16 things Catholic girls should know about consent

How should Catholic parents teach their kids about consent?

We don’t want to give the impression that we’ll wink at sexual misbehavior, as long as our kids reach adulthood without a police record, a pregnancy, or an STD. We want more for them than that. We utterly fail our children if we teach them only about consent, without any other understanding of what sexuality is for and why they are so valuable as human beings. Reducing sexual health to mere consent is just another form of degradation

At the same time, we don’t want our kids to get a police record, an STD, or a unwed pregnancy. Or a damaged psyche, or a broken heart, or a shattered sense of self-worth. An education in consent is not enough, but we must teach them about consent.

But too often, Catholic parents dig in, just telling kids to save sex for marriage, period. Perhaps they teach their kids to avoid the occasions of sin like the saints, but they’ve never taught them how. They’ve never taught their kids what to do if they have, like billions of teenagers before them, gotten carried away by desire, or what to do if they themselves have good intentions but their boyfriends do not. They’ve never taught them how to navigate that minefield of conscience, desire, and external pressure. They send their daughters out entirely unequipped.

And so girls who want to be good are left to piece together some kind of dreadful “least bad” course of action with almost no information about what they can and should do in actual relationships. Teenage girls often put their own best interests last, in hopes of minimizing damage or offense for everyone else. 

So here is what Catholic parents should teach their daughters about consent:

  1. It’s never too late to say “no” for any reason. You’ve done that thing before, with him or with another guy? You can still say “no.” You’ve done worse things already? You can still say “no.” You’ve done lots and lots of things, but not this particular thing? You can still say “no.” You’ve talked about this thing, even agreed to do this thing? You can still say “no.” You’re right in the middle of the thing and have changed your mind? You can still say “no.” It’s a little thing that no one could possibly object to, but you just don’t want to? You can still say “no.”

If you find yourself in the habit of encouraging sexual behavior over and over and over again, and then backing out over and over and over again, then maybe you’re being a jerk, and should think about how you’re spending your time, and how you’re treating your male friend. But that’s a separate issue that you can deal with later. Even jerks can say “no.”  You can say “no” at any time for any reason, because you have no obligation to turn your body over to your boyfriend. Why would you?

 

2. Yes, he can stop. Of course he can stop. What is he, a defective robot? If he’s all worked up, it may be very difficult to stop, and he may be mad or offended or disappointed, but he has free will and he can stop. If he doesn’t stop when you tell him to stop, that is sexual assault. He. Can. Stop.

You’re not genuinely injuring a guy by stopping after one or both of you are aroused. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of blue balls. If he’s man enough to ask for sex, he’s man enough to deal with a little disappointment. 

 

3. There’s no such thing as being tricked into consenting. If you consent, you do it on purpose, consciously. If you didn’t realize you consented, or didn’t mean to consent, then you did not consent, and whoever tricked or coerced you is assaulting you, by definition.

 

4. A hymen is just a membrane. We hear a lot about protecting virginity, but sex is about so much more than vaginal penetration. There are non-PIV acts which feel important and powerful because they are — and they belong within marriage, just as much as intercourse does. You don’t have to let yourself be used for all kinds of absurd and degrading things just to protect that precious treasure of technical virginity. A hymen is just a membrane. You, on the other hand, are made in the image of God, and should not submit to degradation from anyone who professes to care about you.

 

5. Listen to your gut. If a situation feels weird or fishy, trust that God-given instinct and get the hell out. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. A firm “No, thank you, I’d prefer to do x” or “That won’t work for me, how about we do x instead?” is all you need. And if someone throws a tantrum over your alternative plans, you can be reasonably certain your good was not at the top of their list of priorities. A good man will value your comfort as well as your consent.

 

6. There is never any good reason for a guy to mention what his previous girlfriends were willing to do. Whether it’s a compliment (“I’m glad you’re not uptight like she was”) or a complaint (“All the other girls I’ve been with had no problem with such-and-such”), this is pure manipulation, meant to put you off balance, exert pressure, and make you feel like you have something to prove. It doesn’t matter if you’re different from every other girls in the entire universe. You are you, and if he can’t appreciate that, then he can go dangle.

 

7. Love doesn’t manipulate. It’s old school manipulative when he says “If you really loved me, you’d do such-and such.” It’s also manipulative if he turns it on its head by saying, “Let me show you how much I love you,” or “Why won’t you let me show my love for you by . . . ” Love isn’t about putting pressure on people. Love lets people be.

 

8. You never owe a guy sexual favors just because he does something nice for you. If a guy wants to spend time with you and you like him, be nice to him. But a date is not a contract. You’re not chattel, to be traded, no matter what he thinks he deserves.

And if you do hold the line and say no to “big” things, don’t feel like you then ought to compensate by agreeing to smaller things that also make you uncomfortable. Your comfort isn’t up for bargaining.

 

9. An adult man who wants sex or romance with you when you’re underage is a bad man. Full stop. You may be flattered, you may feel like you’re especially mature, and you may very much want what he’s asking for; but, by definition, this is assault. There’s a reason you cannot legally consent when you’re underage. An older man only wants an underage younger girl if there is something wrong with him. He’s very likely gone after other, maybe even younger girls, and will continue to do so. You should protect them by telling someone you trust.

 

10. If you’ve had sex, you’re not automatically in a relationship; you don’t owe him anything; and you’re not fated to be together. Sex makes you feel like there is a bond, but you have the power to break it at any time. It may hurt to disrupt that sensation of being in a relationship, but it may be the smartest thing you can do — the sooner, the better.

 

11. You don’t have to get married to someone just because of your sexual past together. Even if you’re pregnant. In fact, getting married because you “have to” could be grounds for a future annulment, if you got married because of pressure and a sense of obligation, rather than as a free choice. If you did something wrong, like choosing to have consensual sex with someone who’s not right for you, you can’t somehow redeem or erase that past sin by getting married. The past is the past. God wants you to have a good future.

 

12. It’s a bad mistake to have sex outside of marriage, but it’s not somehow more Catholic to refuse to use a condom. Contraception is a sin, and so I cannot in good conscience say, “Yes, if you’re going to have sex, use a condom.” Even if your goal is to prevent the spread of disease and to prevent the conception of a potentially fatherless child, it’s not somehow less-bad to commit two mortal sins instead of one.

But some young Catholics will tell themselves that there is something noble or bracingly honest about refusing to use a condom, even as they persist in seeking out unmarried sex. This is absurd. What are you doing? If you want to avoid sin, because it hurts you and your partner and cuts you off from God, then avoid sin. Don’t play games with telling yourself, “I’m sinning, but I’m doing it the Catholic way!” There is no such thing as sinning the Catholic way.

 

13. You’re not bad for wanting to have sex! Feeling strong sexual desire doesn’t prove that you’re a bad person, a bad daughter, or different from good Catholics. God has given us this desire for a reason. Sex is good, and the desire for sex is a normal, healthy desire. Your job is to figure out how to respond to your desire in a healthy and moral way. And no, it’s not easy. You will probably fail. Try again. But . . .

14. If you find that you cannot make yourself stop seeking out sex, then there’s probably something else wrong in your life, and you need help with identifying, addressing, and healing it. It’s normal and healthy to have a strong, hard-to-control libido when you’re young, but it’s neither normal nor healthy to feel driven and compelled to seek out sex with lots and lots of people. This is self-destructive behavior, likely with deep roots. It will be difficult to talk to someone  about this, but you really do need help — psychological help, not just confession.

 

Some girls will also agree to unprotected sex as a way of accepting some kind of built-in punishment for their promiscuity, not realizing that the promiscuity itself is a symptom of psychological distress. Confession is helpful. It is likely not sufficient by itself.

15. If something bad happens, whether it was consensual or not, you’re not alone. The people who truly love you will not love you less just because you did something you shouldn’t do, and they certainly won’t love you less if something happened to you that shouldn’t have happened. If you have someone who truly loves you, that person will talk to you, or find you someone to talk to, or take you to the doctor, or take you to confession, or take you to a therapist, or do whatever you need so you can be in a better place than you are right now. Having had sex does not make you an outcast. You are young. All is not lost.

 

16. You’re not ruined, no matter what you’ve done or what others have done to you. You cannot be “damaged goods,” because you are not goods. You are a person. Even if you feel worthless right now, and even if other people say you are worthless, you do not and existentially cannot exist for the consumption of any other human being. Not your future husband, not anybody. You are a child of the living God.

 

Yes, your past will affect you. Yes, you are changed by your choices and by the choices of others. But if you have regrets, they can be forgiven. If you have wounds, they can be healed. You are not ruined. You cannot be ruined. As long as you are alive, there is hope.

 

Here’s the kicker. Much of what I’ve said above goes for married relationships, too. You can go to extremes, of course. Some men behave as if their wives can never say “no” once they are married; and some women behave as if their husbands must gain explicit permission for every thought, word, and deed. It often takes couples many years to understand each other well enough to find the right balance. Spouses can reasonably expect to have sex with each other if possible. But there is also such a thing as violating consent in a marriage. Marriage does not give one spouse the right to use the other spouse, sexually or otherwise.

 

So, Catholics, let’s get over our aversion to the word “consent.” Our kids need to know about consent in dating, and they’ll need to know it when they’re ready for marriage, too. It’s one more way to learn to love each other better. 

 

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Many thanks to my friends M.B., C.P., F.S., R.S., G.H., K.C., C.C., D.M., J.T., A.G., M.E., E.L., S.J., M.D., K.M., R.B., A.H., K.C., for helping me compile and refine this list.
Photo via Pexels (creative commons)

Fostering friendship can save us from sexual chaos

It might be difficult to remain friends with someone you’re attracted to, but I reject with disgust the idea that it’s impossible for boys and girls to be friends, or that girls are somehow defrauding boys if they enjoy their friendship without wanting romance. We can be better than this. If we want to find our way out the current sexual morass, we must be.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

No, Tony Esolen, you can’t cure gay with football

I think he’s fallen prey to a dangerous fantasy, almost a fetish, of what the world once was: A world where fathers are always good, kind, and wise, where women are gentle and nurturing but not awfully bright, where the sun was always golden, sheets were always clean, and most of all, no one was ever, ever gay. (And if they were, it was because they accidentally talked to a gay man, who probably got that way by … not thinking about showering coal miners often enough … hmm.)

So here’s my advice to you, teenagers . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Renee Olmstead via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

The Parenting Dare: “We give parents the words” to arm their kids against porn

 
Last week, mother-and-son team Lori and Eric Doerneman released The Parenting Dare, an online video course designed to help parents and kids work together to resist pornography.
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Lori told me:
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This isn’t your typical “Porn is bad and you shouldn’t look”-type of course. We address our broken nature and we clearly show God’s plan of life and love. We talk about why they will be attracted to porn, but that it’s just a trap. We hit that concept pretty hard. We want to dissect the lie and showcase the truth.
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Lori has a degree in education and several years’ experience teaching, and speaking for Project Freedom, a program promoting chastity geared toward eighth graders and their parents. Eric is the oldest of the eight Doerneman children.
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Here is our conversation about The Parenting Dare. My questions are in bold.
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Lori, when we met a few years ago a the Catholic Family Conference in Kansas, you were writing a blog called “Prayer and Duct Tape.” Can you explain that title?
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Lori: I wanted it to be a Catholic blog but without too pious of a title. We had duct tape all over our house. Also, my bra was held together with duct tape at my wedding! Like prayer, it holds us together.
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Eric, you’re pretty open about your own struggles with porn addiction. What happened?
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Eric: We were super Catholic, hitting all the spiritual nails on the head, praying the rosary a lot, going to Mass every Sunday. One summer, I served at Mass every day. Mom was killing the spiritual aspect. But she completely missed the physical aspect.
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Lori: I thought talking about porn would ruin his innocence, and I wanted to keep him innocent.
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Eric: In 5th and 6th grade, I started looking at pictures on internet, masturbating and looking at porn consistently. Mom walked in on me one time, and from, there we always had a bit of a back and forth conversation. I wasn’t always transparent, but through that, we always had a real relationship.
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Lori: I want to talk to my kids, intentionally building a relationship so they will trust me.
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Eric: I told my friends my mom was helping me through it. Initially, they freaked out, but then they thought it was cool. They could never talk to their parents.
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So where did you go from there?
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Lori: The most of the year it took to get him out of porn startled me. Once he finally got out, it was through [an understanding of] the science of what was happening in his brain.
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Eric: I tried [to stop] throughout high school and college. I knew it was immoral, but I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until college that I said, “I’m actually addicted.” After college, mom kept hounding me. She got me a book [Pornography Addiction: Breaking the Chains] which taught me about the science, and I got a good grasp on what was happening to me.
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What made you think not only of helping your kid, but trying to help other kids and other parents?
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Lori: I changed my parenting through the course helping Eric. I have five sons, and I know I have a lot to offer to other parents.  So I thought, “I want to offer an online course.” Parents need to acknowledge that porn is stealing the hearts of their kids. So we called it “The Parenting Dare.”
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Eric surprised the crap out of me by saying, “You’d suck at doing this alone. I want to do this with you.”
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Eric: We’re daring you to take your blinders off. It’s a hard course. We’re funny, but it’s not tutti frutti. It’s not Pinterest-y.
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Lori: We have made the Gospel too easy. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives.
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Tell me a little bit about what your program offers.
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Eric: There are five main sections of the course, called “modules,” and each one has videos in it, anywhere from seven to ten minutes long. The first module is background, stuff you need to know about us, and then some concepts covered in the course: the four levels of happiness, the brain and addiction, and your belief system.
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Lori: Module Three covers kids age zero to five, to get moms keyed in, and to get them to discuss things openly, like, “That’s your penis!” We get them to establish themselves as an authority.
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“The sex talk” is not a talk, it’s a continual conversation. It starts from a young age: how beautiful your body is, how awesome God is that He created this. This makes it easier to have conversations about sex, porn, lust and love.
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The best addiction is one that never starts. That means we target parents of young kids. In the last three modules, we discuss the parents as the general contractors of their home. The foundation is the understanding of god, and we describe different parts of the “house.”
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The biggest module is the fifth one, for ages eleven to fourteen. As kids mature, we get into bigger concepts. We talk about love versus lust, and about puberty. It helps them be warriors. We talk about understanding the science of porn addiction and help them reject it.
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Eric: We give parents the words to say.
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Lori:  The course is very practical. We address girls sending nudes. I interviewed lots of college girls, and I give them things to say when someone asks for nudes, so they don’t commit social suicide.
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People who enroll are entitled to any updates that will come in the future. Technology is always changing, so is this one of the parts you see yourself updating?
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Lori: Yes. Module Two is about how to protect electronics in your home and your phones. People will buy, for instance, Covenant Eyes, but they don’t install it. We hold their hands, step by step, click by click.
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Why a mother-and-son approach?
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Eric: That’s just how it worked out in our family. In a lot of families, the kids spend more time with mom, and mom has a lot more time to mold the kids.
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Lori: Women use more words, too. But throughout the course, we say this isn’t just for moms to do. We address parents, and that could be moms or dads.
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There are going to be some concepts men will understand in a deeper way because they have testosterone. And some women are so conservative,they can’t even say the word “porn” or “orgasm” or “masturbate.” We hope it will be a family thing, parents going through it together. Husband and wife sitting down together and opening up.
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What if the parents themselves have issues? Do you see this helping them as they help their kids?
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Lori: One of the beliefs we tear down is, “I can’t help my kids because I have my own issues.” No, that actually makes you more qualified. If you grew up dirt poor, are you never gonna talk about it, or are you gonna teach your kid to grow up to avoid it? Do you want your child to be better off, or not?
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I’ve learned how to talk in a different way. How not to shame our kids, to be present for them. It’s almost more of a parenting course: How to authentically connect with your kids so they will open up. We don’t talk about porn all the time. We talk about how to have fun as a family.
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Eric: It’s not even about how to talk when you find out they looked at porn; it’s for beforehand. The tone you want to give off is: If you ever look at that, I’m not gonna hate you. If you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it.
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Lori: It’s a weird tightrope, because you don’t want them to be worldly, but you want them to talk to you.
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What are some other common beliefs you refute?
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Lori: That if my child is moral, and believes in Jesus, they will never look at porn.
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That girls don’t look at porn.
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And the biggest one is: I can’t talk to my child about porn because I want to keep his innocence.

By talking to them, you teach them innocence. They are kind of grossed out when they hear about porn, and that’s kind of good. You catch them before they’re in it. Talking to them gives them this huge protection.
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Eric: In the part for the 6-10 year age range, we discuss a study that says if kid sees porn, he’ll go back to see if it’s still there, out of curiosity. So parents can ask them if they saw anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
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Lori: Priests say the heartache is that there are young kids looking at porn, and their parents don’t even know. We have to shake up the tree a little bit.
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You touch briefly on the topic of modest dress for girls, which is such a hot button topic.
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Lori: A priest told me, “Don’t go there!” But I saw a woman in the park, and the way she was dressed, she was turning me on! We just raise the question, comment, and say how we handle it. We’re not telling you what to do.
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What is your ultimate goal?
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Lori: It’s our vision to get rid of porn. It won’t happen in the next hundred years, but I want to be able to raise men and women who are porn resistant.
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Eric: The things we’re talking about can be overwhelming. We’re going to help you through every step of the process.

Summer Book Swap: The First List!

Last week, I wrote about my idea to get everyone reading more and better books by doing a reading swap with my kids. It’s a simple plan: They read a book I think they’ll like, and I’ll read a book they think I’ll like.

Here’s what we have so far. (Note: All links are Amazon Associate links, meaning I earn a small percentage of every sale. If you click through and end up buying something else, I still earn! Thank you!)

My 19-year-old daughter has me reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett,

and I gave her The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

My 18-year-old daughter is still mulling over my assignment, but I’m probably giving her The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth.

My 16-year-old daughter got me started on The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan,

and I’m giving her The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

My 15-year-old son gave me The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

and I’m giving him A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

My 13-year-old son assigned me Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

and I’m giving him Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

(if you order this book, beware of abridged editions!).

My 11-year-old daughter got me started on The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham,

and I gave her The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (terrible, off-putting cover):

My 10-year-old daughter gave me The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann (here’s hoping the cover is misleading)

and I’m giving her The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald (the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin.)

My 8-year-old daughter gave me The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

and I’m giving her The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.

My five-year-old is just learning how to read, so she’s not playing, but I did order a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne for us to read together.

If your family is only familiar with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, do yourself a tremendous favor and get ahold of the original. The stories are so weird and hilarious, highly entertaining for parents without being condescending for kids.

And we’re off! I’ll probably follow up with a bunch of quick reviews by me and the kids, and then we’ll get a second list going. So far, so good.

Are you interested in doing a book swap with your kids this summer? What books will you give them, and which books are they giving you? Please include their ages and maybe a little bit about why the books are on the list.

The X-Plan for salvation

Beep beep. I am here to tell you that, sometime after that seventh time (or maybe after the seventy-times-seventh time) a light bulb will click on in that dopey son’s head. After being rescued without comment one more time after time after time after time, that son is very likely to decide on his own that this is no way to live, and he’d rather face the jeers and yucks of his stupid friends than the quiet patience of his father one more time.

Not because he’s scared of his father, but because he’s not. Not because his father is mad at him, but because his father loves him, and it finally feels like it’s time to live up to that love.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

Doctor Who at the March for Life

Three of my kids are going to the March for Life! This will be the first time anyone from our family has been able to participate.

My kids are pretty great, of course, but I was bowled over when I saw the signs they made. Here is what they have so far (and they may be unfinished, I’m not sure):

mfl-900-years
SOLID POINT. This one was made by my son, Moe. On the other side, it says this:

mfl-prolife-feminist

My daughter Dora made this excellent suggestion:

mfl-eliminate-crisis

Who could argue with that?

And my daughter Clara came up with this, which is neither snappy nor concise, but it made me cry:

mfl-beautiful

*sniff*

I’m really proud of them. They’re going to spend a couple of days with a bunch of people they don’t know at all, they’re going to spend the night and part of another on a bus, and they’re going to be out in the cold all day, and probably get yelled at. Please pray for them and for everyone who participates — and for everyone who witnesses them, too, including any protestors.

Have you been to the March for Life? Are you going this year? Got any last minute suggestions for how to make the most of the day?  And tell me about your amazing signs!

 

 

 

Should I let my kid dress like a weirdo?

punk girl

There is a huge difference between sporting a blue mohawk because you think it looks cool, and sporting a blue mohawk because you want to horrify and offend everyone you meet.  Trying to set yourself apart from your peers is morally neutral and should be tolerated, even if it makes adults cringe a bit. But trying to give the world or your family a big “F you” is a problem.

It’s behavior that matters, and so it’s the behavior that parents should focus on.  This is just as true for kids who wear exactly what their parents want them to wear. Just as there’s nothing especially virtuous about dressing in a modest and conventional way while being a snippy, catty, arrogant little twerp, there’s nothing especially vicious about dressing like a weirdo if you’re reasonably courteous and responsible.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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Let’s ditch the prom

prom rejection
Parents, if you imagine that your child’s life will be irreparably damaged if he or she misses out on this one monstrously noisy, hideously expensive night of painful shoes, emotional pressure, and hysteria, then I strongly encourage you to think harder about what the rest of your child’s life ought to look like

Read the rest at the Register. 

What can Catholic parents learn from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

Dzhokar_Tsarnaev-VOA

Our kids need us. Most of our teenagers are not in danger of becoming violent jihadists like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; but unless we make a deliberate, consistent, sincere effort to live our faith and to make sure that our older kids are well connected with adults who can guide and educate them and answer their questions, and unless we give them many opportunities to practice their faith, then there is little hope that they will still be Catholics when they leave our homes.

 Read the rest at the Register.