“Mommy, are you a boy or a girl?”
Over the last few weeks, this has been my daughter’s favorite question. Wherever we are, whoever we see, she wants to know “are they a boy or a girl”? It is such an innocent question, and yet as soon as my darling three-year-old began asking it, I knew it it was just a matter of time before I would have to have the “pre-talk” with my pre-schooler.
I have always touted that I would be the kind of mom who was upfront with my kids about their body. None of this “pee-pee” and “hoo-hoo” stuff, we were going to go with the anatomically correct names for their body parts. But as we near the day that my daughter begins asking, “How do you know Daddy is a boy”, I can feel myself wanting to chicken out. I mean, I can just see it- my angle-faced girl, proudly announcing to her grandfather that he’s a boy because he has a penis! Penis is a big word for such a tiny mouth. I want to find a hole to die in just imagining it.
Despite my personal discomfort, I do truly feel it’s important to teach our kids the real names for their body parts. Not because there is anything inherently wrong with nicknames, but because I believe this is the foundational conversation I’ll have with my kids about their bodies and I want to start it off on level ground.
Maybe I’m being overly dramatic here, but I have this sense that a lot is riding on this conversation.
I desperately want to be the sex expert in my kid’s lives. Meaning, I don’t want them to ever think that Tommy in geometry knows more than I do about how their body works and how sex should fit into their lives. And God forbid they turn to Google!
But these are embarrassing and difficult topics for kids (and adults) so it’s understandable that they would seek out a low-pressure source for their answers. They are only going to come to me with their questions if I make it clear that I am a safe place, a freak-out free zone, and a reliable source who will give it to them straight. I can also make them brownies while we talk, so beat that Tommy in geometry!
My husband and I have discussed this many times. Initially, he was a proponent of nicknames and felt he’d rather die than talk to his daughter about her vagina…understandably. But, we’ve agreed that using the correct terms for body parts will allow us to have an even more important conversation with them about “private parts”. We want to teach our kids the names of their vagina and penis, but then explain that it is not polite to talk to others, outside of mommy, daddy, and doctors, about these parts because they are private.
This is the first step towards another important conversation about who is allowed access to their body and how. Our hope is to empower our kids by giving them language to talk about their bodies while teaching them about their rights and physical boundaries.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “Recent research shows that knowing the correct anatomical terms enhances kids’ body image, self-confidence, and openness. It also discourages their susceptibility to molesters.”
For this reason, I want to be intentional with this “pre-talk”. It’s the first chance I’m going to have to prove to my kids that I’m going to answer their more awkward questions honestly and without shame.
A third aspect to the pre-talk is the invitation to keep the conversation going. We’ve all heard of the dreaded “talk”, but I believe a better model is not to have just one talk, but a series of conversations throughout your child’s life.
A dear friend of mine, Deena, is a counselor and an amazing mommy of two. Her kids are several years older than mine and I often look to her example to learn how I might handle the upcoming milestones in my own kid’s lives.
Deena and her husband have successfully established this kind of open and safe environment for their kids and have already had several conversations about bodies and sex with their 8 and 10-year-old. While I was preparing for this post, we got lunch and I asked for her input. She made two points about creating an ongoing conversation and I simply have to share them with you:
- Sex is a lot like Math: The reason it is important to have a series of conversations about sex rather than a single conversation is that, much like math, each conversation you have builds on the information your child has gained from the previous conversation. You wouldn’t dream of sitting down and teaching your kid long division without first teaching them how to count, add, and subtract, right? They wouldn’t be able to grasp the intricacies of it. The same is true of sex. They need the proper background information (biological, social and spiritual) before you can ever have an effective conversation. This takes time to build.
- Only answer the questions your kid is asking: Make sure these conversations are child-led. This means, let your kids come to you with their questions and then be sure you are answering the question they are actually asking…not what you assume they are asking. Deena’s son once asked what “sex” meant. Because she is a genius, she thought to ask about the context in which he had heard it. By his answer, she was able to inform him that “sex” can be a demographic term meaning male or female and she avoided launching into a conversation about the birds and the bees before he was ready to talk about it.
So, yes, perhaps I am putting a little too much weight on my daughter’s innocent inquisitions. But if I am, it’s only because I see it as a chance to build a relationship of openness and honesty with my girl. As parents, we have this incredible opportunity to speak truth into our kid’s lives, but that’s easily lost to Google if we are not intentional.
So let’s have those hard conversations and let’s say those big words. And let’s fight to be the sex experts in our kid’s lives.