Role Models: Do We Need Them?

So sweet, so innocent, so familiar with James Bond movies. Garden Gatherings, original oil painting and signed limited edition print by Steve Henderson.

When Tired of Being Youngest was six, she shocked a family in our then church by mentioning a scene out of a James Bond movie. Without approaching me directly, the family matriarch made it known — to the rest of the congregation — that we were providing our progeny with completely inappropriate role models, so that years later, when our oldest child embarked on a painful and messy period of rebellion, sage heads nodded that this only made sense, given the foolishness of our parenting practices.

Oh, if we had only followed the leading of others, and embraced Hannah Montana into our home. Now there was a role model — sweet, adorable, uplifting, squeaky clean — she dressed modestly and encouraged our children, especially our vulnerable girls — to be sweet, adorable, uplifting, and squeaky clean themselves.

And then she turned 18. Overnight, her dress, demeanor, hairstyle, and attitude changed, and darling Hannah morphed into sexy Miley, but that was okay, the matriarchs said, because she was confused and hurt and going through a stressful time in her life. As Christians, we needed to understand this.

It would have been nice, years before, if a similar attitude of grace had been extended toward our daughter and family, but then we’re not splattered all over pillowcases and t-shirts.

As Christians, showing compassion means that we hold one another up in an embrace of caring and grace. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

In the process of raising four children, I have seen a lot of sweet adorable teenaged role models enter into people’s lives and homes until the Big Change comes at 18. For awhile, the households hang onto the sheet sets, posters, and bedroom decor, but at some point, the sweetheart in question goes so far, so fast in her efforts to distance herself from the demographic group that made her name well known, that something has to be done. Everything’s bundled up into boxes, sent to the second hand store, and the next diva is welcomed in.

“Our girls, especially, need role models,” the matriarchs say. “They need to see innocence and honesty and modesty, and Gracious Gretchen’s weekly show inspires them.”

The problem arises when Gracious Gretchen — the day after her 18th birthday bash — swings into Gyrating Gennifer mode, and when you’re a person who let your child watch a James Bond movie at 6, you can’t help but ask — what kind of message are your impressionable daughters getting now?

Our quest for role models is so strong and compelling, that we’ll take anything that fits into our parameters, and savvy marketers know this: if they can get the Christian community excited about a particular brand or person, then they’ve got a solid economic base on which to build a money-maker. What the good Christian matriarchs refuse to ask themselves, however, is this:

If the sweetheart can so quickly abandon her mores and message, then was it ever really true?

Dandelions are beautiful in their own way, but not when they pretend to be daffodils. Dandelions — original oil painting by Steve Henderson Fine Art; licensed art print at Great Big Canvas.

In other words, was this a thistle purporting to grow on a peach tree, or a dandelion masquerading as a daffodil?

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit,” Jesus tells us in Luke 6:43. “People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.”

Maybe not, but too many Christians are convinced that quality role models come out of Hollywood, and companies out to make big profits can be trusted to teach their children good things.

When it comes to role models, maybe we should start looking for apples on apple trees, and reject the fruit with worms and blemishes. Warmth, compassion, truthfulness, boldness, trust, encouragement — you can find these attributes in your next door neighbor, say, or the person who checks out your groceries. My eccentric Aunt Rose influenced me by her singing in the kitchen while she baked cookies for lonely shut-ins; frequently she was the only visitor these people saw in a week.

If role models are so remarkably important in the successful raising of our children, then we have an obligation as parents to make very, very sure that they are good ones.

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2 Responses

  1. The best role model a parent can give is Jesus.
    The second best role model a parent can give is himself or herself.

    I can tell you for a fact that the first people I looked to are my parents. They embodied Jesus for me. The other role models I looked to are the great champions of the faith like David, Daniel, Hudson Taylor, Smith Wigglesworth.

    Too many Christians look to Hollywood. Why should we when the best examples can be found in the Bible, in our home, in our community, in history?

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