As we conclude our study of our world’s lost romanticism, we must consider how we can reverse the trend. Things can’t improve unless the next generation is better than the last. We, as parents, have to help our children turn the tide of cynicism. We need to raise Romantics. See Part 1 and 2
A year ago my husband and I decided to show our two oldest an excellent Spanish series, Grand Hotel. We were planning a trip to Spain and wanted to help our children with their Spanish, as well as get them excited about the culture and history of Spain. We wondered if a subtitled series would be able to keep their attention. We were surprised to find they quickly became riveted, every night begging to “watch one more episode.” The acting and production of the show are excellent, but it was the romance that drew them in, particularly the love between the leading intelligent and beautiful woman, Alicia, and the passionate young man, Julio. My 13-year old son, whom no one would ever describe as a “Romantic”, had the most surprising reaction. Typically his thoughts are consumed with basketball and soccer, but he became enthralled by Alicia and Julio’s relationship. He would yell out with impatience, “Are they ever going to get together? Why is Julio so stupid?”
At first, I wondered if my children were too young to watch such a romantic show. (It is surprisingly wholesome for modern content, and I only had to skip a few scenes.) But as I saw another world open to my son, I decided it was good. I saw a deepening of his perspective, a world outside of self and sports seemed to open to him – a world of romance.
To be clear, I have no desire for my 13-year-old to start worrying about girls or relationships. We may fear that introducing our children to romance will cause them to seek it prematurely. This just isn’t the case. When we fill our children with knowledge, ideals, and a deeper understanding of love, we prepare them for what is to come. They discover the reasons to wait for the time and place they are most likely to achieve the love they see depicted in art and life. When we open up this world of romance to our children, we open up another perspective on life – one of empathy and self-sacrifice. They start to see that caring selflessly for another person is a beautiful thing. We allow them to develop romantic dreams of true love, of marriage and family. A young woman should seek the virtuous knight in shining armor. A young man should strive to be worthy of his princess. If we wait until they are teenagers to introduce them to romance, it may be too late.
As we watched this dramatic show, we had wonderful discussions with our children. The selfish and dishonest Belen, a manipulative housemaid who dupes the naive Andres, became their “bad” example. We were frustrated by the missteps often made by the heroes but reveled in the constancy of Alicia and Julio’s love. Children have an intrinsic understanding of right and wrong. I was often amazed by the insights of my children as they watched with us.
“Children can be told anything—anything. I’ve always been struck by seeing how little adults understand children, how little parents even understand their own children. Nothing should be concealed from children on the pretext that they are little and that it is too early for them to understand. What a miserable and unfortunate idea! And how readily the children detect that their fathers consider them too little to understand anything, though they understand everything. Adults do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.”*Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I can think of no knowledge more important to bestow upon our children than that they are loved, and that they are capable of genuinely loving another. This belief in receiving and giving pure love, in all its forms, is the basis for all romantic art. They can gain confidence in this truth by seeing our example, watching and reading good romantic stories, and practicing loyal devotion to their families.
“My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.”G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”L. M. Montgomery
Like any story, our world has a hero – this glorious gift of romantic sentiment, and it has its villain – it has the cynical, dark, and destructive world of self-interested pleasure. The tales of King Arthur and Merlin can help children understand this dynamic between light and darkness, good and evil. In Merlin, a British series, we follow Merlin, an impetuous young man with a good heart. He is our hero. Morgana is a young woman with compassion, who desires mercy and is disturbed by the brutality of Uther. The series follows these two realistic, flawed, but well-meaning young people. As the story develops, you see Merlin remain hopeful and Morgana turn cynical. You see the fruits of their contrasting mindsets: the magic of Merlin is good, and the magic of Morgana turns dark. When Merlin encounters situations where he has to make a choice, he usually opts for the difficult but honest option, one based on his hope that the truth will prevail. When Morgana is faced with a choice, she makes her decision out of cynicism – a belief that the ends justify the means. We see this beautiful girl turn her heart towards dark magic. The difference between hero and villain lies in the hope or hopelessness which guides their actions to righteousness or wickedness.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where we see many villains depicted but heroes are rare. In the words of Jack Johnson, Where did all the good people go? Modern stories are driven by cynicism – full of seedy and dark relationships, sexual and gender confusing messages, immorality, and the debasement of women. Perhaps we should return to the archetypal stories of the past. Fairy tales show us clearly what is good and what is bad. They show imperfect heroes driven by hope and misguided villains driven by despair and fear. They show the consequence of allowing our hearts (hope) to fail us.
I think the imagery of good magic vs dark magic is useful as we explain romantic love to our children. Good magic is true love; it joins people together despite tremendous obstacles. It is miraculous and endlessly satisfying. But there is a draw to dark magic. The Dark Magic of today – sexual hedonism – thrives on hopelessness. It creates nothing, only distorts. It never believes, only doubts. It takes and never gives. This dark magic draws us in with false promises and half-truths. It tells us we will be satisfied with sex devoid of love. It can turn others into a tool for manipulation or self-gratification.
Our society has the formula for healthy sexual development exactly backward. We should introduce children early to the idea of romance and the importance of families. Then when developmentally appropriate, they will begin to incorporate the reality and purpose of sex into that vision of romance. Instead, we expose children to confusing and often traumatizing images of sex without context or morality before they are mature. Then without an understanding of love or purpose, they fill in the pieces of their sexual identity. Is it any wonder young people are confused, depressed, and nihlistic? It is tragic to see so many children begin this dark journey while their parents are oblivious.
The destruction of a modern young person’s romantic view too often begins with porn. Just think about the words of the great lover Romeo…
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Romeo declares the magic of true love. The more he gives the more he receives. The more pleasure he gives, the more pleasure he experiences. Romantics are free to promise fidelity, devotion, honesty, and their bodily freedoms to each other. They understand the infinite nature of love.
“It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another.”George MacDonald, Phantastes
There is nothing more contrary to romanticism than pornography. I love you — but I need to look at other naked women. You are great, but you can’t expect that you will be sufficient to fulfill my needs. I just can’t see Romeo saying that. I don’t think Mr. Darcy needed any more inspiration than Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. Pornography can turn a once beautiful desire and capacity into a destructive force. (88 percent of the pornographic scenes online contain physical aggression and dehumanizing action by males against females).
Many claim that pornography is necessary or even advantageous to intimacy, but this claim reveals their cynicism. Good magic doesn’t mix with dark magic. Billions of people found a way to romance, love, and passionate intimacy before the proliferation of porn. Now fewer people are forming relationships. In fact, fewer people are having sex than ever. The truth is that porn kills intimacy, love, and passion and leads to sexual dysfunction, perversions, and unfulfillment. Our minds and hearts are capable of intense passion, adventure, and creativity when we are committed to our spouse. True lovers shun outside influence in their private heaven.
I do not say this to shame anyone who struggles with pornography addiction. The makers of porn know how to reach what is good in us – our desire for love, connection, and our attraction to another – and twist it and addict us.
We need to warn our children. We should shield them where we can, but pornography is nearly impossible to avoid completely. As stated before, children are capable of great understanding. We need not fear. If we have fill their lives with “good magic”, they will recognize darkness and avoid it. They will want to be heroes and heroines and live happy lives full of romance. If they understand the path that leads to true intimacy, as well as the path away from it, they will choose the path of the hero. If they make a mistake, if they veer towards dark magic, they will want to return to the light.
“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of [evil]. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of [evil]. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”G.K. Chesterton (The Red Angel)
Every first Sunday of the month my husband has a “Father’s talk” with our children. They have some one-on-one time to talk to their dad about their lives. During this time, my husband takes particular care to talk to our sons about sensitive topics such as pornography. As a man, he understands and is sympathetic to the unique struggles and temptations of adolescent boys. We also speak to our 11-year-old daughter. It is important that our children have a safe space to speak about anything they have felt or experienced.
When children enter the inevitable and necessary transition into sexual interest, they will start to see those romantic movies differently. They now can understand the reason and purpose behind their new desires and interests. They, like a true romantic, can point these sexual feelings towards the dream of finding their Alicia or Julio.
Sometimes religious or traditional parents may forget that their job is not simply to shield their children from bad, but also to give them clear examples of good. If we become the purveyors of “no” “bad” and “sinful”, our children are more likely to seek a road that at least claims pleasure. We can say porn is bad but we have to follow that by showing how good true romantic love can be. There is absolutely no shame in sexual interest, our beautiful bodies, or sex itself- rather these are the gifts of God. However, these glories should be directed towards a noble quest. Our children, and we, must gain hope that one day they can have sexual fulfillment that exceeds the dark, self-defeating promises of porn or loveless casual sex.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, a man who has become disillusioned with the emptiness of our modern sexual culture, described the dilemma of married Romantics.
“It’s strange that we live in a culture that mostly views marriage as a sexless wasteland. Even as a person who has become very pro-marriage, I still don’t know where we turn for positive cultural messages about how passionate marriage can be. I hear people definitely say that’s the case. Then again I don’t know how married and religious people would make that case without violating the boundaries of their marriages and being pornographic about them. Fornicators really have the upper hand in terms of. . . marketing, shall we say.”
We live in a sex-obsessed world. Sex is marketed everywhere – in music, art, advertisements, and even snuck into children’s shows – most often it is of the “dark” variety. And yet, I have come to realize through much observation, inquiry, and research that it is all show and no substance, or as we say in Texas, “all hat, no cattle.” They advertise a journey of erotic adventure but in reality, the typical destination is a lonely dark basement or a room full of cats. Children are capable of seeing the consequences of sexual hedonism- they can look to examples in movies and literature or the pitiful personal lives of many music and movie icons. It is not “judgemental” to acknowledge the inevitable sorrowful destination of a life of vice.
“You disempower evil by seeing it.”Bishop Robert Barron
The truth is that sexual fulfillment is best, and much more often found, within the vow of marriage. We have truth, goodness, and beauty on our side. Let’s not be shy about sharing the hope, excitement, and beauty of romantic love with our children.** Of course, there are sacred boundaries around our intimate lives, and while that may weaken our “marketing” prowess – it is this very sacredness that produces passion. Together with our spouse, we can still give our children glimpses of the superior “magic” of married romantic intimacy: a kiss goodbye, an embrace in the kitchen, cuddling on the couch during a movie…these small symbols of love will be real to our children. They see a love they can one day attain, and one superior to the shallow claims of the fake cowboys.
There Is Hope
“Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it.”George MacDonald, Phantastes
I often wonder what kind of men my daughters will find to marry. Will she love a good man? Will my sons find a kind and nurturing woman? I worry. I look at the world around me and start to develop a skeptical view of their prospects.
But when I look at the love in my own family and the many families that surround me, I see romantic visions of beauty and love, and I gain hope. Our children are not a statistic – they will not follow the negative trends if we can build up a home and tradition that are on a different trajectory. As Dostoyevsky reminds us, children are wise, if we clearly show them, and live ourselves, a life of good romantic magic they will want it for themselves. A “Belen” may tempt them, but they have seen her before, they will wait for their Alicia. There are still many good parents raising children worthy of our own.
The Romantic view of life is one of hope. It does not just seek romantic relationships but beauty in all its forms. A Romantic looks forward to a better world and creates it by glorying in the evidence of God’s love that surrounds us. A Romantic trusts that love conquers all, and recognizes the evidence of that conquest everywhere. We parents have great cause to be Romantics. We are surrounded every day by love as we raise our beloved children. They point us to recognize the beauty of all God’s creations – for they still have a sense of wonder. We, and our children, can live in a Romantic world again.
“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”John Keats
Movies and Literature to Reignite Our Belief in Romance
Realistic and virtuous depictions of life and love are good for children. Below are movies and books I recommend in helping our children develop a romantic view of life. These works of art give us something to hope for, work towards, and an idea of what true love looks like.
- Far From the Madding Crowd – As discussed my previous piece, Gabriel Oak is every woman’s dream, or perhaps should be. He can be a hero to our sons as they see a man who doesn’t weep over lost love or resign himself to lesser love but moves forward in strength and vision despite obstacles. He is the man Bathsheba desperately needs. The other two male love interests are important bad examples. Our daughters need to see the snares of the deceitful Sergeant Troy so they can recognize them in others. They need to see the controlling nature of Bolwood and the signs of twisted love.
- Grand Hotel – Grand Hotel is a very well-done Spanish period piece. The costumes are gorgeous, the acting superb, and the storyline intriguing. It is similar to the British show Downton Abbey but more dramatic. The many characters and their poor decisions allowed us to have many conversations with our kids. I suggest watching it in Spanish with English subtitles. There are a few scenes that were inappropriate that we had to fast forward. Unfortunately, this series was on Netflix but is now hard to find with English subtitles. The linked version has no subtitles. If you can find it, please let me know. There is an American version which I do not recommend.
- The Nativity Story – The love between Mary and Joseph shown in this version of the Nativity is simply beautiful. I particularly love the depiction of Joseph whose quiet faith and strength is a wonderful example for our boys to see. We watch it every Christmas Eve with our children.
- Victoria and Albert – This BBC series shows the story of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Albert. Children will not only learn history but see a real-life love story in this series. There are many versions of their love story in film and TV – Victoria Series from Masterpiece and the movie Young Victoria – but this series is great for the age range of 10+.
- Pride and Prejudice – We showed this to our kids when they were still quite young and they loved it! There is no better way to portray how not to speak to each other than in the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth – and also how prejudice and pride can get in the way of love. Luckily it all ends well.
- Jane Eyre – I love this particular version of Jane Eyre, and there are many versions. I love the fact that Jane is a simple woman, not overly beautiful or accomplished – yet she is loved tremendously by Mr. Rochester. She stands firm in her virtue despite great temptation. She is a wonderful example for girls to show what attributes draw good men to them and what a woman with strength of character is capable of.
- Sense and Sensibility – This is a beautiful movie with beautiful music. The depiction of the cool and collected Elinor and her passionate sister Marianne shows how different personalities fall in love and the pitfalls of an unbalanced personality. The depiction of Marianne’s poor choice of men is a good one for our girls to see – better to learn from others’ mistakes if we can.
- Samson and Delilah – This story is depicted in a few movies but I prefer to read it from the scriptures. It is important for children to understand that marrying within their religion or value system is important. This will lead to some good discussions as you see the many mistakes made by Samson as he lets “love” take him down dark roads.
- Merlin – The battle between good and dark magic is depicted beautifully here. This series is romantic in its hope. It has depictions of romantic relationships but it is the brotherly love of Arthur and Merlin which is most impactful. Boys and Men need male friendships. Unfortunately, modern society has twisted the need for these relationships. This series shows this male bond, courage, honor, and sacrifice in King Arthurs’s court. (The series Psych is another good series where a strong male relationship is presented and it is more contemporary.)
- The Princess and The Goblin, The Princess and Curdie – Children’s books by George MacDonald that show childlike romance between the Princess and Curdie develops into something stronger and more true as Curdie becomes a man. This story is simple yet deep so your children will enjoy it as much as you do. G.K. Chesterton said, “Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald.”
Music, art, poetry, and nature can also open our senses to Romantic feelings. I share a lot of artwork with my children and hang classical pieces in my home. When I read something beautiful or hopeful, I share it with my children. I am currently reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and my children love looking through the beautiful artwork by Gustave Dore. Also, encourage your children to memorize poetry so the beautiful words and messages will then be forever in their memory. (I paid my son $10 to memorize “If” by Rudyard Kipling, no regrets).
There are many other great books, movies, and series. I would appreciate your suggestions as well. I will continue to add shows/movies/books to this post.
*I would make an exception here that children should not be burdened with advising on their parents’ personal mental health or marriage problems. Also, it is parents that should discuss sexual topics with their children, not teachers or other adults.
**I understand that it is not always within our power to achieve the passion we desire. This advice is for people who do feel they have room and ability for improvement.
A piece on pornography and our kids. https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2021/11/11/mothers-awake-darkness-seeking-our-children/