“Penises can be fun, Kath. But you gotta think, is this guy going to be around in the long run.”
Perhaps I could will my dad to stop talking if I stared out the window with enough intensity. My mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The hospital was a two hour drive from our house. Maybe my dad felt pressure to offer parental guidance with my mom being temporarily out of the picture, or maybe he was just killing driving time. Either way, I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and shout “Lalalalalala!” until he promised to never again utter the word “penis.”
The conversation had come from out of nowhere. It is probably the one and only sex talk I ever had with my dad. We just weren’t that kind of family. The majority of my parental guidance about sex came in the form of “bad girls do, and good girls don’t. Since you are a good girl, that’s all you need to know.”
I’ve recently been talking with a few other moms about how we plan to broach the sex talk with our kids. Granted, we are a little young for the ol’ “penises can be fun” conversation, but it’s never too early to start talking to kids about their bodies and what is appropriate behavior.
The whole topic is a bit confusing for me. My primary objectives are to ensure my kids are safe, well adjusted, and respectful of bodies, their own and others. Single sentence, tall order.
Like most children under the age of five, my children rarely want to be confined by clothes. Every night, they dash out of the room before their dad can towel them off from the bath. They sprint past me taunting “we’re naaaaked!” I chase after them, telling them when I catch them I’m gonna smack their little tushes. I grab them and tickle their little bellies before forcing them to put on their PJs.
I’m a hippie mom. If they want to be naked, I say, let them be naked. But then I have to start thinking about this in terms of safety and appropriate behavior. It is not always ok to be naked. How do I explain this to them? The list gets complicated fast. It’s ok in our house. And at your grandparents’ house after a bath. And at the doctor’s office, as long as mommy or daddy are in the room. And at school if you have an accident and need to change clothes. And at the swimming pool if Mom changes your clothes right in front of everyone, instead of walking twenty feet to the locker room. Ugh, Liam still has trouble determining right from left. There is no way he’s going to remember all those rules.
There is also the question of what is naked? We had a play date today. Kellen runs up and asks me to take his shirt off. Then Liam says the same thing. I look in Liam’s room, and one of the boys has his shirt off. They are listening and air guitaring along to Joan Jett. The boy tells me he has to have his shirt off to rock. Which of course makes perfect sense, and I let them go about their business. Only later did I think, should I have put a stop to that? Is it confusing to say “we are only naked in our house, only in front of Mommy or Daddy” and then look the other way in the name of rock? Did the other moms make a mental note to not send their daughters to my house once they became teenagers, lest the naked unless rocking rule continue on after puberty?
Within these conversations with other mothers, I was introduced to a worry I hadn’t even thought of- abusers in the form of other children. When I think of keeping my kids safe, I automatically imagine protecting them from priests, drifters, and dads wearing those square plastic framed glasses known as “child molesters.” I hadn’t really considered an older child trying to inflict harm in that way. Of course, Liam LOVES playing with older kids. If a seven year old takes the time to throw Liam a ball at the playground, he will beam with pride for the rest of the day. How do I ensure that his admiration is never preyed upon?
I am still figuring out how to navigate this discussion, and I’m sure it will get many revisions over the years. But hopefully by initiating dialogue early on, when I say the word “penis” they will listen to what I have to say, instead of staring out the window, tuning me out. Or maybe that’s too much to ask. No one wants to hear a parent say “penis.” Ewww. I gotta go wash my mouth out with soap.
Note: My approach to this subject was a bit light, but this is a serious topic. I am just an unpaid blogger, not an expert of any kind. Here are a couple of articles that I found helpful.