Value of the Month Excerpt (December)
Fidelity and Chastity
The value and security of fidelity within marriage and of restraint and limits before marriage. The commitment that go with marriage and that should go with sex. A grasp of the long-range (and widespread) consequences that can result from sexual amorality and infidelity
In the age of AIDS it is easier than it has been for many decades to agree as a society on the desirability of fidelity in marriage and the good sense of abstinence before marriage. Those who now agree practically are added to those who have always agreed philosophically.
Whether or not you agree morally with this value, you do, as a parent, have the responsibility to deal in your own way with these critical issues.
Many parents who did not practice chastity or abstinence in their own youth are nonetheless hopeful and even anxious that their children will. This is not hypocrisy and shouldn't cause guilt. Today is its own time - with its own concerns and its own reminders. And the fact that some of us have learned from our mistakes ought to be the best reason why our kids do not have to do likewise.
It is hard to argue against the mental logic and the emotional benefits of fidelity within marriage. And positive commitments toward it can start to form in very small children.
I sat in the library one day, researching some quotations for a manuscript I was working on. I was having a hard time keeping my mind on my work because I was thinking about one of my adolescent daughters and about my efforts to help her understand why chastity and sexual morality was something to be sought or valued. She was not rebelling against the notion or even disagreeing with it. But she was at the age where any restriction bothered here. She had asked, the night before, why there were so many limits on so many things.
And I had wanted to tell her that chastity, like any true value or virtue, is a positive thing that you gain, not something you give up.
I was looking through some G. K. Chesterton essays and I literally fell onto the words I was wishing for. They were in an essay called "A Piece of Chalk," in which Chesterton uses the metaphor of an artist who was sitting on an English hillside drawing on brown paper. He had all his chalk except white; he had forgotten to bring the white. Could he do without it? No, because white is not the absence of color. White spaces are not blank, they are put on by the artist and can be the most important element in his canvas. Should he return home for a piece of white chalk? Then he realized that he is sitting on chalk - England is made of chalk, he said. He broke off a piece from a white chalk rock and completed the drawing.
Virtue, in Chesterton's mind, was not a void or the absence of a wrong. It was the presence of a right. And he felt that values or virtues are the light and the key to putting beauty into the rest of life. In Chesterton's words:
The chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a color. Virtue is not absence of vices or the avoidance of moral danger, virtue is a vivid and separate thing. . . . Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge of punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong, it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.
The two most important reasons that parents should be the ones to teach children about sex and sexual morality are: (a) parents can teach in a warm and loving way that avoids the sterile, factual, academic tone that predominates in school discussions and the silly or "dirty" connotation that often accompanies peer discussions; (b) when a parent teaches a child about sex, the intimate and personal nature of the subject creates a mutual sharing of trust and forms an emotional bond between parent and child.
Methods for teaching this value:
Make your own example of fidelity as obvious and noticeable as possible. You can help your children see the importance that you place on this value as well as the happiness and security it gives you. Talk about commitment in personal terms. If you are a two-parent family, point out how the two of you belong to each other so that you don't need any other man or woman. Try to let children see the basic physical signs of love and commitment, such as holding hands or a kiss as you leave for work.
Make sex and sexual maturity an open topic in your family. Maximize the number of opportunities you have to comment on the logic and benefits of chastity and fidelity and to permit concerns and problems to surface early rather than late. With children over eight (assuming that you have had your initial talk with them as suggested), do all you can to make sex an open and agreeable subject rather than something that is secret or off-limits or silly or embarrassing. It may seem difficult and unnatural at first, but these feelings are a sign that the subject needs opening up. Things you observe on television, movies, and music - or in article or books - or in styles of dress - all present potential opportunities to make comments about what you think is appropriate or not appropriate, what things are moral in the sense that they help and what things are immoral (or amoral) in the sense they may hurt someone physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Look for chances to discuss the behavior of young adolescents (your children's acquaintances) and bring up the possible connections of that behavior to hormones and the effects of puberty.
Strive to convey the following two impressions whenever possible: (a) sex, the feelings and changes of puberty, and the attractions and feelings they cause us to feel are natural and good, even wonderful and miraculous; and (b) because sex is natural and good, and because its urges are powerful and have to do with the creation of life, its use should be connected to love and commitment - it is too beautiful to be made common or to squander.
Sample Method for Elementary Age:
Focusing on Age Eight
When our children have their eighth birthday, they undergo something of a rite of passage, going from a kid to a semi-grown-up, from a tutee to a tutor, from someone who knew almost nothing about sex and reproduction to someone who could probably teach a course on the subject.
We begin several weeks before the child's eighth birthday, "priming" him by indicating that when he turns eight, he will be given some new privileges, some new responsibilities, and will learn about "the most beautiful and wonderful thing on earth."
When the big day arrives, we take the new eight-year-old on a private daddy-mommy date to a nice restaurant, making every effort to treat him with a new maturity and respect. As mentioned earlier, we give him some added responsibility in areas such as choosing his own clothes and earning more money by doing family chores. We express our pride in him and our appreciation of him.
Then we go home for the much-anticipated highlight of the evening: our private talk about the "most wonderful and beautiful thing on earth." In upbeat, positive terms we explain the facts of life using diagrams and pictures to explain reproduction. (We particularly like using the child's book Where Did I Come From?) We encourage questions; we ask him often if he understands; and we watch his expressions to be sure he's not only comprehending but appreciating what we are telling him.
Then we make a very strong point of how smart and how right it is to be careful how we use something as important and as miraculous as sex. We point out that something that special should be saved for one person - for the commitment of marriage, where it can be a wedding gift that has never been given before.
Children accept this idea very easily. It seems natural to them that something so private and so beautiful (and something so magic and powerful that it starts new babies) should be saved and used carefully rather than spent indiscriminately.
It is also natural to them to understand that after two people are married, sex is a bond and a special, private way of expression love between them that should not be used outside of marriage.
We also talk about AIDS and of the dangers of misusing sex. And we use the standard "values formula" by discussing how and who is helped by being careful about sex and how and who is hurt when people are not careful about sex.
Eight may seem like a young age for some of the discussion represented above, but it is the right age for two very important reasons: (a) to wait longer runs the risk (if not the likely possibility) that your child will learn of reproduction and sex in the negative and silly perspective of the other children who will tell them about things before you do; (b) eight years old is a natural and curious age when children can understand in a sweet, uncynical way.
One evening and one discussion, of course, is not enough. An evening such as we have suggested can establish the basics and open wide the door of trust that permits the subject to be one of ongoing openness and discussion.
Certainly the underlying philosophy involved in teaching children the value of fidelity and chastity is that sex is too beautiful and too good to be given or used or thought of loosely or without commitment. The opposite view of sex as a dirty or evil thing should be avoided and countered at every opportunity.
Sample Method for Adolescent Age:
The Mortar Metaphor
This comparison can help adolescents understand the importance of fidelity in marriage. Look for a quiet private time (perhaps while traveling in a car or during a peaceful moment at bedtime) and relate the following comparison:
It takes many elements to build a house - the bricks, the boards, the shingles, the windows, the doors, and so on. One key element is the mortar, which holds the walls together and keeps everything in place. Similarly it takes many qualities to build a happy, unified family. It takes caring and helping and patience along with financial and emotional support. In a way the thing that "sticks" a family together and gives security and confidence to the parents and the children is the sexual fidelity of the mother and father. If either parent "cheats" on the other, it causes tremendous emotional strain. One parents feels guilty and secretive. The other feels disgraced and discarded. Even if the parents don't separate or divorce, much of the feeling and commitment is gone, and the family, like a house without mortar, can begin to break apart.
Review the activities and stories that go along with this months value. Make sure everyone in your family understands the value so they can see how they can apply it in their own lives and situations.
Talk about the Monthly Value every morning and remind your family to look for opportunities to use the value throughout the day. They may also observe how others don't understand the value. Get your children to share their experience with the value each day at the dinner table or before you go to bed. Be sure to share your experience each day as well. It will help your children know that you are thinking about the value too.
For additional methods and ideas, consider a ValuesParenting Membership.