“Mommy, my friend said her brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. How can someone that’s not married have a baby?” Alicia, seven at the time, asked this question immediately after school one day, as she emptied out her lunch box.
Alicia had a knack for asking all the tough questions, always keeping me on my toes. With God coaching me, and a few good friends to encourage me, her questions taught me this: Talking about sexuality, in a healthy way, shouldn’t be that different from teaching our kids how to play ‘patty-cake, patty-cake…’ or how to cook, read, write or handle money. It’s all part of good parenting. Quite honestly, I’ve done better in this area than some of the others.
“Well, it isn’t just married people who have babies,” I answered, still trying to form an age-appropriate answer. “When people live together and sleep together, like married people, they sometimes have babies too. But that’s not God’s plan for people.”
I wasn’t quite ready for the ‘sex talk’ so I kept it real, but superficial, hoping it would be enough.
She asked several other questions, trying to sort out what it all means. Did it make God sad? And if God makes babies, then why would it happen before people get married? Could just anyone suddenly be pregnant? (Way to keep it ‘light’, girl!)
I explained that by sleeping together, and living the way God planned for married people to live and sleep together, they do their part in making the baby.
“A man and a woman have to be together for that to happen, it doesn’t just happen. And babies are always special. It might be a mistake to sleep together, but the baby is never a mistake.”
Not perfect, but it was the best I knew. And it satisfied her. For a while.
Up to this point I had told them that God takes a part of the daddy, and part of the mommy, to make a baby in the mommy’s tummy. I was in no hurry to explain that we play a predominant (and fun!) role in that miracle making process. Back then the thought of talking to my children about it, in any detail, was still awkward and unnerving, even looking ahead to when they would be ready. Fortunately each ‘baby step’ prepares you for the next, and we don’t have to do it all in one day.
Starting in the bathtub when they were still toddlers, I explained body parts, using appropriate names. I told them that this is stuff we talk about at home, with our family, but not with other people. And if other people start talking about it, we tell them we only talk about this at home. This teaching resulted in our one son returning home from school, in grade one, having had an interesting conversation.
“One of the boys at school told us that all boys have a peanut,” Bryan said.
I wanted to laugh, but he was dead serious, so I responded calmly, “Really?”
“Yes. But I told them, ‘it’s not a peanut! It’s a p-e-e-n-i-s-s-s-s….’” he said, enunciating the ‘s’ in the appropriate word.
“Very good!” And with that he was off to play.
Shortly before her tenth birthday, Alicia had more question. The years in between had been the normal talks of respect, how to treat others, and how to expect to be treated. But that couldn’t last forever. I always assumed that if they asked detailed questions, then detailed answers were in order. The time had come.
“Mommy, today at school I had to look up a word that started with ‘ex’. And someone had written an ‘s’ in front of it. I showed it to my friends.”
“I see. Did you girls look up what it means?” I asked, curious.
“No. We talked about it and decided maybe it was bad and we shouldn’t look it up,” she answered.
“Good for you,” I said. It wasn’t that looking it up would have been bad, but that they collectively decided what was the right thing to do, and did, made me proud. ”But it isn’t bad,” I added.
“So, Mommy, what does ‘sex’ mean?”
Tim had left with the other four children, and Alicia and I were alone at home.
“Go get a pen and paper, and I’ll explain what it is, if you want,” I said. She nodded and ran off to get the materials.
I whispered a silent prayer… “Oh God, help! I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here!”
We sat at the island, and she watched intently as I drew the torso of a female and a male body, with detailed internal and external sex organs. I explained that sex can simply mean ‘gender’, or it can be an act between a man and a woman.
I told her about sperm, the female egg, the monthly cycle–in more detail than I had already told her about–and the birthing process. I explained the simple facts again, saying that God takes part of the daddy, and part of the mommy to make the baby. This time that wasn’t enough.
“But how does He get it from the daddy into the mommy?” She asked. “Does the daddy have to touch the mommy?”
I pointed out how the male is created and how the female is created, and how it all fits, and that the male has to transfer sperm into the female. I didn’t explain erections, penetration or the intimate pleasure of love-making. That would come later.
When I had finished, she continued to stare at the paper, in absolute silence. For a brief moment I was sure I had overwhelmed her. Destroyed her innocence.
She looked up, her face filled with awe, “Cool!” she exclaimed.
And that was the end of that, for another two years, when, on the night of her twelfth birthday she asked yet more questions. Her birthday was a month later, and I took her out for dinner to celebrate, and I told her we would have ‘the talk’ with her siblings later. For now it was something she could talk to myself or daddy about.
Not all parents are comfortable with this level of detail at ten, while others will have ‘told all’ at a younger age. I cannot say what is right for everyone, but it has been good for our children.
The important thing is to be available, to never shame or punish children for asking tough question or being curious. Yes, it’s a bit scary at first, especially if we didn’t get that from our parents, but it’s important.
Our sexuality it a beautiful thing, a wonderful gift from God, and our responses either confirm that truth, or they warp it. We either equip our children, and free them from shame, or we give shame power.
How will you influence your children?
© Trudy Metzger
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