We asked various contributors to Christ and Pop Culture to respond to the question: “How has having children changed the way you interact with and think about popular culture?” Here are six varied responses to that question. (Originally published August 2011)
“Parenting Collaboration Business” by Erin Newcomb, writer:
Nearly everything toddler-accessible in my kitchen is child-friendly; that’s the strategy I’ve used throughout my home, and it’s one that requires imagining the world through the eyes of someone under three feet tall who thinks sticking things in sockets is fun. It means that my Tupperware is never organized, or at least that now I have a scapegoat for never finding the matching lids. It also means re-envisioning my space from new angles on a nearly constant basis: push the coffeepot back as the kid gets taller, move her bowls to a lower drawer as she craves more independence, buy a gigantic basket to stash her stuff when she’s asleep. I’m trying to strike a balance between room for my daughter to grow, safety as she explores her world, and some semblance of grown-up space for my husband and me.
The same principles apply to my relationship to popular culture. When my daughter was an infant, I watched endless reruns of Saved by the Bell while bouncing her to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Now that she mimics the words and tone she hears around her, we watch Sesame Street as a family; it’s a clever program with enough substance for me to enjoy too. Finding popular culture that is both child-appropriate and tolerable for parents (from an aesthetic perspective) is not easy. We tried the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and I nearly went insane at the use of the word “Mouseka.” What is that? We love Mickey and Minnie, but the show just seems like a marketing ploy that doesn’t nearly do justice to the animation and narrative potential.
Therein lies the crux of the shift in my perspective on popular culture: what I used to dismiss as poorly-masked consumerism, I now think about from a child’s point of view. Things like aesthetics and moral substance become more than fodder for a cultural critique when filtered through the eyes of a small child developmentally unprepared for that kind of analysis. My job involves teaching my child how to conduct that analysis—how to sift through the persuasion and the entertainment; how to find God-pleasing pleasures; how to apply discernment and wisdom and grace. Those abilities call for the same new angles, the same vigilance that I apply to safeguarding my kitchen, and I trust that my child will introduce me to new ideas about popular culture, just like she shows me new ways to play with colanders.
“Strained Resources and the Excitement of Sharing Culture” by Jason Morehead, writer:
The first impact that becoming a parent has had on my relationship with pop culture is fairly straightforward: I simply don’t have as many resources (e.g., time, money) as I once did to spend on music, movies, television, books, video games, etc. On the positive side, this has forced me to become much more selective and (I hope) discerning when it comes to the pop culture that I do take in. Technology has been both a blessing and a curse here. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to quickly and easily access media thanks to a number of online services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Grooveshark). On the other hand, the sheer number of options available can be somewhat paralyzing: I want to make the best use of what time I have, so I want to make the best possible choice, only to find that I took so long to make a choice that I have too little time left to actually watch or listen to whatever I chose.
The other impact is that I’ve become more excited about pop culture, because I can’t wait to share it with my children (on an age-appropriate schedule, of course). I still remember how thrilled I was when my son watched My Neighbor Totoro for the first time and loved it. (He’s since moved on to Bob the Builder, which isn’t bad, but I have faith he’ll eventually recognize Miyazaki’s superiority.) Admittedly, this is driven by a selfish desire to be the “cool” geek dad, i.e., the dad who plays video games, shows them the “cool” movies before their peers see them, and so on. I know that I’ll eventually be the furthest thing from “cool” in my kids’ minds, but until then, I relish making my kids aware of such things. The exposure will inevitably lead to challenging discussions — Spider-Man has already brought up conversations concerning good, evil, and morality (The Green Goblin makes God’s heart sad, for the record) — but I look forward to those as well.
“Unchanged” by Seth T. Hahne, illustrator:
It may be that I’m stubborn and unbending in the face of all the patronizing people who over the years have combated my arguments in the realm of pop culture with the simple platitude, “You only think that because you don’t have kids,” but I prefer to think my changelessness upon entering fatherhood is due more to having a fairly robust approach to pop culture before I had ever become a father. Because yeah, my understanding of pop culture and its place in my family’s life is pretty much identical to what it was before Sonata came into being and before we heard news that there was a second child on the way.
Certainly I think about how things affect her and the culture she is going to inherit through her imbibement of the contemporary cultural produce, but I was already like that. Criticizing Disney for playing up a single-minded view of what a girl is. Expressing disappointment in Marvel Comics for their female-negative treatment of heroines. Evaluating the presence of fantasy violence in gaming. These were all things I did before I got married, so it’s natural that I would continue to examine popular culture and understand how to best react and interact with the narratives of our time.
“Reflections on Cultural Expectations” by Drew Dixon, writer and editor:
When my wife and I discovered that we were having a girl, I, like most Christian fathers, immediately began to think about everything I wasn’t prepared for. I am still adding to that list and probably will be for some time. I am not sure whether that list would be that much different if we had a boy, but since having a daughter, I would say that I am more attuned to pop culture’s frustrating pictures of womanhood. This may sound silly, but my daughter is only 3 weeks old but it sorta bothers me that over half of her wardrobe is pink and she has a bow to match any outfit imaginable. What if she doesn’t like pink and what if she doesn’t care for bows?
I realize I am being silly, my daughter probably won’t have a strong opinion about what she wants to wear for a while, and I know some of my uneasiness has more to do with my insecurities than anything else. My point, however, is that there seems to already be certain expectations for my daughter and I think much of that comes from pop culture. Since having a child, I guess I have been more aware of pop culture’s expectations for my daughter and have become more determined to help my daughter defy them. So for now, I will stomach the bows and the pink and pray that she loves Jesus and finds her identity in Him.
“Limitation that Leads to Thoughtfulness” by Ben Bartlett, writer
Being a dad means three key things. Less leisure. Less sleep. More work.
Oh, wait. It’s also the most thrilling and joyful experience of your life. But you can learn more about that elsewhere.
Parenting forces you to be more selective about everything. You are selective about what foods you pick out at the store, where you live, what church you go to, and most of all what you do with your time. Most of that time automatically goes to your kids, because they have a seemingly never-ending list of needs. What time you have left over is quickly divided between your wife, your chores, your home projects, your ministries, your relationships, and (least of all) your leisures.
That’s the biggest change in my involvement with pop culture, now that I’m a parent. I am far more selective about my leisure time. There was a day when I could finish work, eat dinner with a friend at a restaurant, read in a coffee shop, watch a movie with my wife, work on some writing, watch a TV show by myself, and play video games with friends online. All this in an evening.
These days, I do that amount of leisure in about a week. God uses those limitations to make me more careful and more thoughtful about what I choose to consume, because now I ask this question of all my leisure pursuits: what value does it bring when I invest time in this? Hopefully God is using the changes and challenges of kids to make me a wiser (if somewhat more tired) Christian.
“Windowshopping and TV Watching” by Alan Noble, writer and editor:
One of the greatest unexpected benefits of being a parent has been the increased self-reflection about my media consumption and cultural habits. Before our daughter came along, my wife and I almost always ate lunch and dinner while watching TV. Our excuse was that we were really too tired to talk, and besides, we had food in our mouths, so why not watch another episode of LOST or Avatar: The Last Air Bender? When we wanted to get out of the house, it was common for us to head over to Target and just stroll around. There were certainly times when my wife and I would acknowledge that these were not healthy habits, but our conviction would quickly pass, and we would soon be back to perusing Target’s aisles and stuffing our faces by the glow of our TV.
Our daughter has been a constant reminder that our habits affect others around us, that our choices have consequences on those in our family and our neighbors. We no longer watch TV while eating (as much as it pained me to give this up). And, as I have written about elsewhere, we almost never go shopping when we want to get out and do something fun, even though we have had to pay quite a bit for season passes to the zoo and the local museum. While I certainly do not believe these habits were sins, and while I would not (or, at least, should not) look down on families that practice these habits, I am grateful that God used our daughter to draw us towards more active discernment.
Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.