and that’s not for me to judge anyway, but because my daughter is being raised to take her Catholicism seriously, it was natural for her to assume that my reluctance to play in our home what her peers and their parents consider to be very enjoyable music resulted from grave error on Miss Swift’s part.

I immediately explained that I don’t think ‘Sinner Singer’ is a proper label for Taylor Swift.  I then explained that I had once seen a Taylor Swift TV performance during which she was not dressed modestly and that many of her song lyrics are really for older girls.  Then I showed her the video and asked what she thought.  One positive attribute of innocence is that it often results in the instant recognition of that which is not truly beautiful, such as anger and immodest self-glorification.  I was relieved when she came to that conclusion on her own. I told her that neither of us knows Taylor Swift’s heart, and it’s not our job to decide who is sinning.   I then explained to my daughter that Taylor Swift recently said she’d like to be a good role model for girls, and that we should watch, very selectively, as she strives to live out that goal.  I asked my daughter (no, begged her) to revisit the topic with her friend and explain my real objections to Taylor Swift’s music.

Lesson from that mistake:  Anything I choose to restrict must be explained.

An aside:  I recognize that Taylor Swift may have other songs that focus on more appropriate themes – I don’t know because my first exposure led me to vote with my time. I can’t afford to squander an hour searching for the appropriate among the inappropriate.

Mistake number two came to light a few months ago and relates to public displays of affection.  We drive by a local high school on the way home from my older daughter’s school.  In doing so, we frequently observe teenagers fervently making out (for lack of a better phrase.)  I actually don’t remember, but can certainly imagine, the kinds of remarks that I’ve made as we’ve passed the area repeatedly over time.  I hadn’t any idea of the extent to which that daily scenery was impacting her thinking until one day when we were sitting in front of the computer watching a music video.  It was “Dancing in the Moonlight” from one of my favorite movies, “A Walk to Remember.”  The video shows many tender, dreamy embraces between the movie’s main characters, including a scene from their wedding.  

Early in the video, Daughter #1 gasped loudly and quickly turned away from the computer screen.  I asked what was wrong, and she said, breathlessly, “I’m not supposed to see that!”  Oops.  This parenting mistake resulted from my lack of understanding that she will overgeneralize my reaction to a particular situation and apply it to pretty much all similar situations.

I backed the video up and showed her the wedding picture, explaining that kisses and hugs are a beautiful part of marriage, something that I want her to cherish if she one day chooses to marry.  Then I went straight to my husband and told him we have to step it up on the PDAs in our home.

Like I said, that was about three months ago.  My oldest daughter likes to go through magazines and cut out pictures that interest her.  She often gives them captions.  Last week I found this lying on the floor of her room:

Mission accomplished.

Addendum on Music Alternatives

Lest you think that my daughters are deprived of the joy of listening to talented female vocal artists, let me introduce our Taylor Swift alternatives.  I’ve heard all the Taylor Swift defenses, such as “Well, I don’t allow Miley Cyrus…”; “Taylor says she wants to be a positive role model…”; and my personal favorite, “She’s the best of what’s out there…”.  Let me take a moment to dispel that last excuse.

My daughters and I love Britt Nicole’s music, which is just as fun as Tayor Swift’s but with wholesome topics and messages that never fail to inspire.  I’ve played some of Britt’s prior hits such as “Set the World on Fire” and “The Lost Get Found” on school mornings to prepare my daughters for whatever the day might throw their way.  We dance too...sometimes in our pajamas while breakfast cooks. 

Take a listen to this song, “All This Time”, and compare it to Taylor Swift’s “Should’ve Said No.”

In the lyrics, Britt reflects on a painful, yet unspecified, life experience—it’s never really necessary to air the dirty laundry, is it?  For the sake of comparison, let’s assume that Miss Nicole’s pain was caused by a cheating boyfriend. 

While “Should’ve Said No” takes the direction of an angry rant, “All This Time” reveals a path to healing.  While venting one’s vengeful wrath can be momentarily cathartic, I’d prefer that my daughters approach life’s setbacks with the kind of resilience that leads to acceptance and peace, maybe even forgiveness. 

Other talented female vocal artists and their recent inspiring hits include: 

 Daughter #1’s favorite; she’s getting stronger every day.

Daughter #2’s favorite; Daughter #2 was definitely not made for standing on the sidelines, and she knows it.

Love the message in this song.  Also, it's danceable.

Toby Mac, who does the intro sequence to “Hold Me”, also has joy-filled and fun music.  Our family went to one of his concerts last year and it was an absolute delight. 

Daughter #1 and Friend D with their hands up!

Because I’m parenting Catholic girls,  I’ve learned to look beyond pop culture and to avoid succumbing to the rationalizations that bind us to the frequently inappropriate role models with whom the secular entertainment industry chooses to present us.

Confession: In my younger days, I used to play music like Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughtta Know.”  My life is better now.

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