Parental Rights, Responsible Parenting of Sex and Potential Parenthood

26 01 2008

This time it’s not about purity balls or abstinence rings. It’s about what happens when that stuff isn’t our answer, or doesn’t work. Then what, and why?

Dana’s Principled Discovery has a discussion thread going about parental rights including whether and when our children become parents in their own right, a very broad topic in my policy analyst’s mind as well as in my unschooling mom mind. So I thought I’d continue the conversation here with all my own minds, and with any readers of a mind to, there or here. 🙂

This is neither a hijacking nor a bowing out of that conversation and company; it’s simply a way to be franker (and frankly more extensive) than I feel is polite in another blogger’s comment section.

Maybe look at it as my version of the statesman’s privilege to “revise and extend” one’s own remarks after the floor debate is adjourned and everyone’s gone? This way I get to go on and on for the published record, yet no one has to wade through it in real time, in the actual discussion! Or ever. 😉

So this is written to “revise and extend” my abbreviated comments over there, without inflicting the strongly flavored and aromatic onion of my layered thinking on anyone who’s had enough, or is put off by onions in the first place. . .

If all the effects of sex were really inescapable, then we wouldn’t face any choices or decisions about it, as either parents of teens or parented teens.

It might be worth our time to consider why our positions on such issues make each other literally shudder, and why therefore, parents in our society seem unable to bridge this vast divide in world view. I don’t think it is clearly about religion or science, morals and values, education or parenting style per se.

I think our worldview clash is more basic, that the biggest chasm between us on every issue of our times is simply this — do we define human problems and solutions as black-and-white, either-or, good-bad, one line with two ends or sides to it? Or do we see human problems and solutions as rainbow, spectrum, spiral, prisms that fracture and recompose the patterns of reality every time someone twists the kaleidoscope another jot? In other words, no black OR white.

Take the charter school “problem” among homeschoolers as an example: we look like little specks to each other, can’t even make ourselves understood shouting across the divide between the binary and the infinite, between the prescribed and the described. The distortion of unbridgeable distance is just too great.

When moms who define abortion as wrong equate a teen’s choosing to have sex at all, with choosing to become a mother, and suggest motherhood is a “consequence” for failing to take responsibility, I can’t understand it across the parenting chasm that separates us.

I hear “inescapable cause and effect” as clinically cold, sort of paternalistic predestination beliefs overlaid with pseudo-scientific “objectivity” as in “all women must give birth in pain as the consequence of Eve’s sin” combined with amoral behavioral conditioning like BF Skinner (reputedly) keeping his own daughter in a box, or exploitation like the Stanford Prison Experiment with a dash of Scared Straight, where you’d turn your own child into the police to “teach” him by inflicting life-changing “consequences” — all while defining the child as having chosen that consequence for himself, even “earning it” inescapably.

A chasm yawns between that and anything I can even understand, much less believe.

Nor can a spiral-spectrum parent like me, relate to a behaviorist sentence about children “earning consequences” by “not wanting to take responsibility” or foster kids “wasting everybody’s time” regarding a medical concern like asthma, much less profoundly life-altering (even life-threatening) sexuality and behavior.

Consequences are earned (by making a poor choice we KNOW is partly due to the executive part of the brain not having matured completely?) because a child or teen ” didn’t want to deal with taking responsibility” (for what, for making the choice at all, or for not choosing well? For resisting not having any real choice in the first place, maybe?)

Let’s toss a pebble in, see when we hear the splash, to test how far down this parenting idea goes and how deep the water at the bottom of it is. So, were there any real choices to be made in the parent’s system of rules, and any expectation that they could take responsibility for their own choices, and that this isn’t defined by doing as the parent commands, that all by itself this is “good” in terms of maturing and learning about the natural consequences life has in store?

Or do they only “earn consequences” when they don’t take responsibility after the fact, for not having had real responsibility in the first place? Was it all a set-up like the Prison Experiment, where human psychology was known by the lab controllers in advance and yes, “inflicted” on the subjects to prove the point?

Is it really “taking responsibility” to do only what your own parents say, to choose only whether to obey or accept whatever “consequence” they choose to “inflict” on you to keep control of you, whether berating or beating, prison, even teen motherhood — yes, inflict is the word I mean to use, to mean what I mean, which is pretty much the opposite of a teen actually taking responsibility for her own beliefs, behaviors and life decisions —

And why would we teach that “consequences” are downside only, negative reinforcement or punishment? My bottomless idea that I hope our kids are learning from our parenting, is that all choices large and small have consequences that connect to everything else, that it matters utterly which roads we take in which woods, but they might all be lovely roads in their own way and it’s not just the path in any case, but how we choose to walk it!

I don’t believe and so I will not guide (much less condition) my children to believe, that every choice is a two-way fork between wrong and right, sin and virtue, submission or torment. I would consider myself a failure as a responsible parent if a child of mine grew up believing that the differences between a good choice and a less good choice are ever clear, or to be decreed by whichever authority claims most direct dominion over their private affairs at any stage of life, from a teacher, preacher, boss, peer or government agent to the nursing home staff on the other end of their lives. Nor would I want them to parent my grandchildren to choose to please authority first, and themselves later. If choice isn’t deeper than that, it isn’t choice at all.

What if a teen does take responsibility to make responsible choices, but not always choosing what we would choose for them if it were still up to us? Are all good choices for our children only what we would decide FOR them — when do we let go the decision-driving, and call our maturing teens good and responsible drivers even though they don’t necessarily drive where we want them to go, simply because they drive well getting there?

At what point does a teen’s responsible approach rather than the particular result we as parents prefer, come to define good?

Does that “earn consequences” just as predictably, just as major in scope and effect, as the consequences earned by not taking responsibility? — isn’t that the whole point of “discipline” and the overarching life lesson all loving parents are guiding teens toward? What would those consequences rightfully be? — how about personal freedom? How about trust and increasing autonomy, to begin truly learning for oneself instead of being “taught” life’s lessons in artificially controlled lab conditions?

Hadn’t such responsible deciding for self (without parental control of your life experiments) better be near at hand before driving, college and employment choices loom, much less sex, marriage, and motherhood?

Okay, that last part is rhetorical, obviously I am asking myself and then answering myself. But if I don’t lay it all out as I think it through, how will others be able to hear it across the chasm, much less judge where I took the wrong fork and inflict the consequences they believe I deserve for it? 😉



43 responses

26 01 2008

I don’t think it always has to be either/or, black/white. There are some situations where we are going to ‘protect’ our kids against foolish or dangerous choices, and some where we might allow them to experience something we have warned them against so that they can learn the correlation between cause and effect. This also has a positive side, where they realize the rewards of dedication, work, generosity, compassion, ethical conduct….

This aspect of parenting looks different with every child and at every stage of a child’s life, and I believe that a caring parent who communicates with their children is going to be able to discern which reaction (punitive or preventative) is appropriate to the behavior of the child, and to help them find activities in which they can learn the correlation of work/reward or morality/clear conscience.

My comments on Dana’s blog about ‘inescapable cause and effect’ were brain burps about how our society attempts to remove consequences for certain behaviors but is punitive toward other behaviors. I don’t believe that it is consistent to have all these programs to prevent kids from drinking alcohol and enact harsh punishments for disobedience, but encourage kids to have sex and allow them to think that the consequences can be sucked down a sink with no lasting effects on one’s body or psyche. Some of the consequences for sexual irresponsibility are terminal, just as one can drink and drive, killing oneself, one’s friends, and an entire family in another vehicle who doesn’t know them from Sam Hill.

26 01 2008

Hi sunniemom, thanks for going through the revised and extended remarks and for making some in return.

I appreciate that you’re of more than one mind on all this, as I am. I do see more layering in your remarks taken as a whole, than from the more absolutist mom-view I was sketching out above. (Even though I did take a phrase of yours in vain, sort of — but it wasn’t you I was using that one pithy phrase to represent.)

26 01 2008

Thanks for responding to my response- I did want to make sure that my remarks weren’t misunderstood, because I am often accused of being very black/white on things. I think this is because once I form beliefs about something, I don’t tend to bend to every wind of doctrine, so to speak. I have never really seen dogmatism as a bad thing, necessarily, because ifn’ you are easily swayed, then you aren’t firm in your foundational philosophies, KWIM?

Anyhoo, I really enjoy your blog. Have a great weekend!

26 01 2008

Speaking of real and unreal not being black or white:

. . .One a real human, the other made up as marketing image. (Although real and made up aren’t “really” opposites either, see Straight Dope’s “Were Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima real people?”.)

One going down for the last time, the other movin’ on up.

One dead and therefore dismissed; the other never alive in the first place therefore lives on (hmmm, an apt juncture to consider all the meanings of “immortal”
fitting together). . .

Which by the end of the comments connects back to how we teach our kids (to make the same mistakes we did) because our old stories have such a grip on our beliefs about, well — everything one way or another:

It made me think about public schools and what was happening to them in the 60s when SCOTUS found them racist and ordered forced busing on the South. Time has passed while school systems engage in repeated image overhauls (called “reform”) and the judicious wardrobe adjustments keep on coming — even now dress codes and school uniforms are promoted as the solution to what’s wrong with how poorly schools are selling. Can stereotypical and obsolescing schoolish symbols that the public no longer wants to buy into, be saved by clever marketing techniques, spiffier offices and better dressing?

28 01 2008
Nance Confer

“I don’t believe that it is consistent to have all these programs to prevent kids from drinking alcohol and enact harsh punishments for disobedience, but encourage kids to have sex and allow them to think that the consequences can be sucked down a sink with no lasting effects on one’s body or psyche.”

What program does this?

Certainly not any half-decent comprehensive sex ed program.

And certainly not any parent who works to encourage “responsible deciding for self (without parental control of your life experiments) . . . before driving, college and employment choices loom, much less sex, marriage, and motherhood?”

It’s about more than any program anyway. More than any sex talk or religious lesson.

It’s about a young lifetime of making decisions — small, at first, to be sure, leading up to decisions that are only important to the young person but are important nonetheless, and finally to those “adult” decisions we all worry about.

It takes practice, not lectures. Experience and support, not just rules. Time and more time.

And, of course, mistakes are made. Recovering from the mistake is part of the learning process too.

My DD is making her own decisions about coursework now. She’s 13. Choosing between language arts courses for the semester is not the sort of life-changing decision that confronts a pregnant woman but it’s practice in being her own person. And when she makes the wrong choice, she has to to deal with the administrative hassle.

And I help her! I don’t chastise her for not knowing ahead of time which course was the right one. I don’t insist that I make all the choices from then on.

And, so far, she is happy and healthy and her teachers have been singing my praises. That’s right, my praises. They don’t get it.

They will call me up (as the online program requires) and tell me how well she is doing and praise ME for raising such a terrific daughter.

I try to explain that she is the one doing all the work and making all the decisions about which courses to take and all credit belongs with her but. . .

Is it so hard to believe that a 13-year-old girl could be encouraged to have a sense of self and a sense of reality and a sense of her own worth and that that can lead to responsible decision-making? That all of that is communicated not through restrictions but through freedom?

These are life-long deep-seated views of ourselves and our place in the world that are instilled all through childhood and teenhood. Much more important and meaningful than any “program.”


P.S. The same approach to decision-making applies to my son, of course. I shake my head at the parents threatening and cajoling and scheduling their kids for Tae Kwon Do as punishment or reward for some (usually school-related) behavior while mine has always decided how much practice he wants and needs and when he wants to go to class. He’s been doing it that way since he was 6 and is now a 14-year-old 2nd degree black belt. Yep, that’s a Mom brag. 🙂 But it’s really been none of my doing except for the driving. 🙂

28 01 2008

Nance- I was speaking of American society in general, which is reflected in the media, and national programs and curriculum in schools- and please keep that in mind while reading my blathering. I perceive a vast philosophical difference in the overall approach to teen drinking/drug use and teen sex. Teen drinking/drug use is illegal and punishable by various methods, even jail time, while teen sex is regarded as a normal part of growing up, and as long as they attempt to practice ‘safe sex’ then it’s all OK.

Why isn’t there a “Just say ‘No!'” sex ed program? There is just as much physical and psychological damage taking place when kids have unsafe sex and multiple partners as when kids use marijuana or drink and drive. Children contract diseases that can lead to horrible consequences, even death, and also pass on to others without either party knowing. This isn’t dangerous? Why no public battle cry to get kids to wait until they are older and in a long-term monogamous relationship?

I agree that teaching kids solid decision making processes is as much about freedom as it is restrictions. It does all come down to parenting, and I dont’ believe schools and society should be ‘in charge’ of forming children’s characters. Teaching responsibility and logic and consequences etc.. looks different at every age and maturity level in each child. Small children are restricted until they can grasp certain concepts, such as “Jumping off the garage roof with a trashbag parachute is hazardous to your health”. There have been recent studies showing that the risk assessment centers of the brain are not fully mature until about 24 years old- which could explain why so many single car accidents involve teens, and the more teens in the car, the more likely an accident will happen.

Anyway, I haven’t had enough coffee yet to make much sense, but I agree with your post Nance- and a lady at the mall the other day was asking me question about homeschooling, and saying I deserved sainthood and a medal etc… and I told her that my kids do all the work, and that I am grateful to be given the privilege of loving such loving kids. It was a Hallmark moment. 😀

28 01 2008
Nance Confer

Yes, but. . .what the hell does it say on your coffee cup avatar?? 🙂


28 01 2008

The cup says “My blood type is Folger’s”. 😀

28 01 2008
Nance Confer

Ah.. . thanks. 🙂


30 01 2008
Crimson Wife

Since I presume this post is in response to my comment on Dana’s thread, let me clarify a bit where I’m coming from:

My mom belongs to a liberal Protestant church, is a registered Democrat, a feminist, and generally hold pretty liberal views on most issues. She also strongly believes in abstinence for teens- not for moral reasons but because she has experienced firsthand twice that no contraceptive is 100% effective. She ended up leaving graduate school because she got pregnant with me even though she thought she was “being responsible”. 8 years later she got pregnant with my youngest brother as the result of the failure of a different contraceptive method.

50% of all unplanned pregnancies in this country are the result of contraceptive failure. Teen girls have the highest rate of contraceptive failure of all age groups. I know women who’ve gotten pregnant while using every type of contraceptive method out there from the pill to the patch to the shot to the IUD to even surgical sterilization (one got pregnant 15 years after her DH’s vasectomy and almost wound up divorced over it).

No matter how “protected” someone may think she is, there is still a chance of pregnancy resulting from sex. That’s what I meant when I said that if the girl consented to having sex, she “inflicted motherhood” upon herself if she winds up pregnant as a result.

30 01 2008

Thanks CW, I was pretty sure that’s what you meant. I understand and appreciate you explaining further (people are always so fascinating once you get to know a little more about them, don’t you think?) but I just disagree that pregnant is necessarily the same thing as motherhood, much less that teen sex is (protected or not.) I don’t think every time I get in the car, that I am choosing to inflict death on myself or every time I eat, I am inflicting food poisoning on myself, etc. Is the girl inflicting AIDS on herself by having sex, to the degree that if she does come up HIV-positive, her parents should sadly withhold treatment and say she “earned” the consequences?

Motherhood is harder to define than homeschooling, I think. It’s SO personal and complicated, not a matter for legislation and other people’s religion to dictate to anyone, even within the family imo.

Plus I can’t even wrap my mind around considering unchosen pregnancy, much less chosen motherhood, as any such sort of devastating outcome — nor is motherhood in just one moment or one evening, an on-off switch. It’s a whole life for her, and it’s a GOOD and creative process of acting and being and choosing meant for mature, healthy women to undertake with love and purpose.

Not some burden, affliction or punishment forced on a troubled or unlucky girl, changing her life against her will and without her creative participation. We were talking about consequences over at Dana’s and one of the least motherly consequences we know we can expect from inflicting, rather than helping them choose, motherhood, is that a girl may then desperately try to destroy all the life within her (kill herself, if that’s what it takes not to have motherhood inflicted on her) instead of just the potential life looming. I’d call that a tragedy all around, and not a chosen one.

Apropos of nothing (except that my mind is like the stacks of the strangest library collection ever) the quote that just popped into my mind is Rhett Butler telling Scarlett O’Hara, “Why, a cat would be a better mother than you!” She gave birth to three children (in the dark ages when the only way to not have motherhood inflicted on you was indeed, not to have sex at all.) She sometimes huffily called herself their mother, to win an argument for control of them. But Rhett was more right about her motherhood than she was. And Margaret Mitchell was right that it was all wrong. . .

31 01 2008

Here’s a question that popped into my pointy lil’ head while reading your post, JJ- why is it when a woman is killed or assaulted and one of the results is the loss of an unborn baby who is ‘wanted’, it is murder, yet when a baby is ‘unwanted’ and is killed, it isn’t?

This seems relevant to me because it appears that motherhood and by proxy infanthood is determined purely by whether or not the woman desires to be a mother and bear a child.

I understand your analogies and agree to a point- even though we often engage in behaviors that bear some risk, not all of these behaviors are necessary. Driving a car and eating are necessary actions, and while there is a risk that you could get wrapped around a telephone pole or choke on a cheeseburger, the risk is negligible overall, and again- *not eating* is more fatal than consuming a QP with cheese. And not showing up for work could mean no paycheck, no electric, no heat, hello hypothermia.

Sex is a voluntary behavior that bears some risks- pregnancy and disease are the biggies. Most women who do not wish to become mothers will try to prevent pregnancy, but they *must* take into account that every method has a proven failure rate. And if a method fails to prevent pregnancy, what failure rate does that method have against diseases, some of which are fatal? Does the woman *deserve* to die for having sex? Of course not- but who is she going to ‘blame’? Society? The charmer who got her panties off? A weakness in the latex? The manufacturer of the Pill or the Patch who publish those nifty little booklets written in 4pt. type stuffed inside the product that outline all 5 gazillion side effects and the research on the failure rates of their product, thus informing the consumer that they boink at their own risk?

The only 100% proven protection against pregnancy and STDs is abstinence, and people abstain all the time. I know I did until I got married, and I didn’t experience any negative repercussions for waiting, while I could have experienced an unwanted pregnancy or be carrying a communicable disease if I hadn’t. I made *a choice*. Am I a saint? Heck no- I made other mistakes for which I felt and still feel the consequences. Do I deserve the consequences- IMO yes, because many times I knew that there was a chance, no matter how slim, that there would be Hell to pay later. I played the percentages, and sometimes, I lost, and now I do what I can to repair the damage to myself and others. Nothing wrong with trying to make things right.

If motherhood is a good thing for mature and healthy women to undertake, then only mature and healthy women should be engaging in behaviors that could result in motherhood. I think motherhood is to be cherished, and it is high time, IMO, that society recognizes motherhood as an honorable position. It does aggravate me to see sex used to merely scratch an itch, when the obvious and natural consequences are so life changing. And we didn’t even touch on the emotional baggage…….

31 01 2008

I do value this discussion of our different personal views, because we’re getting a glimpse of the chasm in the middle of this political panorama of modern motherhood — and it seems to be sex!

So when we better illuminate our different views of sex, maybe our views of everything to do with parenting and homeschooling become more clear?

Like sunniemom says so well above, I understand and don’t exactly disagree with anything anyone has said, only with the relative importance of certain points to the “essence” of the sex and motherhood experience. I can agree some human biology (hunger, thirst, sleep, ) is more frequently urgent to good health day by day, sure, but I’m wondering if a key difference between us might be that I see the sex drive as no less natural and biological, sometimes no less urgent, no less imperative to human surviving and thriving, over our lifetimes.

And when I think “sex” it’s seldom about the direct fertilization of a new human egg, just as “food” to me means way more than the literal act of mastication and swallowing!

Okay, Young Son and I have places to be today, time to run for me, so I am going to ramble unedited, hit send and see what y’all think when I get home. So pretend we’re having coffee and it’s my turn to shoot off my mouth among friends, perhaps repeat or even contradict myself. 🙂

Here goes:

Thanks to this conversation, I now realize food itself belongs in the context of my creative motherhood too, from nutritional science to political baggage: cookies and grocery shopping to hand-washing before eating, table manners for different contexts, holiday food, happy kitchens, healthy choices, etc. Slow food versus fast food, eating out, school cafeteria and vending machine fare, how we can screw up our kids by manipulating them through food, from punished-by-rewards M&Ms for potty training and celebration dinners for good grades, to mom or dad making a moral issue of sweets or overeating, not cleaning one’s plate, etc.

And don’t even get me started on how the misapprehended public morality play that reduced the human meaning of Terri Schiavo’s life and death to mere biology, had us fighting over the mechanics of “starvation” and “thirst” as if THAT were the social problem to be solved and what was robbing her of her life and dignity, as Congress legislated over her case and my Catholic governor plotted to have my state department of family services kidnap her if need be, to “save” her life by illegal (but moral?) forcefeeding. Because he shared her mother’s absolute religious definition of “life” as binary, literal biology. . .

But what I saw to focus on in that real-life drama has nothing to do with the mechanics of eating and drinking, was the overwhelming anguish of a mother whose adult daughter is beyond her protection both legally and practically, a daughter who grew up to make her own choices and in some way break her mother’s heart. (Because sooner or later that IS what we choose when we choose motherhood, right? It’s kind of the whole point, children becoming their own individual selves, not just complying with what we choose for them –) So teens and sex isn’t one size fits all any more than teens and food is, with a fat one, a skinny one, an anorexic or bulimic one, a diabetic one, a picky one, a hoarder, a vegetarian, maybe a faster here and there.

Like sex, I see eating and sleeping as a lifestyle constructed creatively of all our choices, not just one choice in one moment and notmade between two forced-choice absolutes like Yoda, “do or not do.”

And all of that on a complex human spiral of choices and consequences and stories and beliefs, learning and growing, experiences and interactions, not a straight line with two poles.

In other words, eating in “healthier” ways is a vastly interesting and complex, individually determined and p[racticed choice — definitely not one meal or following the printed diet from your doctor, or Jews following the Old Testament to the letter as it’s been interpreted through the ages in their culture, etc. Certainly not one either-or, yes-no choice, and never irrevocable.

We are unschoolers. Radical unschoolers. We don’t set rules, impose consequences, assign lessons, etc. And I am persuaded by what I see as powerful similarities between sex and other human functions. If we don’t do that for math or science or literature or philosophy, why would we, about food and sleep and sex?

I’m wondering if we’ve just hit on a connection between our own education choices and reproductive privacy choices? Do these correlate in our population, do you think? — I’m hypothesizing that the radical unschooler moms will tend to share my take on food, sleep AND sex, while school-at-home fundamentalist moms will not. What do you think?

31 01 2008

Sunniemom, I meant to respond to this:
JJ- why is it when a woman is killed or assaulted and one of the results is the loss of an unborn baby who is ‘wanted’, it is murder, yet when a baby is ‘unwanted’ and is killed, it isn’t?

I think this is an EXCELLENT question. My personal answer is that this question contains within it everything I just tried to explain, that the woman or girl actually gives meaning to new life as she’s creating it, and to her own, that it isn’t mere biology written in for all time, factual, fixed, known and absolute. It matters utterly how SHE thinks and feels and chooses.

Again I will offer the Hilde Lindemann (bioethics scholar) description of the difference when her own daughter was pregnant, which puts my explanatory efforts to shame. 🙂

31 01 2008

I’m wondering if we’ve just hit on a connection between our own education choices and reproductive privacy choices? Do these correlate in our population, do you think? — I’m hypothesizing that the radical unschooler moms will tend to share my take on food, sleep AND sex, while school-at-home fundamentalist moms will not. What do you think?

I only have time for a quick response, but I am a Fundie Baptist while still being an eclectic/relaxed unschooler type. I don’t see a correlation between the various approaches to home education and views on sexuality. I think the perception might be (warning: untested unprovable theory ahead) that some of the big names in Christian curriculum (BJU, A Beka) are popular amongst Christian HSers- and this is in turn is because BJU and A Beka have been used for decades in Christian schools, and were some of the first to offer their curriculum to HSers. So it seemed natural to many to just use at home what one’s children used at school. But every day it seems I see more school-at-homers (Christian and otherwise) ‘getting it’ with regards to more relaxed approaches, and to unschooling itself.

There’s a whole lotta deschoolin’ goin’ on! 😀

I see the philosophical divide as being how we view certain aspects of morality and propriety. To use sex as an example, IMO sex is a perfectly normal and pleasurable experience, but is not appropriate for every age or situation. There are factors to be considered, such as physical and mental maturity, and an ability to deal with the consequences. There are societal factors as well, and studies have shown some interesting correlations between marriage and fidelity, and emotions like contentment and physical aspects such as life expectancy.

Sex is also not the same kind of necessity as food and hygiene. There are no adverse physical consequences of not having sex, while not eating or bathing for months do have adverse physical consequences.

The principles of cause/effect and morality and propriety can be applied to everything from letting kids stay home alone to when our kids to get their drivers license. I would not afflict the public with an irresponsible teenager behind the wheel of a 6,ooolb death machine. There is a higher morality than our own desires and wishes, and that is to ensure that our actions do not adversely affect others, or place the vulnerable and unaware in danger.

I don’t see consequences as something to be ‘imposed’. Most actions and behaviors bear with them their own set of natural repercussions. When kids are too young to reason out consequences, we protect them. We don’t allow them to wander the Mall alone, or cross the street without holding our hands, or choose the components of their own diets. As they learn the reasons why we have created these boundaries, we then allow them to ‘experiment’ safely with those ideas, and then, as they mature, they begin to make decisions completely on their own, and experience the consequences with no interference from parents.

Parents go through stages right along with their children- from being their protectors, to being their counselors and guides. I have four kids, ages 19, 11, 9, and 6. I also take care of my elderly mother. I feel as if I am experiencing several stages of life all at once. 🙂 And I hope this post made sense, as I don’t have time to proofread it!

31 01 2008
Crimson Wife

JJ- an excellent book on the subject of why sex ed causes such controversy that is IMHO fair to both sides is called “When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex and Sex Education Since the Sixties” by Kristin Luker. Dr. Luker is a feminist sociologist at UC Berkeley and her argument is that the reason the two sides are so polarized over this and related issues has to do with the meaning attached to sex. Liberals see it as something “natural” while conservatives see it as something sacred. One side sees it as merely a pleasurable bodily function while the other sees it as the ultimate expression of love, commitment, and for devout Catholics and “quiverfull” Protestants being fully open to God’s will.

But even if one doesn’t view sex as something sacred, one can still feel that it is risky behavior for children. Teen girls are particularly vulnerable to being pressured into having unwanted sex, contracting an STD, or experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. As a feminist and a mom, I would think that these are things you would not want the girls of our country to have to deal with. And really, from what my friends who were sexually active as teens have told me, the physical aspects wasn’t so hot for them…

31 01 2008

LOL sunniemom- yes to living several stages at once! We spend a lot of time in musical theatre so I think of what you describe as “role conflict,” as if some playwright had done a lousy job of figuring out how many bit parts I could play at the same time and thrown all my characters into one big scene, talking to other actors and myself in different roles, kissing, yelling, drinking water while dancing and singing, and changing the sets and lighting, cueing the orchestra. . . ! 😉

But I have to object to this:

“Sex is also not the same kind of necessity as food and hygiene. There are no adverse physical consequences of not having sex . . ”

. . .or at least ask “how would we KNOW??” because I don’t think it’s practical in modern life and if it’s even possible it must be exceedingly rare; even priests under a vow of celibacy apparently aren’t without sexual expressions of various kinds.

If we’re talking about regular, normal folks living in society, I am skeptical that modern roles allow for the asexual scene to be played successfully, except maybe as improv and not for much of a run. The way I define sexual awakening and expression, I would have to say it can’t be *completely* repressed and trying would cause adverse consequences. . .

31 01 2008

JJ- I should have been clearer- I believe that until one has met certain criteria- physical, mental and emotional maturity, I believe abstinence is the healthier choice, and also the moral choice, based on the consequences of sexual activity before one has reached such maturity.

Sexual activity can be safely postponed until one is in an adult, committed, monogamous relationship, while dinner cannot. 😀

31 01 2008

Ah! thanks, CW, I was trying to remember the name of that very book earlier today, gave up in my rush. I had blogged it last year at Culture Kitchen. I haven’t read it but I read about it, and came to the same conclusion about her findings.

31 01 2008

Running out again sunniemom but let me ask you to take your belief to the next level then, and tell me what happens when your daughter makes such a unhealthy, immoral (as you’ve defined) choice anyway. Is her healthy life over, forfeit to the next in the pipeline? That’s the sticking point I never get past with the scariest typical fundamentalists in the pregnant daughter conversation — not you, as you’ve kindly reminded me already —

31 01 2008

From a previous post-
because many times I knew that there was a chance, no matter how slim, that there would be Hell to pay later. I played the percentages, and sometimes, I lost, and now I do what I can to repair the damage to myself and others. Nothing wrong with trying to make things right.
If my dd makes an unhealthy, immoral decision, I will help her deal with the consequences, but will not patronize her in any way. She is already too smart for that, and she’s nine.

I think what you are seeing in those who are Bible believers is that we believe each person is a soul with an eternal life and destiny. Bringing a new life into this world is a serious business, and as CW pointed out, sex is sacred, and not *just* a natural animalistic urge. Christians in general also believe that immoral behavior is sorrowful, to be repented of, and not broadcast on Jerry Springer, KWIM? Some people do get twisted up and don’t respond appropriately or compassionately- but that is a human failing, and Christians are humans too. 😉

Pre-marital sex IMO isn’t the ‘worst sin’ one can commit, but it does have far reaching consequences that can affect many, even into future generations. IMO this aspect is often dismissed in our sex-soaked culture, and it is pure denial, even if one does not believe that sex is sacred, to propose that intimate physical contact is, as I said before, merely scratching a biological itch.

I gotta run now too- and there is a winter weather advisory going on for my area. Oh joy.

31 01 2008

I think you’re right, that makes sense to explain what I see and hear.
Now if I can figure out how to fit that in with phasing out “parental” rights to decide for the daughter once the daughter is in the “parental” post position, and the parents suddenly looking at the GRANDparental position . . . 🙂

1 02 2008

That, JJ, would be a very situational decision. Why is the girl pregnant? How old is she? How is she dealing with the situation? Where is the sperm donor, and why isn’t he hanging from the maple tree in the front yard?

Just kidding- about the maple tree part. :p

Also, if she is an underage dependent, conception does not magically give her adult sensibilities, just as puberty and the accompanying ability to reproduce does not automatically make one motherhood material.

Either we trust parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children, or we don’t. We cannot outlaw mistakes, errors in judgment, and emotional knee-jerk reponses on either side of any issue, including that of parents finding their way through traumatic family problems.

1 02 2008

But I was speaking of GRANDparents!
Seriously, if the girl does become a biological mother at whatever age, then her parents have become grandparents and it seems to me, are now removed from that parental deciding role for their grandchild (or their daughter who’s now a parent herself.)

Parental rights argument is usually adamant on this point, quick to tell grandparents to butt out and let the parent do whatever she feels she needs to do.

Any girl still being parented, whose parents find her unready to be a mom herself, might want to think about that as part of their own decision process, making what may be their very last rightful parenting choice for that “child.”

1 02 2008

Please clarify, for I perceive this as making the case for parents/grandparents to remove all monetary support, including food, shelter, and insurance from the parent/child.

I don’t know many parents who live with their parents/grandparents and expect the parents/grandparents to ‘butt out’ while still being financially dependent on them.

He who writes the checks, IMO, has the deciding vote in many matters of the home.

1 02 2008
Nance Confer

Sunniemom: Pre-marital sex IMO isn’t the ‘worst sin’ one can commit, but it does have far reaching consequences that can affect many, even into future generations. IMO this aspect is often dismissed in our sex-soaked culture, and it is pure denial, even if one does not believe that sex is sacred, to propose that intimate physical contact is, as I said before, merely scratching a biological itch.


Me: It’s not merely scratching an itch. It’s enjoying one of the best things going. If you do it right. And teens are no less able to understand that than the rest of us. But we get to be all sanctimonious about it because we are old married ladies. Is it any wonder teens don’t think we have a clue?


SM: Here’s a question that popped into my pointy lil’ head while reading your post, JJ- why is it when a woman is killed or assaulted and one of the results is the loss of an unborn baby who is ‘wanted’, it is murder, yet when a baby is ‘unwanted’ and is killed, it isn’t?


Me: Exactly. That is exactly why the decision to have an abortion or not is up to the pregnant woman. And can only be made by the woman. The rest of us cannot possibly be in the same position the pregnant woman is in — with all of her life circumstances and consequences depending on this decision.. And this does not change when the woman is a teen. Any more than it would change for an older, married woman — who are the people usually getting an abortion.


1 02 2008

Me: It’s not merely scratching an itch. It’s enjoying one of the best things going. If you do it right. And teens are no less able to understand that than the rest of us. But we get to be all sanctimonious about it because we are old married ladies. Is it any wonder teens don’t think we have a clue?

While teens are perfectly capable of intelligence, wisdom, and insight, their understanding is often little more than an mental acknowledgement of certain life concepts. Even though I can understand to an extent what it is like to be in the military, or have breast cancer, or lose a child, until I have experienced those things myself, I can’t speak to those particular issues with the same wisdom that one could who had been there/done that.

I don’t apologize for having more wisdom from experience than the average teenager, and I don’t give a rip if some kid thinks I am sanctimonious or don’t have a clue. The kids I know that are truly insightful will sit for hours and talk with adults, learning from the lifetimes of experience adults have to offer, instead of writing off adults as irrelevant and clueless. My son seeks out men and women that he knows are caring and wise, and will talk to them, as well as myself and my husband, before making any major decision, and sometimes even the inconsequential ones.

It certainly isn’t sanctimonious to be honest with young people about the risks of sexual activity along with the pleasures. This is the inconsistency I see in how society treats sex- it’s all fun and games until somebody dies.

2 02 2008
Nance Confer

Well, my point was that the death message gets through on one wave length and the fun and games message gets through on another. And insisting that we are older and wiser and that most teens are going to hear us because of that is not understanding the audience or what a more productive message could be. I’m glad the kids you’ve run into have not been turned off to listening but I don’t think that’s always or often the case and I think part of the long-standing issue is the separation of the messages. The generation that is getting to have all the fun is telling the next one that they know better and the youngsters should wait. Or die. Or wish they had. The older generation may be right but I can see how it would sound like a crock to the next generation.


2 02 2008

Which is why when the current generation are old fogies, they will get to experience the particular thrill of banging their heads against the same wall we have enjoyed all these years. :p

Seriously though, I think the reason some kids don’t listen is they sense they are being ‘preached at’, but that the person delivering the message doesn’t care, isn’t involved. My focus has not been to lecture from The Lofty Heights of Experience and Wisdom, but to be involved, interested, honest, and compassionate. Kids listen when they know you really do care for them, which, btw, doesn’t involve becoming one of them. Kids despise adults who try to be kids again.

The other aspect of the messages arriving on different brain waves might be related to some studies that have been done that show that the risk assessment part of the brain is not fully mature until around 24 years old. One of these studies was correlated with the number of single car accidents and other risky behavior that resulted in injury.

I know I have the link somewhere, I just can’t remember where I saved it! Argh!

3 02 2008

Just got home from a dance weekend to catch up (and I’m trying to enjoy the SuperBowl but it’s halftime!) — reading these comments made me want to ask you both, that if we all agree all teens and twenties can’t be reached with those messages whatever the reason/s, then doesn’t that just underline the need for parents and society generally to come up with other ways of realistically protecting them from life-changing consequences when they um, “act their age” with their hormones and brains competing for control?

And sunniemom, what I meant about parental rights is that they don’t extend to grandparental rights over the mom and child. So, it’s dicey to claim “parental notification” or parental veto of birth control or an abortion, let’s say, when what’s really at issue is their child becoming a mother, which would make THEM the grandparents. So wherever in the process we say the girl is a “mother” surely must be the same place in the process that her parents no longer claim “parental” rights and switch over to being the grandparents. So it seems to me.
You and I said back at Dana’s:

Remember the case of the homeschooled kid with the possible concussion a few weeks back? The dad refused treatment and the sheriff stormed the home.

But from a policy POV, I wonder what would have happened if a teenager in that situation had wanted treatment, maybe tried to get in the ambulance with his parents forbidding it and perhaps physically restraining him? What would have been their rights and his rights and the right thing then, and would the legal answer have been the same as the practical or medical or political answers?

I think we have to come down on the side of privacy rights, parental responsibility, and personal freedom.

IOW, and IMO, unless the parents are doing something criminal, then the school and the gov’t and Aunt Sally have to stay out of it.

Like I said, if my kids as teens want to be responsible for their own lives, they can get a job and an apartment and their own transportation. No one is going to tell me that I can only parent in certain situations as long as I am being politically and culturally correct. I can provide them with a car, but I can’t tell them where they can and cannot go? I can pay the medical bills, but I can’t make any medical decisions? I can bear the burden of the education, but I can’t teach them my beliefs about life? As if teachers in traditional school settings merely transfer information in a sterile environment? Puhlease.

I am in a situation right now where my in-laws have repeatedly disregarded our instructions for our kids because they don’t agree with our beliefs on some things. They think it is within their rights to ‘correct’ our boundaries and rules. So we let them know they no longer have unsupervised access to our kids, and now they have started WWIII and my husband’s entire family has stopped speaking to us, and they are threatening ‘consequences’ for our actions.

Overriding parents who are not doing anything criminal opens the door to a very ugly and smelly boogey-man, and children WILL NOT benefit from such intervention.

I sure agree with “privacy rights, parental responsibility, personal freedom”, and grandparents staying out of non-criminal choices by their descendants, even when they are helping to pay bills in a multi-generation household. But all that would support the opposite conclusion about reproductive choice than the one you make, I believe. A paradox, if not a fatal flaw, in principled reasoning about parent rights?

Too many parents with competing rights claiming control, would be one way to look at why it’s so hard to figure out what’s absolutely “right”?

4 02 2008
Nance Confer

reading these comments made me want to ask you both, that if we all agree all teens and twenties can’t be reached with those messages whatever the reason/s, then doesn’t that just underline the need for parents and society generally to come up with other ways of realistically protecting them from life-changing consequences when they um, “act their age” with their hormones and brains competing for control?



It’s just that we might not define “realistically protecting” the same way or both see that “protecting them from life-changing consequences” is a good thing.

My “yes” would include information and birth control and help in accessing whatever path the young woman chooses if an unwanted pregnancy occurs — adoption, abortion, raising the child.

Maybe SunnieMom’s answer would include the same options.

But how we emphasize what would likely be different.


4 02 2008

So – you should both have all the options and flexibility to protect your own as you see fit, without social stricture or government mandates/bans, yes?

And as your daughters do become sexually active and potential parents themselves, such freedom and responsibility would begin to extend to them too.

4 02 2008

I have taught my children that sex is sacred and reserved for the committment of marriage. How my dh and I deal with their choices if they are counter to what they have been taught will be based on the situation and their attitude.

Morally and ethically I would never support purposefully ending the life of one of my grandchildren, before or after they were born. But to say that I would not support their decision is not the same as saying that I would drop them off somewhere in Antarctica either, which is what most people assume when one says that one won’t ‘support’ a decision one considers immoral or unethical.

IMO there is no such thing as ‘safe sex’ before the bonds of marriage (this also does not mean that my kids are or will be ignorant of the various issues surrounding sexual conduct). Sex isn’t a necessary or honorable risk, such as going into a burning building to save an old lady. It is a selfish risk until one can fully understand and appreciate all that goes along with physical intimacy.

As far as freedom and responsibility goes, those are progressive- as kids learn to be responsible, they in turn gain more freedom, and as they gain more freedom, they become less dependent- and this includes financially. In a nutshell, while my dh and I are ‘writing the checks’, the kids will live within certain necessary guidelines for our family dynamic. When they are completely on their own, as my oldest is now, they are free of any boundaries except those of normal propriety for maintaining healthy relationships.

As it is now, my firstborn calls me about every other week to say “Mom, this&this happened, and I could see you were right about such&such”. To which I say “Of course”. 😀

4 02 2008

I get all that.
But then —
We were talking before about a state LAW — can’t remember which state — that explicitly allowed parents (arguably potential grandparents at that point) to impose some decisions on a girl and to (I believe) veto others if she is still a minor, including to make her give birth and actually make them grandparents even against her own will.

I know my state and many others already have a parental notification law,under which everyone’s daughter is still treated as a daughter even after she is a potential mother (whether we define that as sexually active and seeking reproductive health care and/or actually pregnant isn’t the point — in this case before birth of their grandchild is the point.)

I think that is poor public policy, and discriminatory. I would think so even if I were a devout Christian who believes personally as you describe above, and who nevertheless advocates for that individual privacy (as you and I both do, I think) for all citizens to be free from public morality being legislated. It seems to me that you don’t need any law between you and your children, to follow your own parenting heart, and neither do I! 🙂
(not so sure about the grandkids though, because at that point you aren’t the parent and neither am I. At that point I begin to say that legally, my daughter and yours are equally as much moms as you and I were in our time, and the law needs to respect THAT, not us as the grandmoms.)

5 02 2008
Nance Confer

“IMO there is no such thing as ’safe sex’ before the bonds of marriage” — SM writes.

And that’s what she has taught her children. Who seem, even as adults, to accept that line of thinking.

I have not and will not teach any such idea to my children.

But as long as we each can teach what we want and are not trying to impose something else on the other, there’s no problem between us.

If the rest of the world could get along this well, maybe JJ wouldn’t have all those troublesome laws to worry about. 🙂


P.S. And speaking of troublesome laws, you were right, JJ, when you said that anti-gay marriage amendment will be on the ballot in the fall here in FL. Enough signatures were ginned up and now we have to have that battle. Sigh. . .

5 02 2008
JJ Ross

And I see it all as part of the same battle. Speaking of marriage laws and also motherhood laws, these connect in another fraught family religious-freedom issue. If imposing motherhood on one’s minor daughter is moral and legally acceptable when she’s unmarried — then why wouldn’t the polygamist cults marrying off their daughters at 13 or 14 and essentially forcing them to become mothers while still under their parents’ control, be even more morally and legally acceptable? On what basis can we the self-governing secular people, reject that as child abuse but not the other?

Look at the major public role that these deeply personal, private matters already play in selecting the Supreme Court justices and presidents supposedly sworn to safeguard every citizen’s personal, private freedoms under the state and federal constitutions. We have GOT to do a better job of thinking through these principles as constitutionally protected freedoms to decide for ourselves, not as the other way around — deciding for ourselves and then trying to get that written into the Constitution.

The most troublesome argument to me is the one that comes from fundamentalists intent on: 1) strict constructionism that elevates the enumerated freedoms in the Bill of Rights to near gospel status, AND simultaneously 2) politically imposing their own theocratic code on that constitution, as if our secular state and its individual freedoms weren’t protected from religious tyranny by that very same Bill of Rights.

5 02 2008

I was linking a post over at unity-n-diversity when I saw something under it that fits here, too, quoting satirical author Christopher Moore, after some funny stuff about parents being secretly replaced by government robots:

“. . .a GPS might make a nice gift this Christmas. They’ve certainly come down in price from last year. Do we need a machine that tells us where we are?

Maybe what we need is a machine not to tell us WHERE we are, but WHO we are. Something that would make us look into our hearts and answer questions honestly about what is right and wrong, about what it actually means to be free, and human, and humane. About whether we really want to live up to the values of our faith and our country, not the manipulated dogma of people with a selfish agenda.

We need a machine that tells us what it is to be decent, and kind, and forgiving, and generous, and just, and fair, and humble. And not just a voting machine (although we can use that until the new thing comes out).

Something cool.

And we need it before they figure out how to work the death beam.”

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