Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gilmore Girls, Mrs. Kim, and Over-Protective Mothering Mistakes

When my daughter was little, I tried to keep her from hurting herself. We put safety latches on drawers and moved sharp and breakable objects out of her reach. But with each year, our parental efforts to safeguard her existence get more difficult. While she has changed and grown and matured, our instinct, as parents, is still to keep her safe, to keep her from harm.

I was thinking about this as I watched one of my favorite television series, The Gilmore Girls. In the show, there is a Korean mother and daughter, Mrs. Kim and her daughter Lane. Mrs. Kim owns an antique shop and keeps her daughter close at hand. She attends church regularly and forbids her daughter to talk to boys. She wants to keep her daughter pure and safe.

There is only one problem. Lane.

Lane is a delightful character. In the series, we watch as she progresses through junior high, high school, and college. She is sweet and funny and kind and awkward. She also is a HUGE fan of all sorts of music – music of which her mother would never approve.

Lane’s solution is to hide everything she listens to from her mother. She wears rock band t-shirts under her proper sweaters and stashes CDs under floor boards in her bedroom. Unbeknownst to her mom, she is an aspiring drummer, wanting desperately to belong to this world of rock and roll.

A sad scene in the show occurs when Mrs. Kim finally finds Lane's hidden music. As she uncovers piles of posters, music, t-shirts and more, she realizes that she does not know her daughter at all. In her efforts to protect Lane and keep her from harm, she has created a huge chasm that is almost impossible to cross. Despite her best efforts, Lane has indeed discovered the world.

In my experience as a Christian mom, I have encountered two types of parents. There is the permissive parent who desperately wants to be liked by her child. She will shrug off questionable choices and bad behavior by saying, “That’s what kids are doing these days.” She wants to be cool – so she allows her pre-teen to participate in behaviors that are risky and beyond her years.

More often, in Christian circles, I’ve met a lot of parents like Mrs. Kim. They think they can shelter their child through the precarious teenage years. They think if they do not allow him or her to see secular movies or hear popular music that their child will be saved from spiritual harm.

I n many ways, I think that this extreme protective stance can be as dangerous as the permissive one. The pre-teen years in particular are a time of growth, mentally, socially and spiritually. As your offspring moves from childhood to adulthood, he is trying out his independence. He wants to know not just what you like, but what he is on his own.

For Lane, that meant listening to rock music. Mrs. Kim, in her effort to keep Lane away from danger, actually pushed her away from herself. She allowed Lane to create an entirely separate world away from parental influence.

What does this mean to us as concerned moms?

1) Know your child. As your child wades into the world of peer influence, she is entering a vast world of choices. She will be trying out books and music and web-sites that you might know nothing about. Make it a point to know about some of her choices. Read a book that she reads. Have her plug her ipod into the car stereo when you ride together. Friend her on Facebook. Sit down and watch a teen movie that you have no interest in. The minute you create an us and them division, you will step away from any influence you have on your child.

2) Influence your child. Notice that I said influence and not rule over. Yes – you are still the parent. You set household rules and limits. But don’t make those limits so absolute that you create an atmosphere of rebellion. One teen celebrity talked about how television was off limits for her. Her mother would feel the tv when she returned from errands to see if this young woman had watched it. To fool her mom, she would put ice packs on the television to coo l it down. Her mom’s efforts to keep her safe actually encouraged deception between them

3) Share your own media choices with your teen. Watch a movie that you love together. Recommend a book that you loved as a teen. By sharing music or films, you create bonds. My daughter has a Dave Brubeck song on her ipod. She also thinks that she discovered Bob Marley. We both can quote lines from The Princess Bride.

4) Discuss why you choose what you do. From time to time I have chosen a really bad movie or book. Sometimes I will stop reading or walk out of a theater. Other times, I stay. I’ve learned to be thoughtful in what I choose to see and what I choose to support. Encourage those types of discussions with your teen. Why are some musicians better than others? Why are some actresses role models and others examples of shame or despair? What themes in video games or book series should people of faith avoid? The answers are not easy – but they are important. Your teen must learn to make these choices on his or her own.

I know that at times I will mess up. Sometimes, I will most likely be a Mrs. Kim to my daughter’s Lane. I hope that as a parent, I can continue to listen, to learn, and to help my daughter grow in a way that teaches her good choices in media.

Following is a montage video of Lane and her mom's tumultous relationship...you will especially appreciate it if you've seen the show. The good news is that the Lane's story has a happy ending. The mom and daughter do finally learn to communicate - to share what is most important in their lives - and to respect each other.

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