Cue the eyeroll and embarrassed faces now, please.
It’s a subject that has all the makings of the elephant in the room. And, I think most of us think we’ll share the big news with our kids when “they’re older.”
Here’s a newsflash: older is now.
We’ve always been big believers in being honest with our kids, while keeping it age appropriate regarding our family and church’s views on sexuality, marriage, babies, love and the like. I mean, it’s impossible to NOT talk about that when you have a big family. Because, BABIES. But, I also think it’s a subject we should all tackle as responsible, loving, faithful parents. Here’s how we do it.
1. Body parts don’t get cute names. From the very beginning, when kids are pointing to ears and eyes and noses and the like, we call it like we see it. Private parts get the same treatment. Because, really, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here, folks. It’s just a body part. I’m pretty sure when our kids were little this conversation goes down as quote of the century: “Anna-Laura, boys have penis’ and girls have pajamas!” When your kids don’t see you giggle and turn red when naming body parts then they don’t learn to be ashamed of their bodies, they learn to love them.
2. Early on, we emphasize the importance of keeping private parts private. Now, we’ve been known to have a toddler or three practice “aiming” off our second-floor balcony. Boys. There’s a fair share of naked bums around these parts. But, as kids get older we encourage them to dress and undress in their bathrooms and bedrooms instead of the open air of our gameroom balcony. We also remind them that it’s perfectly okay for Mom, Dad and our pediatrician to see their body parts. But if a mom or a dad isn’t present, the adult must ask for permission. This can be serious business. And I’ll talk about that next.
3. We don’t just send our kids to other people’s houses all willy nilly. Parents, know where you’re sending your kids and know those families. And, you also have to teach your kids what’s normal and not normal behavior when it comes to their bodies. A small child needs a bum wiped and another mom steps in because you’re nursing the baby? Ok. But, a school-aged child is in the bathroom and an adult walks in and stays? Not ok. We often ask our kids lots of questions when they return from someone’s house. On only one occasion have we forbid them to return to a house because of their answers.
4. Our kids get honest answers when they ask questions. Sometimes, when a kid asks, “So, how does the baby come out of your tummy, Mom?” my answer is, “I go to the hospital and the doctor helps me.” And then the child happily trots off to play legos. Rather than launch into the whole dissertation of how babies are made, we simply answer the question at hand. If a child wants to know more, trust me. She will ask. Don’t be afraid to answer. Which leads me to…
5. Handling the big talk. I can honestly say we’ve never had “the talk” because it’s been integrated into so many parts of our parenting strategy. One big thing we did do and I absolutely loved it, was Theology of the Body for Teens. We began with the middle school curriculum when our boys were in fifth grade which means that John Paul’s turn is coming soon. It is a beautiful curriculum and one that allows you to dive as deep as your kid is ready to handle. The thing I love most? It’s primary focus is aimed at helping your child understand and discern his or her particular calling, or vocation, in life. If you want to view it before purchasing, call your diocesan family life office and ask to borrow it. That’s what we did!
6. Because, inevitably, church teaching on a variety of issues is bound to surface – abortion, gay marriage, IVF, contraception – we focus on a bigger platform. Love. A few days after my due date, we walked down to the neighborhood ice cream parlor for an evening treat. On our way back, Will started asking me questions about c-sections and birth control and so many other things. And I was honored. Because at an age when he could’ve asked his peers or Google, he asked me. And our conversation could only be summed up with one simple word: love. Scott and I want our children to understand why we believe what the church has to say about all those things, but more importantly, we want them to never discriminate, hate or judge because of it. Too many beautiful, wonderful friends and family members are in our lives and we don’t all agree on those issues. But, our relationship is centered on love. I think it was Cardinal Dolan that said this regarding Pope Francis’ recent thoughts on the Synod:
“Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us. Just when you think you might have him figured out, he offers another fresh innovative way of looking, that talk to which you just referred at the close of the synod was nothing less than inspirational. He spoke from the heart. He spoke about himself as the Pope and the church and he challenged all of us. And it reminds me of Jesus. Always walking down the road, and never forgetting the people on either side.”
7. If you don’t talk to your kids, Google will. On a subject that is so important, so beautiful, so awesome, don’t leave it to the internet. Talk to your kids. Talk with your kids. Listen to them. Sex is a good and holy thing, it’s how you got here!
8. Form a community. Many years ago, a group of moms gathered for a Bible study by a local author. “The Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter” (there’s also a son version) and I can’t tell you the invaluable life lessons and community I gleaned from that group. Ultimately, we’re in this together. This parenting gig. I can’t tell you how great it is to have another mom to call and say, “So…this happened. What would you do?”
9. Social media can destroy your kids, but it doesn’t mean you should avoid it. In an age of SnapChat and Whisper (two apps you DO NOT want your kids to have), sexting and pornography, crazy things are out there trying to warp the beauty of sexuality with your kids. Be vigilant. Be prepared. You may not have an Instagram account, but if your kid has one, you better have the password and monitor the account. As parents, it’s our job to help our kids understand how to protect their body, their images, their heart. We have to instill the moral compass and it’s up to them to practice using it.
10. And, a few practical things. We cancelled cable because those commercials are horrible. Who wants to see Cialis or Victoria’s Secret on your tv? Not me! Some friends of ours mute the commercials and I think that’s particularly brilliant because when there’s no sound, the kids just tune out. I scan the checkout aisles at the grocery store and have been known to turn around offending magazine covers. My girls do not need to see Kim Kardashian practically naked on the cover of Vogue. I’ve also asked the manager to not place those magazines near the checkout aisle. I keep dreaming of a ‘family-friendly’ lane! We refuse to shop at some stores that promote over-sexualized clothes. Our radio is usually on family-friendly stations or we listen to CDs. When a billboard or other mass media outlet gets the attention of one of my kids, I table the conversation to our dining room table. It’s practically impossible to have a theological discussion going 65 with six screaming kids. We haven’t gotten to dating yet. Talk to me in a couple of years!
Scott and I have so much to learn. But, as parents, we take this part of our job very seriously. If there’s something your family does – of if you do it differently – I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for keeping the conversation positive and constructive!