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Daily Inspiration for Catholic Homeschoolers
    Lorraine Espenhain

“Mommy, I’m not living the American Dream!”

“Mommy, I’m not living the American Dream!”

by Lorraine E. Espenhain

One year ago, one of my daughters was given a gift subscription to American Girl Magazine. When the subscription ran out, I chose not to renew it even though my daughter wanted me to.

Before I proceed any further, I want everyone who is reading this post to know that there is nothing wrong or “sinful” about American Girl Magazine. The magazine is filled with all sorts of inspirational articles and ideas for crafts, recipes, projects, and activities. My reason for not renewing it was not because I found any of the material inappropriate, but because of the negative effect it was having on my daughter.

When the magazine would arrive in the mail, my daughter would take it into her bedroom, read it, and then come out several hours later with tears streaming down her face. The tears would be flowing because she would compare the lives of these “American Girls” to her own life and then feel like she was being deprived. Each magazine would show pictures of girls taking their American Girl magazines with them on their family vacations.

The family vacations were in places that most of us could never afford to go as a family: Greece, Rome, Paris, London, Cairo. One girl hiked cross country with her father, and an entire write-up was devoted to this. After reading these types of articles over and over again, my daughter was convinced that we were living in grinding poverty and that she had tragically been born in the wrong household.

I would say to her, “Why can’t you read an article and be inspired to try one of the crafts or community projects?” Instead, she would open up the magazine in order to see the trips that others were taking, the clothes that others were wearing, and the exciting adventures that others were having, and then grow discontent with her own life and ungrateful for the blessings that she did have.

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I would try to explain to my daughter that the articles that she was reading in American Girl were not an accurate portrayal of the life of a typical American girl, but she would not be convinced. They were living it up under the blessing of God while she was languishing in normalcy beneath His curse. After putting up with this for one year, I decided not to renew the subscription.

One of the most difficult things that any parent must face is the decision to take things away from our children that aren’t necessarily sinful, but neither are they beneficial. If I see that something is having a negative effect on my children, (even if it isn’t sinful or inappropriate) I eliminate it.

In the book of Sirach, we learn that “the mind is the root of all conduct.” In other words, where the mind goes, the man will follow. What we put into our minds has a direct impact on our attitude, our choices, and our ability to keep our eyes focused on eternity. As an adult, I have learned this the hard way.

There have been times when I have engrossed myself in the reading of secular books which had nothing to do with God and found myself no longer focused on God or thinking of Him as a result. The books weren’t sinful; but they were distractions. Because I was spending so much time reading them at the expense of spiritual books that could help me in my walk with God, I grew cold in my relationship with the Lord.

The mind is very powerful. It is like a sponge, absorbing everything that we take in, and then using what it has absorbed to direct our thoughts, actions, and choices. Satan knows this, which is why he strives night and day to fill our minds with the wrong things. Wrong things are not necessarily sinful things. A “wrong thing” can be anything that is used by the evil one to distract us from our purpose in life, which is to know God, love God, and serve God.

My daughter was being distracted from her true purpose in life by what she was reading in the American Girl magazine. It was causing her to lose her focus on the blessings that she did have and to think about the purpose that God might have for her life. It was causing her to make comparisons and to covet what others had and were enjoying. While other girls may not be negatively impacted by this particular magazine, my daughter was; therefore, it had to go.

Seton provides a plethora of wonderful children’s books about the Saints.

Our bookshelves are now filled up with these, and these are the books that I want my children to read. St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Bernadette, and St. Catherine of Siena. These are the “girls” that I want my daughter to read about; theirs are the lives that I want her to imitate.

Not “American Girls” …but “Heaven’s Girls.”

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  • Jamie

    For the same reason you give above, I’ve had to toss most of the catalogs that come in: clothing, toys, gadgets, home decor–they cause all of us to look around our home with an eye of dissatisfaction!

  • Lorraine Espenhain

    Hi, Jamie!
    I completely understand what you are talking about regarding the correlation between catalogs and “looking around one’s home with an eye of dissatisfaction.” Advertisements are very powerful, which is why advertising is such a big business. I used to flip through furniture catalogs and then look at my own “Early Salvation Army” furniture and grow discontent. Now, when the catalogs come in, they get tossed. I also learned a long time ago not to go to the store unless there is something specific that I need to buy. Otherwise, I end up buying things that I have absolutely no use for. In the United States, shopping has actually become an activity that people do for pleasure. One of the hardest things to overcome is the consumer culture of the United States. As much as I try to yield to God in order to get this part of our culture scoured off of me, it’s still there, if only in patches here and there. I won’t rest content until the Holy Spirit scours it off of me completely. If a man must always have need of more, let it be of God’s grace and His Spirit, and not the things of this world which are temporary and passing away. God bless you!

  • Abby Sasscer

    Beautifully written! Yes, we too get distracted easily just like our children. Eliminating the distraction is truly the wise and prudent thing to do. I love reading your articles! Looking forward to your next one!

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Abby!
      And I love reading your articles as well! Getting rid of the distractions in our lives is probably the biggest challenge we face, especially when we are surrounded by what I call the “noise pollution of the world.” My husband and I constantly keep vigil and do whatever we have to do in order to keep this “noise pollution out of our home.” My children complain that they live in a hermitage, but that’s okay. I bore them to Christ, not to this world, and I’m going to do whatever I have to do in order to keep the world from having them. Thanks for the encouraging words! Lots of hugs and blessings!

  • Joyful

    I feel that the author is missing the point-this was a wonderful opportunity to teach her daughter the value of sharing in other’s joys and ways to overcome coveting. By labeling it a distraction and taking it away, it negates her daughter’s personal responsibility in the matter and does place the blame on the magazine, not her daughter’s sinful reaction to it. There will be many many other times that she will compare herself, her life, her possessions, to others…it is now that we must teach our children to be thankful, not only what they have, but to be joyful for others when they have more than they do.

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Joyful!
      My husband I spoke literally on an almost daily basis to my daughter about coveting and not feeling resentful because some children had more things or opportunities than she did. We really, did, but she just wasn’t understanding. At the very beginning of my post, I wanted to make it very clear to the readers that I was not placing any blame on the magazine itself and that I personally did not find anything wrong with the magazine. We took the magazine away from my daughter after trying to reason with her for an entire year about the inappropriate way in which she was reacting to the magazine, not because we were blaming the magazine itself. I had to label the magazine a distraction because in my daughter’s life, that’s exactly what it was. What may not be a distraction to some may very well be a distraction to others. I’m trying to raise my children for Christ and His Kingdom, and when I see that Satan is using something on an almost daily basis to keep her from focusing on her true purpose, you can be certain that I’m going to remove it from her life. That’s the job of a parent. Regarding the “wonderful opportunity to teach my daughter the value of sharing in other’s joys and how to overcome coveting,” we tried this day in and day out for a year, but she just wasn’t responding so we were left with no other choice but to take the magazine away from her.
      With all due respect, parents have to be vigilant when it comes to distractions in the lives of their children. Too much of anything, even if it isn’t necessarily sinful, is a distraction if it isn’t drawing our children closer to Christ. We cannot allow the distractions to remain in the hope that our children will act responsibly and eliminate them on their own. They’re too young; therefore, it is up to the parents to make these decisions for them until they are old enough to make wise decisions on their own.
      I appreciate your taking the time to read my post, and I do hope that I was better able to clarify my position. God bless!

    • ostrander

      I used to believe as you seem to, that we can teach lessons from things like this magazine incident, but after years of believing that content and children’s reactions to the content wasn’t as important as sitting with the children to view the content and making statements about it, I have come to the thought that actually, children don’t listen to adults the way we think they do ( what we say and what they hear are two different things) and now that I have two adult children, a teen-ager and an 8 year old, I applaud the decision to take away the magazine. Years from now, she will remember that Mom didn’t like the way she allowed the things in the magazine to affect her and it may have more meaning than a discussion about the content or reaction.

    • missmissy68

      Some children are just born with this personality. If it is a burden for them, no amount of explaining is going to change their personality. Yes, a child can say, “Oh, I’m so happy for them!!” but one with this personality will concentrate on the “I wish I could have it, too. I must not be good enough.” It’s not taking away personal responsibility, it’s teaching the kid to avoid things that feed into that part of their personality.

      • Lorraine Espenhain

        Well said, Miss Missy! Well said!

  • ostrander

    Great article! That my friends is why we home school! To have a say in what parts of the secular culture we allow to have an effect on our children’s very impressionable souls

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hello!
      Thank you very much for your words of encouragement! You are absolutely right in saying that this is exactly why we homeschool. Parents must continually be on guard when it comes to what parts of our secular culture we allow them to be exposed to, the message it sends, and how that message is affecting our children. Even though the American Girl Magazine did not contain any inappropriate material, my husband and I did not like the way the enemy was using it to sow seeds of discontent in the life of our daughter. We tried reasoning with her for an entire year. When that got us nowhere, the magazine went. If I see that nothing good is taking place as a result of something that my daughter may be watching, reading, or listening to, and that this is happening on a continual basis, the material has to go. I’m continually on guard when it comes to how anything is affecting my children. If I see that it is being used by the prince of darkness to pull them away from their true purpose in life, which is to know God, love God, and serve God, the material has to go. I bore these children to Christ, not to this world, and I’m going to do everything within my power to keep them from being taken in by the world. There is nothing wrong with American Girl Magazine in and of itself. But the magazine had to go because of the way in which the evil one was using it to play on my daughter’s own weaknesses. Keeping the magazine in her life in order that good might result would have been futile in this instance, as suggested by a well-meaning individual who commented earlier on my post. My daughter could not be reasoned with in this regard. After a year of trying to reason with her and getting nowhere, the magazine subscription was not renewed and her old magazines went into the trash can. Being a Catholic parent means having to make choices that go against the grain of our society, and it demands that we be vigilant at all times regarding how the things of our secular culture are affecting our children. To give to God any less when it comes to our children’s impressionable souls is to play with fire.

  • Mary

    I subscribed to the magazine for years when I was younger, and while I loved it, I experienced some of what it sounds like your daughter experienced. But I also experienced it looking around me in general: my only-child neighbor who was an extremely talented musician at a very young age because her parents had the time and money to give her proper training, friends who traveled extensively with their families or for class trips, people who lived in New York (because everything’s very sophisticated there, you know), people whose bedrooms were cute, etc. Envy is very easy to come by, with or without magazines (though perhaps its easier with them), especially with facebook, which makes everyone look so good! I don’t want to criticize your choice to get rid of the magazine, but here’s something my own mom did instead that I found really helpful. When I told her that I wanted to do all of these things (live in NY, travel abroad, be a remarkably good dancer or pianist, etc.) she said, “Do it, then. Figure out what you need to do to make it happen, and do it. If you want to travel, earn the money to do it or (when you are older) get a job that pays you to travel. If you want to dance, figure out how to make it work”, emphasizing that it wasn’t too late for any of this. And so that’s what I did. By the time I entered college, I earned enough scholarships to allow me to travel like I wanted, and I now have a job that pays me to go all over the country and to europe as much as I’d like. And in the process of trying to achieve some of the other things I was so jealous of, I either realized I didn’t really want them (in the case of dancing professionally, e.g.) or just that I’d rather have something else (I’d rather have people over for dinner than decorate my bedroom, e.g.). Anyway, it was all-around beneficial to try to get what I was so jealous about. I either got it or realized it wasn’t worth being jealous about.

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Mary!
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I completely agree with you that it is beneficial for our children to work for the things they want, and that perhaps, if they did this, they wouldn’t experience jealousy when they see other children receiving or achieving things. What makes the situation so challenging with my daughter is the fact that she wants things, but she doesn’t want to work for them. “I want to be a muscian,” but she doesn’t want to practice a musical instrument. “I want to be a scientist,” but she doesn’t want to put in the study and reading time that they put in. I truly believe that the biggest problem she was having with the magazine was not so much what others had, as much as what others were achieving. When we would try to encourage her to start up her own little projects so that she, too, could achieve things, she shrunk back, perhaps because of fear and perhaps because of her overall aversion to work. Seeing other people accomplish things perhaps was causing her to come face to face with her own refusal to put forth an effort to do the same, and it could very well be this that was triggering her negative reaction. But when she refused to listen to our counsel after an entire year, we were forced to take the magazine away from her. Until her attitude changes about things (and this change is really only something that the Holy Spirit can bring about in her life) we’re going to have to be very wary about what we allow her to absorb, even in the case of seemingly innocent things like American Girl Magazine. To allow her to keep the magazine would have done nothing good except continue to feed into this character flaw on her part – a character flaw that definitely needs to go, but will not go until she learns to yield to the Holy Spirit in her life so that He can remove it and replace it with the character of Christ. Thank you so much for your wise comments! Sending hugs your way!

      • Lynn

        Your daughter sounds much like mine (now 14) in that she wants to be an actress and singer, but despite voice lessons doesn’t practice what she should be and doesn’t practice before auditions, etc. She wants things but doesn’t want to work for them. It’s not so much that she is lazy, and she isn’t stupid, but she isn’t especially motivated either. I can see why you had to take the magazine away. Someday she will understand as well.

  • AnneG

    Great article. We had the same issue with my daughter about 30 years ago, not with American Girl, but other books she read. She liked to read certain novels, but I pointed out that she got in trouble for imitating the way the characters talked to their parents. “We” decided to read something else. She learned a lot from that experience and says so today. I’m so glad to see a mom being astute. Thanks.

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Anne!
      Thanks for the words of encouragement! Oh yes….I fully understand the “reading a book and then becoming transformed to act like the characters in the book” syndrome. We had that problem with my oldest daughter. We also ran into the problem of our daughters comparing books that were clearly FICTION to their own lives. As I mentioned in the article, our shelves are stocked with books on the lives of the Saints now. If they want to compare their lives with others, let it be Christ and the Saints! Hugs and blessings from me to you!

  • Francis

    The author totally missed the point of the American Dream
    instead she killed it by taking away the magazine. Rather than seeing it as a
    distraction maybe it could have been used as a motivator for your daughter to achieve
    those goals of social mobility by raising from her current economic situation. There
    is nothing wrong with social mobility and practicing good stewardship. Jesus did not condemn wealth or the obtaining
    of it rather he advocated it to be used for the common good and to further
    society. The American Dream was put forth by God fearing hard working people
    who believed in both the power of good that faith offered and that of
    nationalistic patriotism in America. You will probably think I am an idealistic
    fool for still believing in the democratic power of America and the hope of the
    American dream but if people like you continue to crush the hopes and dreams of
    our young and put in place the autocratic ideology of the Bishops then it
    surely will die. Read the great classics of American literature both spiritual
    and secular and not just the catechism of the bishops and you will learn a
    great deal of faith and hard work in America.

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Francis,
      I’m somewhat confused regarding the comments you wrote after reading my post, as they don’t correlate in any way with the things that I wrote. I wrote an article about a negative effect that a magazine was having on one of my children. You spoke of “social mobility,” the “practicing of good stewardship,” “condemning the wealthy,” “using wealth for the common good and to further society,” “nationalistic patriotism in America,” “the democratic power of America,” and then you accused me of “crushing the hopes and dreams of the young in order to put in place the “autocratic ideology of the Bishops, which, in your opinion, will one day surely die.
      Your statements had nothing to do with my post, so I’m somewhat at a loss as to how to respond. I respectfully suggest that you go back and read the post, as well as the “online discussion” that many of us have been having regarding this subject so that you will better understand where I was coming from.
      After reading my post, you somehow came to the conclusion that I needed to read the great classics of American literature, and not just the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so that I could learn a great deal about faith and hard work in America. Again, I’m not really sure where you’re going with this suggestion, as it had absolutely nothing to do with my article. I’ve read many of the classics, I possess a great deal of faith, and I know what it is to work hard in America. My family emigrated to the United States from Italy, and we know all about hard work.
      As far as your belief (to which you are entitled) that one day the “autocratic ideology of the Bishops will die”, I strongly disagree. God’s Word is eternal; it can never die. I spend a great deal of time teaching my children the Sacred Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the lives of the Saints more than anything because these are the things which will profit their souls, not the secular writings of this world. When we die and stand before the Lord to be judged, our lives will be compared to those eternal truths that were written in His Word, not according to the “classics” or any other secular writings. Therefore, the greater emphasis should be placed upon the former, and not the latter. Our bookshelves are also filled with classics, Francis, so I don’t want you to think that I have a problem with them. But as a follower of Christ, I believe that the greater emphasis should be placed on spiritual writings rather than on secular ones, since it is my spirit that will live forever, and not my flesh. I thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment on it as well.

  • Mary McGuire Owens

    I agree with the author that there are so many distractions in life, it takes more planning than we might realize to keep our focus and positively influence our children. I applaud your efforts.

    • Lorraine Espenhain

      Hi, Mary!
      Thank you for your encouraging words! Yes…keeping our focus involves a lot of planning in order to keep our children from being properly influenced. When my husband and I first got married, I had absolutely no idea just how hard we would have to work in order to keep our children from being taken in by the distractions of this world. It’s a never-ending battle. Are there times when we stumble, fall, and make wrong choices? You bet! But when that happens, I just pick myself up, learn from my poor choice, and move on! God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving!