Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Courtship vs Dating, pt. 4--Balanced or Lukewarm?

In the previous three posts, I outlined my own experiences. In this one, I am considering what I want to teach my children. Frankly, I am a bit wishy-washy. Bill Gothard would have a nice, neat explanation of how my standards are lukewarm, complete with a nifty little alien drawing. While I am grateful for much of what I was taught, I am not sure what I want to pass on to my kidlets.

* The whole idea of waiting for a relationship that has the probable outcome of marriage. Eh, maybe. I definitely want my kids to be honest always, with themselves, with the person they are dating and with God. I do want them to be careful with their own hearts and with the hearts of others. At the same time, I think that there are valuable things to learn in all relationships, and that the whole notion of courtship can result in the exact same pressures and pain that happen in any dating relationship. There may actually be great value in a relationship where there is more freedom for them to look at things objectively and walk away without feeling that they are breaking a commitment.

* Physical involvement. My answer is pretty much the same as to the previous part. I am all for honesty and restraint. I believe that the Bible does reserve sex as God's amazing wedding present. I've also known people who didn't even kiss until their wedding. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around. I pretty much come down to a lot of the gray areas being between the individuals and God. And really, temptation levels vary so much. There were times when I could enjoy making out tremendously but not feel tempted to take it any further. Other times, just being in the same room with Carlos required self-control.

* The Father and The One. You can probably guess where I stand on this. I've already mentioned my views on patriarchy. I think that family involvement is great. It helps with the whole honesty and accountability aspect, and I think that the opinion of one's family is important. However, I also believe that God speaks directly to the individual couple. Families can have a skewed and unobjective opinion here, just like with any other issue. As for the whole concept of The One, I am not so sure. I certainly can't imagine being married to anyone else other than Carlos. However, I do think that successful marriages can be built with more than one potential person.

* What this means in concrete terms. I don't know. I don't know what parameters I would set with our children exactly, as far as age or type of dating or whatever. I imagine that it will be an ongoing discussion in many ways. I'm glad that I have a little time to talk and pray and think about it. Those of you who have noticed how many soap boxes I tend to mount in parenting, here is your chance! Influence me! ;)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Courtship vs Dating, pt 3

Growing up as a Gothardite really tweaks your perception in many areas. Carlos and I had spent four years seeking God about our relationship, we were both in our mid-twenties, financially stable, etc. To most people, it would have been a no-brainer that if we wanted to get married, we should. However, my dad's disapproval was a very big deal.

Some people wondered if it was a racial thing. That always surprised me. Although Carlos will always have a much deeper tan than I will ever get, that was never a blip on the radar at all. In fact, my dad was my role model for approaching racial issues. I never once saw or heard any form of racism, either subtle or overt from him. Not only that, he would bring to our attention things that many people never notice if they are not the target. If someone made a negative comment using racial descriptors, like, "I was waiting for that parking space and then that Black woman took it from me!" he'd question it (after all, who would say, ""I was waiting for that parking space and then that tall woman took it from me!"?). A couple of times when we were little, my sister or I repeated a racial joke that we had heard without realizing the significance. He was genuinely saddened and took care to explain exactly what the terms meant and why they were so hateful and hurtful. That is one of the things that I have always admired about him.

Again, it would be pure conjecture on my part to give reasons that I never fully understood to his opposition. I am not a psychologist, although I occasionally play one in real life, ;) but I know that he was going through a very difficult time. After an entire lifetime of pastoring, he was giving up the church, and I think that he needed to feel that there was an area where he still had a position of authority. But, I could certainly be wrong.

How did Carlos' dad feel? Well, years before I ever met their family, he had a dream of Carlos and me being married. He recognized me from the dream as soon as we met, and welcomed me with open arms. During one of the rocky points early one in our relationship, he intervened with some wise counsel and encouragement that helped tremendously. When Carlos met with my dad to ask his permission for us to marry, his dad came, too, to share his support.

My mom, of course, had loved Carlos from the beginning (she told me the day she met him that we should get married!), but she was in a hard position because of my dad. We had a lot of people whom I respected tremendously listen and share loving, wise words with us (thank you again, Granny2Five!!!). If my dad had come against it strongly from the beginning of the relationship, I might have followed his wishes. If you haven't been a part of that kind of patriarchy, it is hard to understand how deeply ingrained it becomes. But after four years of earnestly seeking to do the right thing and believing that it was for Carlos and me to be together, I decided to go ahead without my dad's approval.

We set our wedding date after my graduation the following Spring, and that Fall was incredibly busy. I was teaching seven college classes, and taking five, all while planning the wedding. I was very grateful for the work, but it was hard to prioritize some days. I made my first B, in Ecology, and cried and had bad dreams over it for an absurd amount of time. It makes me laugh now at how important it seemed to keep that 4.0. Things were a bit uncomfortable at home, so I didn't particularly mind being gone so much.

My dad decided that he couldn't participate in the wedding at all, since he felt that it was wrong. He wasn't going to walk me down the the aisle or even show up. Ouch. We didn't talk about it much, because there didn't seem to be too much to say. I heard some things second-hand, about how we would regret the marriage and that shortly after, I would meet "The One," but I don't know how accurate it was.

Those close to us were praying for everyone involved. Interestingly, I learned later that a couple of very strong women felt led to speak with my dad. I don't know what all was said, but three days before the wedding, he told me that he would come and walk me down the aisle if I wanted him to. We both cried. I know that he still had some reservations, but he wanted to reach out and be a part of us. I am so very, very grateful.

It sounds pretty cheesy to say that we all lived happily ever after, but my dad has never said a negative thing to us since then, and not long after was bragging on Carlos as if it had all been his idea in the first place! Seeing the joy we have together has been a significant part of that, and of course, he adores his grandkids, too. I know that Bill Gothard would say my diamond was irrevocably cracked by going out from underneath the umbrella, but we have blessed with a rich and joy-filled marriage.

Now I am left with the confusing part of trying to figure out exactly what to teach my own children on the whole issue. I can see a lot of good things in the whole courtship approach, but I don't feel nearly so dogmatic about it being the only way. It is something that I will be exploring in subsequent posts, and I would love your input!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Courtship vs Dating--Our Story, pt 2

So, in my last post I was explaining how Gothard's teachings on courtship had affected my relationship with Carlos. Really, though, it was much more than the idea of courtship vs dating. It was underpinned by the strong emphasis on patriarchy that goes throughout his materials. The father is the final authority of everything in the family, including who his children, particularly the daughters, shall marry.

I've known some happy marriages who believed in wifely submission. As long as the husband is laying down his life for the wife and respects her and is unselfish, it can work for some people. I was surprised and later pleased to learn that Carlos doesn't agree with that. He believes that the husband and wife should both submit to Christ, and that they should both demonstrate unselfish love to each other. Being male doesn't give him a position over me.

Of course, all the people I know who believe in wifely submission agree that the husband's dictatorship should be benign, that he should not abuse his power, etc. (kind of like how the people I know who spank insist that it shouldn't be done in anger). In practice, it doesn't always work that way, and when it doesn't, the wife has little recourse. She is often told that her attitude is at fault, and if she would only x, y, and z, then her husband would come around.

Bill Gothard teaches that the person under authority is the one who must be responsible for any change. He does give the right of appeal and then the choice to suffer for doing God's will if the authority doesn't yield. However, in nearly all circumstances, it is hard to prove that the husband's will is a direct violation of Biblical commandments, so it usually is interpreted back to the wife's lack of reverence for her husband. If she is visibly unhappy by anything that he has chosen, that is also wrong, because she is publicly shaming him by not being cheerful. The message is clear that the wife must put up and pretend to like it. While this is directed primarily to wives, it definitely applies to their children, as well.

I said at the beginning of part one that I am not sure how much to share about people other than myself. My parents believed the patriarchal teachings, but in my relationship with my dad, there had been relatively little conflict, especially concerning decisions that only involved the two of us (I was guilty of "taking up offenses" sometimes regarding others). I knew that my dad wasn't thrilled with my relationship with Carlos, but since he had responded passively when Carlos asked permission to court/date me, I assumed that would continue.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, yes, I was already demonstrating a lamentably strong will and lack of deference and meekness by not responding to the unspoken disapproval by cutting off the relationship entirely, let alone going ahead with it. Ah, well.

Some of you are also wondering what it was that my dad didn't approve of. It wasn't anything specific with Carlos. He was a dedicated follower of Jesus; he was very disciplined financially and had a good job; he was close to his family and helped his parents in the church they pastored; he had obtained his Masters in one year with a 3.9 GPA; he didn't have issues with anger, lust, etc. He loved kids, he was both bilingual and bicultural. It basically boiled down to the fact that my dad hadn't heard a clear, "Thus sayeth the Lord" that I should marry him. Or at least that is what my dad said.

I could speculate on other factors in their personalities, and my dad's possible preference for another guy who attended our church, but it would be pure conjecture. (The other guy pretty much worshiped my dad, and naturally it is hard to resist someone who admires you so profoundly. I had seen the way this guy treated his sisters, and didn't agree with him on much of anything, so I viewed him quite differently. And, as shallow as this sounds, I must say that physically I was not the least bit attracted. Even at a size 6 and about 118 lbs, I probably outweighed him. It doesn't inspire romantic feelings when sitting next to each other I notice that my thighs are three times as wide as his. But of course, that is my carnal side coming out. I must add, though, that if you have seen pics of Carlos, even someone much more impressive physically than this guy couldn't compete.)

Anyway, Carlos and I dated for a year. After all the weirdness and ups and downs of the previous three years, this year was delightful. I was finishing up my degree and teaching at our community college; he had started a new job and we were both busy with responsibilities there as well as being part of the worship team at church and interpreting regularly (the services were bilingual). We also spent a lot of time with my little brother. All of our time together, though, just cemented our growing love and respect for each other. I felt more myself with him than with almost anyone else. Not only did I like him, I liked myself with him. After a year, we both were ready to commit to marriage. He asked my dad for permission. My dad said no.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Courtship vs Dating, Our Story--pt 1

With the last post about sexuality and reading Razing Ruth's blog, I've wondered if it was time to do a post on the whole dating vs. courtship thing and our story. I am not sure how much detail to go into, or how much commentary I should add. As you know, I am comfortable sharing about myself, but I am not sure how much to share about other people. So, we'll see what ends up making it into this post. Feel free to ask any questions if you are interested!

As I mentioned before, my family was very heavily involved in all of the Bill Gothard teachings. There were some things, like TV, where my dad took the teachings with a grain of salt and we applied them according to our own conscience and discretion. The whole issue of courtship was one where we embraced those teachings much more fervently.

I first started attending the seminars for myself when I was twelve. Like most girls my age, I had guys that I had a crush on. However, Gothard's point of view made a lot of sense to me. He taught that instead of the typical dating cycle that begins fairly early here, it was better to not play around with relationships. Instead, he advocated courtship where the outcome was marriage (unless something very unexpected occurred) and that this should be an agreement between the guy and the girl's parents.

(A quick note: although courtship and dating are considered to be drastically different, I found that in real life the distinction was a bit blurrier. Also, the term courtship sounds so archaic that it is easier to use dating, even though we never did the casual dating according to definition. As I said, it wasn't always clear since we wound up not perfectly following the prescription for courting, either.)

I could already see kids around me going through emotional rollercoasters by getting involved with someone when there was no thought of marriage at all. The hurt feelings, rejection and jealousy they had to deal with, even without any physical involvement, made me sad for them. It seemed like a waste of time and inevitably brought heartache. I soaked up books like Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity, and decided that I would guard my heart.

It worked out pretty well. For one thing, there weren't too many guys around me that would have tested my resolve. I was homeschooled, and there weren't many guys my age in our church, so my field of potential interest was limited, to say the least. There were some guys that I really liked, but they happened to live hundreds of miles away, so that wasn't too promising. I had a pretty active fantasy life, but that was it.

Then, my first semester in college, I met Carlos. I posted about that first meeting here: http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com/2008/08/14-years.html Um, yeah, I was knocked head over heels from the beginning. However, in spite of that, I still held on to the whole Gothardite view. While Carlos hadn't grown up with the Gothard seminars like I had, his family had the typically conservative Hispanic outlook. He hadn't dated much or had a girlfriend. We became friends, but I tried really hard not to read anything more than that into it. I got to know his family and we ran into each other often at school. He was an instructor (not mine), and that was yet another reason for me not to expect anything.

The first Valentine's Day after we met, it crossed my mind to get a card, but I decided that that would be definitely taking things out of the realm of friendship. Even if I hadn't been terrified of rejection and embarrassment, it was a big no-no for the girl to do anything that might seem to be initiating. Once we had talked very briefly and superficially about the whole courtship thing--the guy has to get permission from the dad, it is not about casual dating but done with the intention of marriage, etc.

Apparently, the talk was even briefer and more superficial than I had realized. He surprised me with a gorgeous bouquet of roses, some tapes that he knew I would love, an assortment of other beautiful, extravagant gifts, and a stunning ring. And I had thought even a card was too much!

I was totally shocked and overwhelmed. I had no idea how to respond and felt like I was in one of those weird dreams where you can't move or talk. The one clear thought in my head was that we were no where near ready for marriage--I still had several years of college left--and that this wasn't following the courtship script. I wound up giving it all back. Ouch. I had thought that this approach was supposed to save us from heartbreak and embarrassment! It felt as though we both had gotten enough of that to make up for all my smug years of following the Gothard approach.

The truth was that my heart was already involved, too. I was so scared that I had totally ruined any chance for any future whatsoever between us (not an unreasonable fear, you must admit). Thank God, Carlos was no wimp. While very respectful of my limits, he was still open to being my friend. Even more than that, we began to write letters to each other as a way of getting to know each other better, since most of out time at school was limited to saying hi in the hallways or the language lab.

Now, according to Bill, this was probably dating (he actually says that even thinking about the other person can be dating, which even back then I considered hilarious. Was the guy supposed to go the girl's father and say, "Excuse me, sir, but I would like your permission to think about your daughter?" :snickers: Any guy who asked that would be branded a weirdo by me right off the bat, and I would be a bit concerned about the type of thoughts he was having). Yet, we both tried to keep things on the same level that we would with any other friend.

We tried that for a few years, believe it or not. Looking back, it seems pretty ridiculous to me. However, our motives were pure, and we were truly trying to do the right thing. We wanted to be absolutely certain that God was leading us before moving our friendship to another level. I've since come to the conclusion that God's will isn't as hard to learn as we often make it. Back then, though, we agonized over the tiniest step.

Another tenet of the ATI teaching is about defrauding. Defrauding is defined as stirring up desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled. Women are specially cautioned against dressing in any way that might possibly provoke lust in a man; men are cautioned against leading a woman on more emotionally than they should; and of course, physical involvement is considered to defraud both. Our first kiss wasn't until we were officially dating/courting, three years into our relationship.

Those three years were difficult, needless to say. We wanted to always be honest with ourselves, each other, and every one else. It was blurry and confusing at times, though. Maintaining the delicate balance of holding a relationship to a good friendship when there was a romantic attraction on both sides was tricky, and caused both of us to pull back at times and occasionally to doubt the other.

After three years of that, we believed that changing from "just good friends" to dating/courting was both what God had in mind for our relationship and just being honest about where our hearts were. Carlos went to my dad, but my dad didn't want to commit himself one way or another. So we were dating/courting/whatever, but without official approval (or offical disapproval).

My mom had been for the relationship from the very beginning, and I have some doubts as to her full commitment to the whole Gothard courtship view. She agreed with things like the guy being the one to pursue the relationship, not the girl, and liked the idea that the parents would give their blessing and so on. Still, she believed that God would speak directly to the couple, not just through the girl's father.

I don't know exactly what to say about my dad's view, except that he aligned much more closely with Gothard in that God would reveal especially to him who I was supposed to court/marry.

Funnily enough, even though I had carefully considered the other parts of the courtship teachings, it had never occurred to me what would happen when I believed that God was leading me in one way but my dad didn't. As you would probably guess, it was painful and sticky for everyone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why I will never have The Talk with my kids

Photo credit by Leo Reynolds on Flickr
On the message boards where I post there have often been questions about when to have The Talk with children. Frequently, the children in question are already past the average age for puberty. I realize that this is an uncomfortable topic for many families, but in our home, we've decided to never have a big, single conversation about sex with our kids. Instead, we consider it our responsibility to them to teach them from birth about their sexuality, just as we teach them about God, about character qualities we want them to develop and everything else that is important to us.

One of the first things we have done is teach them the correct names of all their body parts. Research actually shows that this helps protect kids from sexual abuse. I am not sure why, but I would think that being able to talk about it openly is a big reason. Children are less likely to think it is their fault and more likely to speak up if they know the correct words (and if their parents don't act as if there is something dirty about even naming those parts). I am sure that they will hear cutesy names from friends and others, but we've been teaching them the proper terms along with knees, elbows, ears and all their other body parts.

Earlier this week, Elena was running around sans diaper (she apparently has decided that she doesn't want to wear one anymore. The good side to this is that she has actually started using her little potty chair some of the time.) Joel glanced over and remarked, "Elena doesn't have a penis. Oh, yeah. She's a girl. Girls have a vulva instead, right?" It was very matter of fact. Ariana knows that the inside part where nobody can see is the vagina, and the outside part that is visible is the vulva. Both she and Joel know that the baby is growing in my uterus, not the stomach where their food goes.

We've answered any questions they have honestly (and as simply and age-appropriately as possible). One of my parenting soap-boxes is that lying to children is never OK, and I've heard some pretty absurd lies on the whole topic of where babies come from by some parents (cabbage patch or stork, anyone?).

Rather than saving it all up for one tense, embarrassing coversation later on, we find moments during every day conversations to share our values and practical information. Of course, it doesn't have to be tense or embarrassing, but I think it is much easier to be comfortable when it is part of daily life.

Ariana loves the show iCarly. When dating has been a topic on a particular episode, we've talked about it. She knows that I think it is better to wait until you are much older and to develop a strong friendship first. The conversations are usually brief and not too serious or heavy, but they are frequent enough that as she gets older, I believe she will have both the desire and confidence to keep talking with us.

I've heard a lot of modesty teaching that seems to be a way to blame women for the moral failings of some men, and I want both my daughters and sons to take responsibility for their own actions and reactions. That said, I also find much of the sleazy, pseudo-sexy clothing marketed to young girls (haven't seen that for boys clothes yet) to be absolutely nauseating. Part of respecting your body means dressing with self-respect, and I refuse to buy or allow my daughters to wear clothing that was apparently designed by pedophiles who want little kids to look sexy. 

I'm not saying that preschoolers should know how to put on a condom, of course. At the same time, I think that parents should speak to their kids before their peers do, and that is often much earlier than parents wish. (As an aside, when did you first start hearing about sexual topics from friends? I remember hearing vague comments in first and second grade! When I was eight, a friend asked if we could lay down naked on top of each other because that was how you make babies and she wanted a baby. There was nothing truly sexual in her desire--she just thought a live baby would be cool, and didn't know the mechanics involved, or that both of us being girls would make a difference!)

I taught K-12 at conservative Christian schools for five years. In that time, sixth graders were talking about (and in some cases actually performing) oral sex. I've also heard from older kids who saw this as a way around "real" premarital sex. They were completely unaware of the possible emotional or physical consequences involved.

Which brings me to another point--so many parents just want to tell their kids not to have sex. I am very grateful to my parents, who consistently made it clear that sex was an incredible, wonderful, pleasurable gift. There was never any sense that it was bad or shameful--on the contrary, it was designed by God for us to enjoy! (And for those who are afraid that this might lead to wanting to experiment early, it actually gave me even more reason to wait until marriage before unwrapping this gift).

So, we won't be having The Talk. We make it a practice just to talk, all the time. And, if they don't ask, we tell them anyway, just like we would about our beliefs on anything important. We are wonderfully made--all parts of us, and they need to know that.

This post eventually sparked a series about how we teach our children about sexuality.  As parents, we have an incredible responsibility.  We need to give our children accurate, age-appropriate information, not only on the physical aspects of sexuality, but also on the emotional and spiritual ramifications.  I hope you will join us in this discussion with your comments, links, ideas and stories.  For related posts, click here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Maria moved!

Hi, everyone! I have been enjoying Spring Break for many reasons, not the least of which is that I have actually been able to get on the computer more. I had been missing posts from one of my favorite bloggers ever, Maria from A Piece of My Mind. Turns out that she is still blogging, just at a different URL. The new link is www.piecesofmymind.com, and is also in my favorites. If you have missed some of her recent blogs, please go check them out! She has great recipes, and a wonderfully informed and interesting look at many topics from a Christian perspective. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Follow the Script

One of my favorite discoveries is how good my children are at problem solving. I am amazed at how often they come up with great solutions. However, they are still little kids and often need guidance (hey, as an adult, I often need guidance!). We had a very beneficial learning experience today.

At the playground, a boy around five or six started chasing the kids around, making scary faces, growling and pretending to scratch. I am not sure if he was truly upset and didn't know how to handle his big emotions or was just playing. I edged closer as he began to chase my kids. Ariana looked a little uncomfortable but didn't seem to be bothered. Joel was running too fast for me to gauge if he saw this as a game or was getting scared. Elena was curious at first, but when he cornered her and raked his fingers across her (not really scratching, but still touching, if that makes sense), she became upset. I picked her up and opened my mouth to say something to the little boy, but he took off.

A few minutes later, he tried the same thing with some other kids, and one of them was either scared or hurt (I think just scared) and screamed hysterically, at which point the nearby adults intervened. I was slightly bemused as I listened to the boy's mom, who had been sitting only a few feet away, lecture him intensely on how bad his behavior had been. She told him that she had been watching the whole time and proceeded to shame him repeatedly. I understand how tough it is when your child does something in public--I think we all have to fight against reacting out of embarrassment. Still, I wondered why she hadn't stepped in before and redirected him, and was hoping that she would give him some good alternatives for the future instead of merely telling him that he was bad.

Afterwards, we discussed the incident in the car, and I asked my kids how they had felt when he was chasing them and pretending to scratch. Ariana said that she wasn't scared, but she didn't like it very much, and she could tell that Elena didn't like it. Joel said that he was a little scared. From there we began to talk about what they thought were good ways to handle situations like that in the future.

I admit, even now, I hate confrontation. My heart starts pounding, and my natural instinct is to weasel out with some type of passive (or passive aggressive) response. Unless, of course, I am really mad, when I just want to bully back. That isn't the way that I want my children to handle conflict, and I've had to become very conscious of what I model to them. I want them to be both assertive and respectful, to have good boundaries and the skills to enforce them correctly, but it is hard.

So today, we talked about different scripts they could follow when they felt uncomfortable with the way someone was trying to play. First individually, then in unison, they practiced saying, "Stop. I don't like playing that way. Let's play something different." It is clear and unambiguous, doesn't invite further bullying by seeming fearful, yet assumes the best motive (wanting to play) and offers a cooperative alternative (let's play something different).

We also talked through several other scenarios, and talked about when to get a grown up involved (anytime they need support--if they are afraid to say it, I'll go with them or if they don't think the other person will listen).

An ongoing script-rehearsal we've practiced in the past is what to say if anyone ever violates boundaries with their body. This can be anything from rough-housing to tickling to sexual assault--anything that makes them uncomfortable. They have practiced many times saying. "Stop. This is my body and I don't like that. Stop or I'll tell." Ariana said it with very good effect when she was being tickled once, something she hates.

I think that the practice is very important. So often children are taught not to upset others, to allow other people (especially adults) to do things to them that our children dislike without making a fuss. While the goal is to be polite, it can also create victims. We can teach our children to be assertive without being rude, and it is immensely important.

I would love to hear from my wise readers (all 12 of you! ;)) what scripts you give your children to handle difficult situations. I know that I could learn a lot from you. Please share!