Love is a Verb

The current model of girlhood in our culture, beginning at a very young age, is disturbing on many levels.

Emily asked me recently if she was pretty. I assured her that she was, and then we talked about what made girls really lovely. I told her that beautiful girls are the ones who care about other people and who know how to use their hands and their minds to do something useful for others.

We talked about kindness and how that makes people attractive. “You can have an outside that’s shiny and perfect, and yet have a rotten, ugly inside,” I told her. She took all of that in thoughtfully.

The concept of sacrificing for others isn’t a celebrated theme in our culture. Many young girls spend countless hours texting their lives away with nonsense, wasting precious time, living for themselves, while parents sacrifice to give them the latest technology. It’s foolish and a tragic use of their minds, bodies and gifts.

Countering the current mentality is not easy, but as mothers, we can demonstrate service towards others and love in action, and we can pray that the model we give our girls is one of usefulness rather than self-worship and sloth that is sure destruction.

The best message we can give our daughters and sons is that love is action, not just words. Whether ironing school blouses or making a meal or shoveling or whatever it is that comes to us to do, all of it is serving those we love. Even if we think we are unappreciated, these acts of service are never wasted. It does something in our own character. As Christ-ians, if we aren’t doing this, we are using a name we are not entitled to. Love acts. Anything less is fraud.

ironing

Where Have the Little Ballerinas Gone?

ballerinaSomeone sent me this article linked here which is about as sad an indictment of our culture as I’ve read.

The author is Dr. Gerard Nadal who is Science and Health Education Policy Advisor for the Bioethics Defense Fund. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy from Saint John’s University, New York City. After his post-baccalaureate sciences at Columbia University, New York City, Dr. Nadal returned to Saint John’s University where he received his Master of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology, Master of Philosophy in Biology, and Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology.

He has an amazing educational pedigree, but writes this piece as a father. Here is just one excerpt.

This all comes to mind after attending my children’s dance recital last weekend. Their school has begun to drift from its wholesome moorings, as evidenced by 5-6 year olds in hula skirts turning their backs to the audience, placing one hand on a hip, and shaking their bottoms for a good 15 seconds to the hoots, hollers, whistles and cheers of the audience. It was the loudest and most raucus applause of the show. My three who collectively dance Irish step, tap, modern, and ballet were repulsed.

I was nauseated. Why the cheers for that, and why so demonstrative? It is not disconnected from the societal implosion in the Western World. Little girls don’t aspire to be “hot,” or sexually sophisticated. Left to their own natural development they like pink things and dolls, girly and feminine stuff. They want to be admired and courted, not lusted after and groped.

Most of us have seen this downward spiral everywhere. As the author points out, the downward spiral is being facilitated by parents themselves. His closing paragraphs show just where this has taken the daughters in America, and it is a horrendous tragedy.

P.S. I attended a misnamed ‘Talent Show’ at the premier Christian high school in town that my sons attended back in 2005. Imagine sitting in a darkened audience while 6 nubile young girls in tight t-shirts and jeans wriggled all over the stage in the gym to a song that was purportedly about the Holy Spirit. It was called “When the Spirit Moves.” The fathers and male students in the gym were whistling and cheering these young girls on who were writhing around in a very sexual way. I got up and just walked out. Evangelical Christians are participating in this sexualization of females as much as the rest of America.

When Four-Year-Olds Become ‘Spa Divas’

The birthday party ad was featured in the back of the parents’ magazine in our area.

It promoted both spa birthday parties for “little Divas” and also Spa Diva Day Camp for little girls, beginning at age 4. For the price of $350, eight little girls could have fake champagne, pedicures, manicures, sparkly make-up and their own “show-off, runway walk.”

The other option was Rock Star Day Camp where “girls just wanna have fun.” It was a small ad with a big and tragic message about American girlhood: It’s been ruined.

It is ironic that at a time when sex crimes against children are rampant, tarting up little girls is now an industry fueled by TV shows. The thinking processes of a mother hand delivering her little preschool-aged daughter to be trained in how to be a “spa diva” are incomprehensible. It is a grotesque moral failing with consequences for all of society.

The consequences of sexing up little girls are everywhere. Anyone with access to a news site will read about even late elementary girls sending nude photos of themselves via their phones. “Hooking up” and oral sex are commonplace subjects for middle-schoolers now. STD’s are at an all time high for young girls. Clothing becomes ever more raunchy at younger and younger ages. Girls just wanna have fun, see? They were made to be eye-candy for guys. (And pedophile bait, apparently.) Yet Mommy and Daddy sit in the audience at the end of Spa Diva Day Camp and applaud their little girls writhing their way down the runways for the pleasure of adults.

I don’t think a society can return from the brink once it reaches this stage. The challenge is protecting and raising our own daughters as Christians in a way counter to this filthy culture. It is no easy task. The more prevalent this sexing up of little girls becomes, the more difficult it is to present a different vision of girlhood to our own girls. Even Christian schools are filled with this carnal mindset, because so many professing evangelical mothers have bought the world’s lies about womanhood and what it should be.

I don’t believe in social isolation for children, but I do believe that the values and beliefs of tender young girls should be shaped by mothers and fathers, not by Hollywood and the little girls at school, fresh from their latest airhead and sleaze training at the Day Spa.

Commitment to providing a different vision of girlhood takes a great deal of energy and prayer. Only God can root a girl’s heart in what is lovely, true and worthwhile. But as mothers and fathers, we will give an account for the influences we allow in our daughter’s lives. If our daughters make bad choices, let it not be because we were too busy to teach them the bedrock truths of God’s Word and model them in our homes.

Girls and Dolls

My little sister Lisa and I had a real little girlhood thanks to Mom.

I feel sorry for little girls today who are expected to leave childhood behind in about first grade. There’s not much room for innocence these days.

Ten years ago, our older daughter Mary came home from her private Christian school at age 6 and announced that her new friend had the Backstreet Boys on the cover of her notebooks and folders and asked if she could please have some, too. (She had no idea who the Backstreet Boys were, but wanted to be like her friend.) The boy band du jour was apparently considered essential for first grade girls’ school supplies. (This fall they were selling pink notebooks with the terms “Eye Candy” and “Love  Muffin” on them.)

Marketers came up with the clever term “tween” for purposes of making money. It’s what we once called childhood. Little girls are expected to dump their baby dolls by kindergarten and buy Slutty Barbie and Smokin’ Hot Ken dolls. Or maybe just the ugly and appropriately named Bratz dolls with their little hipster clothes and attitude. By age 7 or 8,  it’s time to actually dress like Slutty Barbie, which explains the summer clothing items, and I do use the term loosely, hitting the racks this spring in the girls’ department.

My mother didn’t have any use for Barbies for little girls. Not having a television when we were little, we weren’t inundated with ads promoting what everybody else was getting, so we didn’t miss them. At a school gift exchange once I got a cheap Barbie knock-off, but lacking any Barbie stuff, I was uncertain what to do with the skinny, straw-haired creature with the big bust. I don’t know what happened to it.

I had a sole baby doll for several years when I was little. Her name was Sally, and I lost her in a park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a very traumatic event for me, and I still remember the horror of not being able to find her anywhere. Mom replaced her in the toy department of the JC Penney at Capitol Court shopping center. Not having a room full of dolls, shopping for a new doll was a big deal to me.

I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to look into the glass case ( they kept the dolls in a glass case which made them seem even more special) to pick one out with Mom’s help. I spotted the lost Sally’s replacement immediately. She was a sweet baby doll lying on a white blanket trimmed with pink and white gingham ruffles. That’s the one I brought home.

When I loved a doll, I really loved her. Nobody else’s doll could take her place. Some friends of our family once delivered a huge box of battered toys and broken crayons from their 5 kids who had all outgrown them. I remember seeing some very rough looking dolls in the box, the objects of some other little girls’ affections. They weren’t for me, as they had already lived out their dolls’ lives. With eyes askew, hair half shaven off, minus any clothing, they couldn’t touch my heart. It was already taken by my new Sally doll, clean and pristine in her pink and white blanket.

When I was nine or so, I got a wonderful surprise. I may have loved Sally, but by then, my heart was capable of adding one more. I got a Crissy doll for Christmas. She was the size of a real nine-month-old and you could pull a long pony tail of red hair out of the center of her head. I was enchanted. Sally gained a sister that Christmas Eve, and Crissy and I had many hours of fun. Lisa got one just like it the next Christmas and named her Carrie. We played house for hours on end.

Girls are wearing make-up now at an age when I still enjoyed dolls. Little girls have their own pop celebrities they follow, wear fake tattoos, talk about their boyfriends and message each other about the latest gossip. Looking “hot” is a grave concern for little girls at an age when my sister and I were still oblivious to the concept. I pity little girls, some of whom will never have many memories of that time “before”—before advertisers ruled childhood, before the male-female dynamic and peer tyranny filled their thoughts night and day, before celebrity freaks in the music world and Hollywood imposed their values or lack of them.

Is it possible to provide a real little girlhood today? I would say yes, but only if you’re prepared to really fight for it. The power of peer pressure is toxic from an early age now. For that reason, Tom and I feel strongly about kind of influences we want Emily to have, and what kind we do not want her to have. Popular media is the enemy of innocence and little girlhood. Advertisers and show producers are only going to continue stooping lower and lower to make a buck. To put it bluntly, that trash is not welcome in our home, because it is antithetical to the values we are trying to instill.

Parenthetically, I stood at a store the other day and observed that Cosmopolitan magazine is now directly at eye level for little ones. “30 Sex Moves” said one headline. “Woman on Top” said another. I felt a slow burning rage hit me at what we have allowed our culture to become. How many children had read those headlines standing there while tired, complacent parents just shoved their stuff onto the conveyor belt to get home. It makes me sick to my stomach, because I have a little girl who deserves a childhood, and shopping with her mother shouldn’t be the enemy of her innocence.

Our girls will only have a chance at self-respect, decency and every other virtue if we are willing to carve out a safe space for them to be little for a while, jettison the entertainment media and toys that teach them wrong (yes, wrong) values and actively protect them from a culture that devours little girls and spits them out.

Emily is very interested in babies right now. She has a baby doll and a bottle with fake milk that she plays with a great deal. The doll fell out of her arms today and I saw her stoop down and carefully kiss the doll’s head. “It’s OK,” she murmered tenderly. “I take you to the doctor and get medicine.” Atta girl, Emmy. Enjoy your little girlhood while you can.

Raising Girls in the Midst of Cultural Collapse

d955.jpg (2)For obvious reasons, I have been thinking a lot about raising little girls these days. I am very much concerned about how to protect young girls from the spirit of the age that exalts the flesh, carnality and sensuality at every turn. I am not just concerned about protecting from the dangers of our culture, but also in the development of a heart and mind that loves the Lord Jesus and desires to seek after godliness in all things. This is not just about external adherence to specific standards in dress and conduct. It must go much deeper than that, right to the issues of the heart that motivate a girl. That, of course, cannot come from parents. It must be a work of the Holy Spirit. 

But parents are powerful influencers of children. What is wisdom today in the area of raising young girls? I have written before on this subject, but believe these issues are terribly important. I have watched other Christian families raise some wonderful daughters, and I very much would like to make wise decisions in the areas that matter the most. Here are a few random thoughts I have on the subject. They are not very organized, but I would love to hear from other mothers (or fathers) of daughters on this. What do you think, based on your experience, are the most important areas parents can influence a daughter to love the Lord and live in godliness? Pardon the somewhat scattered nature of my thoughts here, as I am really just brainstorming on the subject based on my experience and also my beliefs on the matter.

1. Fathers are a huge part of the equation in raising daughters. I never had enough of my Dad because he was involved in broadcast ministry and was gone a large portion of my girlhood. That’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation. His absence left a hole in my life and created a need for male affirmation that affected me deeply as I grew older. I can’t say enough for the power of a father in a girl’s life. I remember once I was on a flight from Cleveland with Dad next to me. I was 16 and looking at a fashion magazine with ads for make-up products. Dad leaned over and told me that my skin was every bit as nice as the model in the photo. I was stunned and pleased more than he will ever know. I had a very low image of myself and his off-hand comment was savored for a long time. That’s why I still remember his comment to this day. Having a father who speaks encouragement not just in areas of physical attraction but in areas of character, most importantly, seems to be a real antidote to girls listening to the culture when it comes to their worth.

2. Mothers are absolutely crucial in setting an example for girls. I have always adored my mother. Mom can’t possibly know how much she meant/means to me. More than anything, Mom is a person who will roll up her sleeves and help others, often to her own cost. All three of her children can’t honor her enough for example of selflessness and love. Mom’s influence is seen in my life every time I am with my own children. While our personalities are very different, what is not different is our love for our families. Mom also showed me that life as a woman was not about fashion and image, but about serving the Lord and using our hands to do useful things. 

3. Girls are not being taught to be useful today. Even Christian girls get lost in the peer jungle of social media, pop culture and boy/girl drama. The world sets the standards and evangelical kids follow them to their own detriment. Hapless parents enroll their children in high schools which often serve as little more than a training ground for worldiness. It is a rare girl who can withstand the seduction of peer influence and not be swept away by it. Few girls today know much about homemaking at all. How many high school girls are prepared to competently help a mother in a situation like mine (bed rest) where meals are needed, basic cleaning needs to be done, shopping and so forth? As for care of babies and little ones, young girls rarely have that chance due to our smaller families today. Babysitting can go a long ways in this area, but hands on care of little ones day in and day out is a rarity in families.

4. Girls appreciate things more when they have less. I admittedly went overboard when our older daughter Mary arrived in our family. After having all boys, I overindulged at times with things like pretty dresses and shoes and so forth. While an objective observer may not have thought so, compared to my childhood, she was blessed indeed at  a young age. I don’t think these things mean as much when they come easily. I had two memorable dolls in my girlhood. Not ten, two. One doll took me up to age 8, the other was my pride and joy until I outgrew dolls altogether. Mom sewed clothes for the dolls, I didn’t get ready made ones from the toy department. Today girls get too much stuff, and I don’t think it is helpful to their characters. 

5. Related to the doll comment, most girls by age 8 are now considered what the advertisers now call “tweens.” This means they are aspiring teenagers. This is a sickening trend that destroys innocence in young girls and thrusts them into a place of early sexual awareness. A simple check of the clothing department for young girls in this age range will demonstrate how innocent girlhood has been replaced with the hard-bitten sexual awareness of our age. Disney has seen to it that little girls as young as three and four are being dragged to “tween” rock star concerts where they’re taught to writhe around sensually to the latest hit number. It’s a desecration of girlhood and a tragedy. 

6. Finding service opportunities for daughters is important in their development. A girl who is never taught how to help and serve others is a sad thing to observe. The youth culture says it’s all about you. The Scriptures tell us that it’s all about others. By requiring girls to help and serve, whether at church, in a nursing home ministry, in a grandparent’s home and so forth is not placing a burden on a girl, it’s giving her an opportunity to develop compassion and a heart for others. Empathy and a view to ease the loads of others is a hallmark of a maturing mindset in a young woman. I want our new daughter to learn to help from an early age. I have seen that little ones of a very young age can help. Mary used to fold laundry for me when she was 4. She got the biggest charge out of folding towels and washcloths for me with her little hands. She liked doing that more than playing. Seizing these moments to teach the joys of doing a job well around the home is important. I told her that every time we fold a pair of socks or something from the family’s laundry, we can think about how much we love that person. Girls need to connect the mundane work of the home with an act of love. I have a tape of Mary when she was about 6 or 7, talking about what she liked to do most. “Mama lets me iron pillow cases,” she said. That’s the kind of mindset I think we ought to strive for. 

How old-fashioned, how primitive, sneer the feminists. Sorry, women. You can burn your bras and run around the business world while outsourcing your motherhood, but true joy is found in serving others, beginning with our own families. Those are the values that make for happy homes, busy and useful girls, and the development of young women whose eyes are on the Lord and not on their bodies. 

I’m interested in your thoughts, mothers, fathers. What do you think is important in raising girls to a God-honoring womanhood? What can we do as mothers to set an example? I know I have left many things out today. I am sitting in my recliner and reflecting on all of this. I pray the Lord will help me do what I can with my girls. Ultimately, heart issues can only be addressed by the girl herself with the Lord’s help. But as parents, we want to make sure we are doing all we can to show Christ in our lives to our young girls with unconditional love and service to our families.