“Mom, why don’t you write a blog post on how The Parenting Dare started?”
“Well, I walked in on you viewing porn, helped you and created a course to help other parents help their children reject porn.”
My 25-year old son wasn’t impressed with my short answer. He told me I needed to write THE.WHOLE.STORY.
“That’s kind of boring, Eric. No one wants to hear about that.”
“Mom, it’s actually kind of cool to see how God works in a life. Share your story.”
I do think it’s cool to see how God prepares us for our Big Life Tasks way ahead of time.
So. I will share The Parenting Dare story from its conception to birth.
***Reminder! I have a podcast version of this blog! In this post's episode Eric interviews me about my side of how The Parenting Dare came to be. Please consider subscribing: just search "The Parenting Dare" wherever you listen to podcasts (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher)***
First of all, I was born in 1967 into a large Catholic family. (I am the third of eleven kids.)
I love my big family. But I knew even from a young age that I was different from my siblings. First, I was an amazon child, much larger than my seven petite sisters.
Second, God created me without a filter. As such, I loud and I am open, more open than anyone else I’ve ever met.
And truthfully, for most of my life it has been more burden than blessing.
So there I was, in small town Nebraska, in all of my six-foot glory, with a mouth and no filter. How could that be refined?
Two life-altering events happened back-to-back.
The year was 1984. I was 17 years old.
My best friend, Brenda Florian, had battled cancer for a year and a half. Then she told me that she had four months to live.
As we walked in the valley before her death, we were confronted with The Big Questions:
Does Heaven exist? Is God for real? Do you believe?
We both chose yes.
Her death was beautiful and deeply painful.
After her death, I was given a great grace; I spent the summer as an exchange student in Japan.
I say it was a great grace because if I would have stayed in small-town Nebraska, I would have drowned my sorrow in any way possible.
Instead of that scenario, I was in a foreign country with a host family that left every morning for work and school. I was left by myself. All day. Every day.
I had a New Testament, a rosary and several journals.
So I read. I prayed. I wrote.
I was given the space and time to let my friend’s life and death settle in me. Some great truths took root.
“Show me how to live life well,” was my mantra.
After I got back to the states, I felt different. Much had changed within me.
I spent a lot of time as a senior in the office of the guidance counselor, Mr. Dymacek. (I love love love you, Jim Dymacek.) My other high school teachers understood my struggle and they helped me navigate that last year of school without Brenda.
After graduation I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I quickly met Russ Doerneman. We started dating and were married while in college.
After graduation we moved to St. Louis where I had the joy of teaching at Sacred Heart School in Florissant.
While teaching I had some experiences that greatly deepened my faith walk. I talk about one of those on our podcast. Yes, I guess this is a teaser. :)
The other thing that happened in St. Louis: I was educated on sexual education and how to bring that to the classroom. That was important to me because as far back as I could remember, I knew that I was going to work in pornography prevention.
I knew it in high school. Some of the guys would talk to me about their deep confusion about pornography and masturbation and I thought, Wow, this ship has no guidance system.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that I was going to do something to correct that.
In the meantime, Russ and I got busy and had some babies. See my last post, we had a few...
Then, when I was in my late thirties, a friend of mine asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. I told her the truth: I felt called by God to work in the area of pornography prevention.
Interestingly, she told me NOT to do that. She said that no one would listen to me. But several years later she called me and shared that her son had become a pastor and his first sermon had been on his years-long struggle with pornography.
She had expected a great, uplifting sermon. As she sat listening to her beloved son, she realized she had not even sort of been aware of his struggle. She had been totally blind.
And that pretty much sums up the way I parented at first. EVEN THOUGH I KNEW I WAS GOING TO WORK IN THE FIELD OF PORNOGRAPHY PREVENTION, I didn’t think that meant I had to educate my own kids.
Why not? Well, frankly, it didn’t occur to me that my kids would be tempted by porn. For instance, my Eric certainly didn’t LOOK like a porn consumer. I mean, he was a FIFTH GRADER.
And my husband and I had a good marriage. We taught our kids about God. We prayed the rosary. We never missed Mass.
So I naturally thought that porn and my kid would not, could not mix. Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not in the rain. Not on a train.
He would not, could not look at porn. He would not like it here or there. He would not like it anywhere.
My heart was sure. Not my kid.
Turns out, every mother has the same heart. And THAT, my dear mommy friends, is why porn is so big today. It is getting in under our radars.
I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
So how did I handle knowing that this evil WAS in my home? Well, before I even talked to Eric, I had to get my inner house in order. Please see my article “NOW WHAT?” which explains the steps I had to go through before I was ready to talk with my kid.
After I talked with Eric, I realized this was bigger than I had first realized.
The more I learned, the more I realized that pornography is everywhere.
I could also see that the porn industry is run by the devil.
Yes, the devil.
He takes something gorgeous: our bodies and our sex drive and he uses them against us.
Because we are in a spiritual battle of epic proportions, I prayed. Lord, guide me.
I knew that pornography thrived in secrecy and shame and darkness. In order to really make a difference in our lives, I knew I would have to bring it into the light.
I started educating myself on all sorts of topics including how to talk effectively about porn to children in age-appropriate ways.
Yes, it was a process. But our family got SUPER comfortable talking about topics that we had never even mentioned before.
Interestingly, my kids appreciated those conversations. In fact, my three oldest kids all had friends that told THEM that they wanted their parents to be as open with them as we were with our kids.
And some of their friends wanted me to educate their parents.
Which made me think, maybe this is my road. Maybe God is calling me to educate other parents.
Pretty soon after that I was asked to be a speaker in our diocese. I worked with a chastity program called Project Freedom for about five years. The challenge I had with that really good program: it was geared for 8th graders and their parents.
If we are going to educate our families about chastity we must include pornography. And we must must must start early, way earlier than 8th grade.
Yet most parents are like I was, totally blinded to the fact that this exists. How could I help prepare the hearts and minds of mothers and fathers to understand their critical role in fighting Satan?
I knew that parents especially mothers, once they were aware, would be ferocious. That’s who we are. But again, I knew they would have this conflicting thought, “Not my kid.”
I kept praying.
Then some major events happened one after another. I call them the “dominos.”
First domino: in Dec of 2014 I read Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story, Something Other Than God.
Her story stirred something deep in my bones.
Jennifer had been an atheist. As a smart, savvy, logical consumer of this world, I loved her honest, raw journey to the Catholic Church. She wanted truth and she wanted the full truth.
As Jennifer wrestled with all of her preconceived notions about faith and finally unearthed the beauty of my Church’s teaching, it was as if I saw them for the first time.
My faith was sparked.
Second domino: I received a phone call from my Eric. He was in Nashville at a huge Catholic conference, SEEK 2015, and he had broke his leg. How? He kicked the top of a door frame. Why? After all these years, I think God must have told him to.
When he called me he was in a hospital bed and he said, “I didn’t land it, Mom. My foot should not look like this.” He also told me he had landed on the Oreos he was carrying, smashing them to bits, which made him sad; it was at that point that I realized my kid would be okay.
My husband and I drove to Nashville to pick up our broken child. (Two of his friends, Luke and Nate, had gotten him to the emergency room.)
When we got there we realized that he would not be able to have surgery while in Nashville; we had to wait for the swelling to go down. Eric still wanted to go to some of the conference and so we opted to stay for a day or two. I looked at the schedule.
Guess who was there? Jennifer Fulwiler.
Domino Three: I went to her talk. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am way too loud. I am way too open. I speak without thinking. As such, I am always somewhat petrified that I am offending someone.
Jennifer Fulwiler, my new best friend, told me to embrace myself without a shred of fear. "Fear is never from the Holy Spirit.”
She clearly told me what perfect, on-fire holiness could look like. It could look like me. I felt like she was pouring a blessing over my head as she told me that God made me like He made me for a reason.
"The Church should be the greatest place of true freedom."
"Embrace your authentic self and share that with others."
As I listened to her, I had this incredibly insane feeling that Eric had broken his foot so I could be in Nashville for Jennifer’s message.
Thank you, Eric.
Here's the picture we reference in the podcast; a text from mom's phone to our family's chiropractor.
My husband was getting a renewed sense of his own faith in different ways at that conference.
Russ and I talked all of the way home. We both felt the call to bring others to Christ.
We wanted to evangelize.
I talked to my good friend Amy, head of faith formation at our parish. And she told us about a program called ChristLife. Domino #4. We were part of the team that brought it to our parish.
It was AWESOME.
ChristLife was all about learning about Who Jesus Is and how to allow Him to be Lord of All.
Yet. There was still this pesky side show of porn in SO MANY LIVES. How could I use my gifts and shine a light, guiding parents to help their children avoid porn?
The next domino: With the encouragement from a ChristLife member as well as from my son Eric, I started my first blog in the spring of 2015. I wanted a platform. I knew a blog would be a place where I could write and send out a message.
So. Starting a blog is harder than it seems.
I was COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the technical side of blogging.
My brain hurt for two months as I learned how to navigate that new world.
But the cool part about blogging? A post that I wrote while drinking coffee in Goddard, Kansas, could reach around the world. Literally. I realized how interconnected we really were.
And I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I could use the INTERNET FOR GREAT GOOD.
The next big domino: Elite Blog Academy. I joined Ruth Soukup’s blogging course because I knew I wanted to reach more people.
I learned a TON from Ruth. But then she shocked me. She told me that if I wanted to grow my audience and my reach, I needed a product to sell, a product that my audience needed and wanted.
WHAT? I thought blogging was about writing posts. The idea of creating a product or course seemed a bit crazy.
The next domino: I was asked to give a presentation on chastity/sex ed at a parish.
The talk went well but I was frustrated afterwards. One hour just wasn’t enough time to give those eager parents everything they needed.
They wanted more and there was no follow-up.
I sat with that frustration.
I thought of Ruth. She said I needed a product.
Could I create something to fill the felt need of those parents?
Then (because I am a Facebook webinar junkie) I watched a webinar on how to create a step-by-step funnel to get a product out to market. Lots of ideas converged for me at that point.
I invited my husband to watch the webinar with me. I wanted his input because blogging is WAAAAY different than course creation. I knew that if I took that next step I would spend more time on my computer. I would need his blessing.
A massive domino: Eric happened to be home that night and he said he would watch the webinar with us.
Afterwards, he calmly said, “Parents need an online resource. You are going to create one. But you are going to need tech support and I will be it.”
I sat there, STUNNED. I had been freaking out, thinking about all of the tech side of an online course.
To have my son join me? Oh my. He also surprised the crap out of me when he said that he wanted to give presentations with me.
He said, “You're a mom talking to other moms. It’s up here in the clouds. You need more dirt and mud. I want to join and share my side of the story; the perspective of son and porn addict.”
I was incredibly blown away by this new turn of events.
Yet isn’t that how God works? He takes care of the details.
Eric and I got to work.
It was a glorious time. See, on my blog, I more or less tiptoed around this topic. I was still wooing my readers and I didn’t want to blast them with info they weren’t ready to receive. YET. I knew their children were in danger of this lure of porn.
With my course, I didn’t have to be so delicate. Afterall, the whole course was geared on this topic so I HAD TO DIVE IN.
As we created, we invited some people to be part of our beta group. Eric and I would film a section, then post it to a private Facebook group and get feedback.
We learned a lot.
As we got ready to put together the actual course, we had a bump in the road with the first name we had chosen, “The New Kryptonite.”
We realized there were legal ramifications with that name. Our beta group helped us choose a new name: The Parenting Dare.
Then we had to find a place to record the first official rendition of our course. That was BY FAR the most difficult hurdle. We filmed our course THREE TIMES because of issues we had with location and the filming learning curve. Again. Thank you, Eric. I LOVE how it turned out.
But finally, finally, finally, The Parenting Dare 1.0 was released on September 1, 2017.
How did that feel? Well, sort of like I had given birth, to be honest. It was gorgeous and a little messy.
But oh, so worth it.
I love the positive feedback that we have gotten from other parents. I love that. But you know what? I also love what has happened to my family because of this dare.
Yesterday I was talking to my 13 ½ year old son, Thomas. He has changed a lot this summer, growing and transforming into a young man. He is easily taller than me. He has man hair on his legs. His voice has changed.
We were casually talking about pornography and I asked him, “Why is porn so wrong for humanity?”
He got thoughtful and we talked back and forth; he had some good insights.
Then he said, “One thing parents need to know is that this battle is easy when it is won before it starts.”
I asked him to explain.
He said he gets the lure. And he gets the addictive side of it. He knows he has to be on guard. He knows what to do when he sees something inappropriate. He knows the steps.
I got goosebumps. But then I told my son the truth: the journey is not over. There is much temptation in front of him. But I also assured him that his dad and I would be there for him at every step of the way, loving and guiding him.
The teen years do not have to be terrifying.
As I look back at my life (and thank you, Eric, for making me share the Whole Story) I can see that for most of my life God was preparing me for this mission.
Realizing how strong we are and how much influence we have in the lives of our children is probably how Wonder Woman felt when she realized who she really was.
It’s probably how Captain America felt after he left the capsule pumped full of Super Soldier Serum and realized he was a changed forever.
I know, that might be a stretch. Yet. We have the Power of the King of the Universe on our side. Let’s work together. Let’s fight evil.
Please learn more.
AND... drumroll.... our next post will be Eric's side of this story!