How Much is Too Much?

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This question is one I ask myself almost every day.  Sometimes innocently: How much is too much in the washing machine?  Sometimes guiltily: How much is too much when scooping ice cream?  But sometimes seriously: How much is too much when it comes to sex in a book?

As a romance novelist, it’s not a question I worry too much about.  “Too much” is usually more of a marketing concern – who am I trying to sell my book to, and how much detail do they want.  But as a mom, the question takes on an entirely different meaning—especially when it comes to what to allow my children to read.

I’m not a fan of banning books, far from it.  But when told my daughter would be reading Like Water for Chocolate this year, that it was, in the teacher’s words “a little racy,” and that we’d have the option of substituting a different book, I paused.  What was she being asked to read?

Now, my daughter’s teacher is wonderful, don’t get me wrong.  He immediately sent home a copy of the book for me to read, and assured everyone that there would be no repercussions, should we decide it wasn’t the book for our kids.  The decision was up to us as parents:  How much is too much?

Well, I read it.  It’s a fascinating book, built like one of the many dishes featured in its pages.  Mexican folklore is layered on top of a classic Cinderella-like story, mixed in with a love of food and a sensual romance.  It’s the “how sensual” part I worried about.

As far as romance novels (including mine) go, the sexual aspects could be considered a little on the tame side, I think.  The interludes were short, and not explored as emotionally as they could have been. There was the occasional explicit reference to a woman’s physical response and some intimate touching.  But is it too much?

Every situation is different, and considering my daughter, her experiences—and even my experiences and reading in high school—I’ve decided that no, it’s not too much.  Based on the “family life” classes she’s had (aka sex ed), the discussions we’ve shared about a variety of topics, and her level of maturity, I’m okay with her reading it.  But it’s not the kind of book I’d give to just anyone her age.  And honestly, I’m not sure how the boys in her class will react to it.

The story does lend itself to discussions about physical attraction vs. “true love.”  I’ll be curious to hear if that comes up in my daughter’s class discussions.  But there are also themes of familial responsibility vs. independence, accepting the consequences of one’s actions, and finding one’s self.  Taken as a whole, it’s a very thought-provoking book.

The most important thing is that the teacher asked us the question in the first place, and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to answer it.

As for my book?  It’s definitely too much for her.  But you have to love her:  She’s counting the days until she heads off to college so she can read it then.  Talk about loyalty!


Filed under Parenting, Reading

7 responses to “How Much is Too Much?

  1. Robin DeJarnett

    He is a great guy. She’s lucky to have him.

  2. These are great questions to ask! And you, as the parent, are the best one decide what your daughter is ready for. I’m glad your teacher was so open about it!

  3. Robin DeJarnett

    Thanks for all the great comments! I initially hesitated posting this – I don’t think it’s my place to tell anyone what’s right for THEIR kid – but it’s something I’ve had to deal with more and more.

    Nicki – I totally agree that how the sexual situation is presented that matters most. In this book, there wasn’t as much emotional exploration of the sex. Now, there’s flaws there, too – but that’s something my daughter and I will discuss at some point. But for now, it gives her some distance from the act, which is fine.

    Lisa – I’m sure I wouldn’t let her see the movie, though! 😎 I’m guessing the book isn’t nearly as graphic as the movie must be.

    Eleri – Excellent point…and I agree!

    Shirley – I read some less-than-Mom-approved stuff when I was young, too. Strong Medicine by Arthur Haley is one I won’t soon forget, and even Frederick Forsythe’s Lie Down With Lions had some pretty hot scenes in it. I didn’t get into Mom’s pile of Harlequins though. 😎

  4. The book sounds real interesting. It’s a good question – how much is too much? I well remember reading books that were way too racy for me and my mother would have had a fit if she’d known. My sister’s 5 years older than me so I read her books. Lol, I have to say I didn’t understand half of it I don’t think it did me much harm though. 🙂

  5. THIS is a timeless question. For me, it’s not necessarily the level of detail that’s provided (although sometimes it is) but more how the intimacy is presented—is it realistic, are lessons learned, does the story itself convey values related to sex that I try to teach my children? Probably the same kinds of things you thought about when considering Like Water for Chocolate. You make a very good point about the decision being dependent on the individual child. They’re all at such different places.

  6. Hi Robin! I have a teenage daughter and this has come up for us too. I think it all comes down to the maturity of the reader. Part of me thinks I’d rather her be exposed to sex (not crazy sex) in literature where she has the distance to think critically about what she would do in similar situations before she has to deal with those situations in real life.

  7. Lisa Langdale

    I watched the movie in high school. After reading your post I kind of want to read the book 🙂 *puts it on my mile long “to read” list*
    But I appreciate your concern! I wish more parents worried about stuff like this! The things my daughter’s (She’s 6) friends at school know and talk about really shock me! But I think you made the right choice: Factoring in her maturity, knowledge, etc are all marks of a great parent!

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