Monday, August 4, 2014

Autism Answer: Co-Parenting with Marge Simpson

I am a very happy person. I have a habit of liking pretty much every day and every moment with all my soul. Yet, strangely, my favorite songs are lyrically depressing, raw or sexually charged. Somehow I seem to sing and dance that darker side of me out. It got me thinking about censorship and how so many parents won't let their kids listen to the same music that my boys and I love. This diary has nothing to do with music... it's about censorship... but it was conceived after too much coffee and listening to Sober by P!NK 


I have never been a fan of censorship.  Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian.  Maybe it’s because I want an excuse to watch Family Guy with my children.  I’m not sure. But being the mother of four boys, I have certainly noticed my ideas and opinions change over the years. Usually coming full circle until I believe them again with reason and intention.

When my boys were very little I wouldn’t let them watch Power Rangers or play most video games because I’m not a fan of violence. And though I don't like censorship I figured if I didn’t have cable in the house or buy video game systems I wasn’t truly censoring, just creating an age appropriate environment.  I still believe that’s true and I put a lot of energy into creating my environment.  

But one day I went to the intermediate school to have lunch with my then ten year old son, only to overhear him alienating himself by lying about the shows and games he watched in order to fit in. Of course, since he didn’t really watch or play those games, his lies made no sense and he looked foolish. I found myself over lunch asking him to be comfortable with the truth, to find something else in common with his peers, and I started going on and on about the value of difference.  

However, I knew that he resorted to lies because he felt he had nothing in common with his peers, their lives and imaginative play seemed to revolve only around Power Rangers and Call of Duty, and for a child that spends seven hours a day in school it’s pretty important that he learn some way to feel like he has something to offer. My heart broke for him and I caved--completely!  Eventually (because I couldn’t stand watching Power Rangers) we moved onto adult comedies like Family Guy and The Simpsons. There was a little excitement in all of us knowing that we were being naughty.  We laughed together and as I explained over-their-head jokes I found myself in a beautiful teaching position. Explaining the sophisticated concepts not only brought us closer together, but encouraged my boys to feel comfortable exploring sophisticated concepts! And doing it with the satire from kinda inappropriate but totally cool shows (and songs) gave my sons a willingness to truly listen and share with me.

Thanks Seth MacFarlane!  Thanks Matt Groening!

Censorship is an interesting issue. As with most things, when I find myself wondering about the rights and wrongs on a global or national level,  I have a bad habit of seeing everyone’s point.  And so I bring it in, look at it from an in- my- home point of view.  Being the mom who let her kids watch South Park, I was finding myself in the position of explaining my choices often; to moms who would never let their children watch anything that wasn’t purely educational, to dads who were buying their young boys porn, and to every type of parenting choice in between. I think the answer, both at home and globally, comes down to personal responsibility and personal beliefs. Doesn’t everything??

As with so many of my learnings, I had an Ahaaaa moment while watching a brilliant episode of The Simpsons.

Marge (the beautiful mom with blue hair) is fighting the powers that be in order to get Itchy and Scratchy (an extremely violent cartoon) off the air.  When eventually she succeeds, all is ridiculously wholesome in Springfield.  Kids are flying kites, reading books and sharing their marbles. Then a group of protesters show up at Marge’s door asking her to join them in their attempt to stop Michelangelo’s David from being borrowed by their local museum. Imagine the giggles and jokes in bad taste their children would suffer coming head to head with David’s stone penis! Marge refuses to help the group, believing that bringing culture to the children would be a healthy kind of nudity, and when asked how she can be all for one form of censorship but not another she concedes, "Well… I guess I can’t." Marge then goes home and lets her kids watch infinite amounts of Itchy and Scratchy.

As with all of our mothers I learned from her example, and then made my own adjustments to fit my own beliefs.

I don’t believe the world has a right to tell me or my children what we can or can’t watch.  Just as I would never tell one mom that if she wants a good relationship with her kids she has to watch Family Guy.  Or how I would never let my own kids watch porn--of course, being all teenagers now I know they do, I just don’t let them! It bothers me that everywhere my nieces look they see half naked skinny girls selling beer or jeans and I worry they’ll think they have to look (and act) that way to be accepted.  But I don’t think a rule or regulation can decide what is or isn’t okay.    

It’s about being responsible for what you do or don’t choose to do or see as a family. Just because Itchy and Scratchy is back on the air doesn’t mean you have to let your kids watch it. If your gut tells you don’t, then don’t.  But explain why to your kids, and know they will probably see it elsewhere (my house?) so keep an open line of communication so they may share with you what they did do or see and how it made them feel.  

An example: My son came home from a friend's house once and seemed a little distant. Eventually he told me that his friend had stabbed a possum to death because that’s just what that family did when they caught one. It had made him uncomfortable and even though he didn’t participate, he had watched and wasn’t brave enough to speak out. This was a big opportunity to talk about the differences in families and beliefs, and how it feels when we don’t step up or walk away from things that make us personally uncomfortable. We also talked about what he could do the next time.

Rather than blame the world for offering these images and shows (which, as I mentioned, may be a gift for another family), talk with your friends and family about what you believe and why you make the choices you make. Have debates and discussions with each other that offer insights, keeping always in mind the truth that what you teach your friends, family, and self with spill out into the world with a similar passion and energy.

Marge seemed to think:  If you can’t beat them, give up.

Others say: If you can’t beat them, join them.

I like: Stop looking at them, have some cheese and crackers and discover yourselves! Together.

Nixon: Lead Singer for Framing Hanley
I took my son to a rock concert with swear words on a school night
 and we were this close to the stage.
Even hung out with the band for a bit afterward.
You might not feel comfortable doing that, so don't.
But I do, and did!
And that's okay!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!