Anika and I have started reading a new series of books together – my all-time favorite as a teenager, the Christy Miller series. Pure gold. And lots of fantastic descriptions of nineties clothes. I had completely forgotten about swatch watches!
I have to confess, there are times when I feel extremely uncomfortable reading that first book aloud. When Ben came into the room just as I was reading about Todd’s “screaming silver-blue eyes”, I decided to wait until he left the room before I continued! I knew he would mock the cheesiness.
But outdated fashions and cheesy teen romance aside, reading these books is accomplishing exactly what I hoped for – only one chapter last night led to a discussion about make-up, flirting, dating too many boys, one-night stands, and sexually transmitted diseases. And we’re only on Book 1!!!
I once heard a speaker say that as a parent, you need to be the one talking to your kid about all of the difficult, important, uncomfortable stuff, and you need to do it before they turn 12. His reason made sense – before that age, they want to hear your opinion. They’re eager to spend time with you, and there’s no defensiveness in topics like dating, because they aren’t doing it yet (hopefully!). If you try talking about it when the kid is 16 and already dating, nothing you say will go in. Plant those seeds early.
I completely agree with this, but it means talking to Anika about stuff that’s just hard to talk about. I’ve actually heard a surprising number of parents admit to avoiding these types of conversations, with the hope that their kid will hear about it elsewhere. It makes me incredibly sad when I hear stuff like that, because this is a big one.
It’s not just one talk – it’s an ongoing conversation which will have a huge impact on what kind of relationship a parent will have with their child throughout the teen years. Avoiding the topic as a parent could lead to the child avoiding it as a teenager, and I definitely want to be the one Anika feels safe talking to about anything in the years to come.
Here’s what I’ve learned about talking to my daughter about sex:
1) Start talking when your child is young.
My wise sister once told me, “No child should start grade four without being taught about sex. If you don’t tell her about it, someone else will.” It felt really young to me, and when Anika looked at me with her big, innocent eyes, I felt terror in my heart, but I wanted to be the one to have that talk with her.
It was my little friend who taught me about the birds and the bees, when she explained why Ken and Barbie needed to be naked in bed together. Totally traumatized, I went home to my mom, and she tried to repair the damage. She must have done a good job, because I remember many more conversations with her after that, and I always felt comfortable talking to her about anything.
I used to think I could keep Anika safe by protecting and shielding her from learning too much, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I keep her safe by teaching her how to deal with it, and helping her process it all.
I can become that safe place for her, instead of trying make ignorance the safe place.
2) Start talking long before you have “The Talk”.
We talk a lot with our kids about everything. I felt this helped – I was already comfortable talking with Anika about many topics, so talking about sex kind of followed – the foundation had already been laid.
Because I planned to tell her about sex the summer before she entered grade four, I started sharing little bits of information months before that – just little stuff about how a baby is born, or explaining body parts in more detail, so there wouldn’t be so much information for her to take in all at once. I had a miscarriage when Anika was old enough to remember, and that also led to opportunities for talking about baby-making.
3) You know your kid better than anyone.
I felt so afraid before that first talk with Anika, but looking back, I wish I would have remembered that I am what she needs. God made me her mom, and I have known her, loved her, and cared for her all the years of her life. I can read her, and understand her. My words were far from perfect, but that was okay.
I started off by explaining the most basic information, and then she started asking questions. The rest of the conversation continued like that – she asked, I answered, she asked, I answered. I didn’t have to figure out what to talk about next, because she led the conversation. I knew exactly how much she could take in, because she asked the questions as she was ready to hear more.
This strategy may not work if you’ve got a kid who doesn’t ask questions, but in that case, I’m guessing you, as the parent who loves and understands your child, will find a way. Trust yourself to be awesome – for them.
4) Take the pressure off yourself.
I don’t really remember exactly what I said – it’s all a bit of a blur. I was pretty nervous. But you know what I found out? That first talk is just the first of many. And if it’s ongoing, you don’t have to get it perfect on the first try. If you forget to say something, you’ll say it next time. If you say it wrong, you’ll think of a better way in the future. I don’t think you can wreck a kid in one conversation, so we’ll all be okay.
Sometimes I lament to Ben about how I want to be a better parent, and I don’t want to do things that will cause permanent baggage for our kids. And Ben always says the same thing: “Everybody has baggage. Our kids WILL have baggage. We can’t be perfect parents, but we cantry to give them the tools to deal with their baggage later on.”
You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be the one to do it.
5) Pray like crazy.
Ben prayed with me before I went to talk with Anika about sex that first time, and I know it helped, because as I sat there on the bed with her, I happened to catch sight of an electrical outlet out of the corner of my eye, and I was saved – I won’t go into detail here, but let me just say, it’s much easier to talk about plugging a cord into an electric outlet than it is to talk about body parts. I would never have thought of explaining it in that way on my own. God can make a way where there seems to be no way! He can give words and insights right when you need them.
6) It takes two. Or more.
Ben and I decided that I would talk with Anika the first time, but he would follow up shortly after, because we want her to be able to talk openly with both of us whenever she feels the need. When I was growing up, my friends were always amazed that I talked with my dad about boys and kissing and whatever else. I felt totally comfortable talking about anything with him, and I enjoyed hearing what he had to say. I love the relationship our girls have with Ben, and he adds a perspective to the conversation that they need to hear.
As a teenager, I remember often talking to my Sunday school teacher or youth pastor about boys, and I think it really helped to have awesome Christian adults to talk to besides my parents. I think we need to pray for people to come into our kids’ lives who will also build into them, and reenforce what we’re trying to do as parents.
7) Expect the unexpected.
I went into that conversation feeling a great sense of dread, but you know what? It was kind of amazing. Anika was great. She asked smart, hilarious questions. She was not traumatized. She did fantastic. And I felt that our relationship grew as a result of that conversation. I did not expect that. So it might not be as horrible or traumatic as you’re imagining.;)
8) Leave some for later.
There came a point in that first conversation when I could tell Anika had taken in as much as she could process, so I followed the advice of a wise friend. When her son asks a question, and she feels it isn’t quite time for him to know the answer, she says, “There is an answer to your question, but I need you to trust me as your mom – I will tell you the answer when you need to know.”
So I told Anika there was more to say, but we’d talk more about it all another time.
9) Be realistic about the topics you need to cover.
Things were pretty basic when I got my first sex talk. A lot has changed since then, and while some parents may not be completely comfortable educating children about abortion, sexual abuse, STDs, pornography, or same-sex relationships, these are things they need to hear about at earlier ages than when we were kids.
If we don’t tell them what they need to know, they’ll hear it elsewhere, and we won’t be able to set the tone or choose the angle from which we begin these conversations. It’s time for us as parents take back this territory – our kids desperately need us to.
Have any tips you could add?