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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Miseducation of Ms. Bristol Palin

Behind the screaming tabloid headlines and titillating talk show speculation and mild jokes from late-night talk show hosts about the recently announced engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, lies the unfolding of a modern parable.    

At the very least, it is a cautionary tale about adolescent sexuality, abstinence-only education, and teen pregnancy - all played out on the national political stage.

And, of course, the role of religion in the formation of 'family values' and the value of families - even the wacky, dysfunctional ones.

You'll catch a glimpse of it in the "official", restrained reaction of Sarah and Todd Palin. In a statement, they noted their daughter is an adult: "
We obviously want what is best for our children, but Bristol is ultimately in charge of determining what is best for her and her beautiful son. Bristol believes in redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice."
Well done. Support your daughter while smacking your future son-in-law on the back of the head.

I admire their honesty.

It is interesting to me that the 19 year old Bristol did not tell her parents - especially her mother - about the engagement, much less even the possibility of an engagement.

Interesting, but certainly not surprising. Who could forget the spectacle of Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston trading ugly barbs in the national media about each other?

Okay, to be fair, Johnston posed nude for Playgirl and dished dirt on the family. He is, however, significantly younger than Mrs. Palin.

Bristol is quoted as saying about her mother's anticipated response: "It is intimidating and scary just to think about what her reaction is going to be."

I'll bet.

Although I must say, I have heard those exact words come from the mouth of more teenagers as to make them almost part of the "Teen-Parent Code of Behavior".

Then again, the apple does not fall far from the tree. This 19 year old understands something about the media. She understands that she needs to be in control of the story and how the message is heard.

I think she also gets to control how her mother hears the message in the only way she knows her mother will hear it. She forces her mother to hear the entire story, in her own words, without interruption.

Smart girl.

Besides, it makes perfect sense that these two would get back together. I mean, who else could they date? Who else would understand what they've been through?

They are two small-town teens catapulted to fame by the unlikely convergence of an unplanned pregnancy and her mother's skyrocketing political ascendance. Who else could relate to Bristol's life? Who else would ever really "get" Levi?

This is precisely why people fall in love.

And, they share a beautiful 18 month old son, Tripp.

All that being said, don't expect to close the book on this story just yet. There will be no ridding off into the sunset with the words, "And they lived happily ever after."

At some point, we all grow up and learn that "happily ever after" is a crock. It takes hard work to live out the promises of commitment and fidelity and monogamy.

It will be interesting to see how much support she gets from her "family values" family - how much they value the family their daughter is creating.

One thing I know for sure - without community and family support, their relationship will be much harder to maintain, but it can be done. Just ask the LGBT community.

Perhaps this mother needs to learn a few lessons about forgiveness and redemption from her daughter.

Perhaps, we all do.

Perhaps we're all products of miseducation.

I suspect we need to learn the deeper lessons of forgiveness and redemption to be able to embrace the shifting understanding of what makes a family before we can really come to value families in all their varied definitions and constellations.

That may be the best wedding present from Ms. Bristol Palin and Mr. Levi Johnston.


Barbara K said...

Thank you Elizabeth for taking this story to a higher level. I really was having trouble processing it, was tempted to just not think about it and catagorizing it as none of my business purient news.

Doorman-Priest said...

"At the very least, it is a cautionary tale about adolescent sexuality, abstinence-only education, and teen pregnancy - all played out on the national political stage."

And they're never a bad thing on either side of the Atlantic.

J. Michael Povey said...

My dear Elizabeth

i am so unhappy with your words.

I would not write this about two of my young parishioners. Nor would you.

I disagree with Sarah Palin's politics and theology to the umpteenth degree.

But I cannot be unkind to Bristol and Levi.

I am sorry that you posted this.

It seems to me that we Christians should and could say something more edifying about Bristol and Levi.

With much love!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, I think you misread me. I am being kind to Bristol and Levi. I think they should do whatever it is they need to do to find happiness. I tried to take this to a higher level. I'm sorry you don't see that.

Kay & Sarah said...

The story of Bristol and Levi is sad to me. I think you are speaking to how our society is educating young people about sexuality. We need to be be more honest and open. I see it as a failure for us. It seems they are making the best lives they can with the information they have been given. I wish them luck and wish they have enough sense to be more honest with their own children.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Two Aunties. That's it. These kids are doing the best they can with what they've been taught. We could all learn from them.

J. Michael Povey said...

Thank you so much Elizabeth

Truly, I had not read your piece carefully.

Having read it again, this time with care, I apologise, and withdraw my earlier comment.



Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Michael. You have proven yourself, once again, a kind and generous Christian man.

Lapinbizarre said...

I was happy for the two of them when I read the news and hope it works out for them. Thanks for expounding it as you have.