Archive for the ‘family’ Category

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Navigating the Minefield

February 3, 2008

by IdahoSpud

I like to think that when discussing the birds and the bees with my kids, that I strike a good balance between being straightforwardly informative and not-too-embarassing–I answer questions as they come up, but refrain from mom-and-dad details to limit the ick factor.  I honor the kids’ physical privacy as they develop it (“don’t look, Mom!), and remind them periodically that no-one, including friends and family,  gets to touch them in a way that they don’t like, and ask if anyone has done so.  As my children mature, particular subjects have emerged, such as when my celibate teen daughters’ monthly pregnancy tests for Accutane prescriptions sparked a discussion about rape and abortion. 

My very intelligent, beautiful, talented, sweet, obedient, typical-eldest-child daughter, at 15, has a serious crush.  I’ve known and loved this boy since the day he was born — he is also 15, LDS,  a good kid, and returns my daughter’s feelings.  While I’m not overly anxious about the situation, the boy’s parents are, understandably, worried about his mission.  He has always been a very affectionate child who thrives on physical contact, and his folks’ concern is that what was endearing as a youngster could be disastrous as a teen. 

The situation came to a head last summer when the two shared a kiss after a stake dance, which led to many weeks of lectures and restrictions for the boy.  As his parents point out, with the raised bar, “anything more than a kiss, and he doesn’t go.”  While I reacted to the kiss with nothing more than a raised eyebrow, I have instructed my daughter (who is not a touchy-feely person by nature) that I don’t intend to try to change her feelings for her guy, but that I do expect her to control her actions, and to not engage in any “pairing-off behavior” before 16.  By mutual agreement with the other parents, we do allow the two to see each other in group settings, and provide frequent situations (chaperoned parties, 4-H meetings, caravaning a crowd to the movies, etc.) where the environment is somewhat controlled but they can still interact outside of school. The situation has brought me into new territory.  On the practical side, I have had to be careful to define precisely what constitutes “pairing-off behavior,” such as kissing and even hand-holding, even though everyone who knows them knows they are an item.  I’ve had to be careful to respect and uphold the boy’s parents’ wishes because they know him best, even if I think some of their restrictions (no email privacy, for instance), go overboard.   I also have to be careful about what I say at home, so as not to create “cool mom vs. mean mom” dichotomy between the two families. 

On the emotional and spiritual level, however, I have to wonder if there is something wrong with me — why am I more trusting, or perhaps even ambivalent, than the young man’s mother?  The question is more compounded by the fact that (*sigh*) my daughter’s parents didn’t get married in the temple right away (despite us being RS Pres and an RM Ward Mission Leader at the time), while her beau’s parents did.  You’d think that I, having experienced the pitfalls of “serious dating too long,” would be the more suspicious parent. Perhaps what is really going on is that the boy’s parents (who knew us at the time of our wedding) worry that the genes of two, um, less-restrained people might produce a girl of dubious values, thereby endangering their son?

And how much should my own experience figure into The Ongoing Chastity Conversation?  It’s hard to know what to tell my kids; one of the inescapable consequences of my long-ago actions is that I will be asked why, by six little people at various times, I did not get married in the temple.  My very evasive, but technically true answer thus far is, “Mommy and Daddy didn’t take the temple as seriously as we should have, but we did get sealed a year later, so you’ve all been born in the covenant.  I hope you will choose to take getting married in the temple seriously.”  

In other words, do what I say, not what I did.  

I felt that my eldest, in light of the circumstances, should know more about that time in my life.  I hope[d] that telling her would 1) provide a cautionary tale, 2) serve as evidence that I do know of what I speak 3) encourage her to trust me with her truths as I trusted her with mine, and 4) give a living example of the power of the Atonement.  She took it well, and while I know that giving her that information could backfire, I believe it was the right decision.  

Time will tell.

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The Chastity Talk, Applied to Marriage

January 31, 2008

by M&M 

Since BiV already addresses how I feel about ‘the chastity talk’ I thought I would take a little different approach. I want to share some of my thoughts about what the principles of purity and chastity should mean in a marriage.

[This is all fresh on my mind because I just finished a book by Wendy Watson (now Nelson) about this topic. Her book reinforced already-strong feelings I have on the topic. (I have written about this elsewhere, so more of my thoughts (with some overlap) can be found there as well).] I believe the doctrine of chastity transcends the dictionary definition of the ‘thou shalt not’ aspect of it. I also believe there are teachings associated with this law that can have a great impact on a marriage.

First of all, if we are going to teach our children that sex is wonderful and sacred, we had better believe it ourselves. What might this mean?

One thing that makes sex sacred is that it takes place between [edited] a married man and woman who are supposed to be, as Elder Holland has said, totally united (‘a complete merger’), in every way. Sex was never meant to be fragmented out to be a ‘need’ that simply must be fulfilled. It is not supposed to be a separate element of a marriage, or an activity divorced from the rest of a marriage. It is designed to be a part of a greater, Spirit-driven whole. If we believe sex to be sacred, we should strive to make the whole marriage sacred and Spirit-filled. There is no room for manipulation, or unrighteous dominion, or emotional game-playing, or demands, or criticism, or any of those self-centered actions. I like this quote (I’m looking for the reference):

Thus, physical intimacy is a blessing to married couples when it is an expression of their mutual benevolence and commitment to each other’s well-being, an affirmation of their striving to be emotionally and spiritually one. The key in sexual matters is unselfishness. Self-centered pursuit of physical desire is destructive of the unity and love that characterize healthy marital relations. Such love or charity is long-suffering, kind, not envious, does “not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [one’s] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5), and is compatible with the Light of Christ, which directs all in the ways of righteousness.

Another reason sex is sacred is because it is tied to the power of procreation. While we all know the decisions about when to have children and how many to have is between a couple and God, the doctrine of multiplying and replenishing demands that we never forget or take for granted the power that is given us and the responsibility to respect that power. I believe we must be careful and prayerful about how we approach this power and Godlike gift.

Some (including Jeffrey R. Holland, in that talk linked by BiV) have called sexual intimacy a sacrament of sorts. I have heard many people scoff at this notion, but I believe it has merit. This is not to say that sex can’t be fun, exciting, passionate, heated, and physical, but if we believe that God never gives only temporal commandments, we had better believe that there is more to sex than physical/temporal desire, need, and fulfillment. This is a spiritual blessing that should be approached with the Spirit (even with the guidance of prayer), even while recognizing (and, of necessity, understanding) the physical side of it all.

I think in short, recognizing that sex is not primarily about physical pleasure (and surely not about one-sided selfish pleasure) can help us remember its sacred and important role in the big picture of God’s plan for marriage. God surely intends it to be pleasurable, but not as an end unto itself.

Secondly, if we teach our children to separate love or care or concern and sex (“you don’t have to have sex if you love someone, or to prove that love”), then I think we can apply that principle in our marriage as well. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Love in marriage transcends sex.” While surely one way to express love is to be intimate, this should never be manipulatively (is that a word?) be held over a spouse’s head to ‘prove’ that love. (“If you really love me, you will do this, or engage with me this often,” or….) Perhaps you, like I, have friends whose marriages fell apart because of this kind of unrighteous dominion. (Unrighteous dominion can also go the other way, with a spouse withholding sex as a tool of control. Either way, this is wrong.) Sex is not an entitlement or a bargaining or manipulation tool. It is a blessing and a gift, a stewardship, even, and something that, in the end, needs to exist to be pleasant and meaningful for both spouses, to bring them together, not apart. If it’s doing the latter, then something is not right.

If we teach our children that the way the media portrays sex is not really real or true, then we had better believe it ourselves. Sex is usually not something that just works with passion and perfection like the first encounters we see portrayed in movies. Marriage, with all of its facets, takes work, which means that a healthy sexual relationship will take work, both outside and inside the bedroom. With regard to working through sexual issues, in such a tender side of life, we should be tender, loving, compassionate, patient, caring, unselfish, honest, and also willing to work, sacrifice, compromise, and communicate. A truly healthy marriage, including the sexual relationship, requires the best of our Christlike selves. And it takes a constant willingness to revisit and communicate and revisit again, because life changes and family dynamics change and bodies change. We should never assume that things should just ‘work’ and that if they are, something is wrong, with us or with our spouse. I believe we are meant to work, and work hard, to make our marriages and thus our intimate relationships rich and fulfilling.

Separating ourselves from the lies of the media, I think we should also take Elder Nelson’s counsel to heart and not corrupt our marriages with media (or any other thing) that offends the Spirit.

Because it is ordained of God, the intimate physical expressions of married love are sacred. Yet all too commonly, these divine gifts are desecrated. If a couple allows lewd language or pornography to corrupt their intimacy, they offend their Creator while they degrade and diminish their own divine gifts. True happiness is predicated upon personal purity. Scripture commands: “Be ye clean.” Marriage should ever be a covenant to lift husbands and wives to exaltation in celestial glory.

Being clean involves more than just sexual purity. It’s about having clean hands and pure hearts, which (as Elder Bednar recently explained) is about being purified and sanctified through covenants and the Atonement of Christ. We must not limit ourselves to thinking that principles of purity are only about sexualtiy, because they are not. Any impurity in our hearts and spirits will affect the marital relationship, including the sexual relationship.

The world’s ways should not be our ways. This applies to our perceptions about sex (which the media distorts) but also our approaches to addressing challenges with sexuality. There are many out there willing to give advice and counsel, and while there may be some situations where a counselor’s help might be sought and helpful, I think we should never forget that the solutions to our struggles with sexuality (because let’s face it, many couples have them) can be found as we humbly and lovingly and jointly approach God in prayer. He is the best counselor of all. (At the very least, He should be counseled if a couple needs to seek a counselor, because there is a lot of bad counsel out there.)

One last thing. I hope that as we teach our children to love and respect their bodies, and that they have infinite worth as spirit children of God, that we will believe the same in our lives and our marriages (about ourselves and our spouses). We should never reduce ourselves or our spouses to being just physical beings, just bodies. We should care for and respect our bodies as temples of our spirits. We should remember the eternal worth of our spouses’ souls as well. We should never tie our love only to the body of our spouse (which means we should be accepting of his/her physical limitations or faults, differing sexual performance/desire, brain chemistry and wiring, etc. — not to facilitate bad choice, but to love along the way of eternal progression), but remember that he/she is a living, beloved soul — a imperfect body joined with a beloved spirit child of God. We cannot mistreat another’s body or spirit without hurting our own soul.

So, there are some of my thoughts. Just as I am not a fan of a one-time chastity talk with our children, I believe that the doctrine of sexuality should be ever-present in our interactions with our spouses, in this eternally-important aspect of our marriages.

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The Birds and the Bees

January 29, 2008

by BiV

Would you be surprised to learn, with my large family of children ages 23, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 13, and 9, that I have *never* given the “sex talk?”  It’s true.  And I’ve come to feel that if you’ve had to give “the talk” to your children, you’ve waited too long.  Sexuality is part of the human condition, and I feel it should be a natural part of growing up.   DH and I don’t parade around the house naked, yet we don’t dress behind locked doors, either.  I think it’s very common for children to see the bodies of their parents and siblings as they grow up in the home.  Calling body parts by their correct names–as well as by slang names–happens in our home from Day 1.  I hope that all of this has given my children a healthy attitude toward the human body.

I’ve discovered that sex can be discussed as it comes up.  This may be controversial to some of you, but I believe that if a young child is watching a TV show and a sexual reference is made, I can ask, “Do you know what that means?”  Then I briefly and tastefully explain.  (Of course, you may run into trouble at times, such as when your 2nd grader is the one to tell everyone on the school bus what a blow job is.  Eeek.)  That’s when I learned to teach them there are things we only talk about with our family, and the difference between “sacred” and “secret!” 

I remember how uncomfortable it was when my parents sat me down for “the talk.”  I haven’t had any of this with the approach I’ve taken with my children.  They seem to feel quite at home asking me any questions whatever.  It also helps to have age-appropriate books around the house that don’t shy away from talking directly about sex.   Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret has probably done more for teaching young girls about the anxieties they encounter in regards to menstruation than any other source.  That’s because it addresses the subject in a straight-forward manner and doesn’t moralize. 

I also feel my approach of speaking about sex candidly and early in the home is more conducive to promoting the attitudes I would like to teach them about this important subject.  In 1988 (a few days before my third child was born), Jeffrey R. Holland gave the talk Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments in the Marriott Center at BYU.  I felt that the tone he achieved was lovely and well-suited to teaching children and youth about sex, love, and chastity.  Said [then] President Holland:

 First, we simply must understand the revealed, restored Latter-day Saint doctrine of the soul, and the high and inextricable part the body plays in that doctrine. One of the “plain and precious” truths restored to this dispensation is that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C88:15; emphasis added) and that when the spirit and body are separated, men and women “cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C93:34). . . human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple, deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and a woman is–or certainly was ordained to be–a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. It is a symbol that we try to suggest in the temple with a word like seal. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said we perhaps ought to render such a sacred bond as “welding”–that those united in matrimony and eternal families are “welded” together, inseparable if you will, to withstand the temptations of the adversary and the afflictions of mortality.

This approach obviates shame and promotes the beauty and pleasure of human sexuality while giving clear and concise reasons for remaining chaste outside of marriage.  I’ve read the talk many times, and tried to carry over its beautiful message into the nitty-gritty details. 

Imagine that, if you will. Veritable teenagers–and all of us for many decades thereafter–carrying daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally transmitted seeds of life to grant someone else her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation. I submit to you that no power, priesthood or otherwise, is given by God so universally to so many with virtually no control over its use except self-control. And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power.