For the first few years of parenting, I imagined the day with a measure of dread. They’re so sweet and innocent and how is it possible that they will ever be big enough to have to know stuff about body hair, puberty, periods, contraception. I didn’t even consider factoring rape into the discussion. And being a young, naïve parent I somehow imagined that the talk was a one-time event that would occur at some point in the distant future. Like getting a driver’s licence… but with more discomfort. Okay, maybe that wasn’t the greatest comparison – the process of actually getting my driver’s licence came with a huge deal of discomfort.
As I became a slightly more experienced (aka opinionated) parent, my mental preparation evolved. As soon as they asked the first question, I would respond with an age appropriate answer, love, clarity and zero embarrassment. I would be matter-of-fact about all matters relating to body. I would emphasise the normalcy of it all so as to avoid them growing up with all sorts of hang ups. I would emphasise love and maturity and informed choice. My kids would feel comfortable to ask me anything, confident in the knowledge that I would answer them with love and openness.
The reality is slightly different though. This was never to be a once off conversation. And it was never the clichéd “where do babies come from?” that I had been mentally preparing for. This was never clearer than on the day that my almost 10 year old son overheard a news report about a 10 year old girl that was pregnant and asked how it was possible. Instead of being sweet and innocent, I found myself explaining the horrors of molestation, rape and the basic mechanics of sex in one go, which with the benefit of hindsight was probably too much, too soon and hardly age appropriate. But my thought process at the time was that if a girl, barely older than him was capable of conceiving, then maybe he needed to know it all. And when you’re caught off guard, it’s not easy to know where to start and stop. Another thing… as a trained doula with a bit of knowledge about the processes of pregnancy and birth, I tend to get a bit technical about these sort of things. I worry that I have bombarded my poor children with too much of the actual biology, not to mention my own biases.
Despite my best intentions about open lines of communication and my kids being free and comfortable to talk to me about anything… they are often just not that keen to talk. My boy child especially. We’ve had a couple of good chats, but they’re never easy. I think that no matter how open minded and liberal a parent may be, it’s just not that easy to talk comfortably about sex. It’s been slightly easier with my daughter. She loves a good chat and seems fairly comfortable discussing things with me. The most important thing that I have realised with having two older kids is that the talks have to happen and happen again. And again. Their filters are so different at each age and what they have taken in from our early talks is very different from what they take in now as a tween and a teen. And the conversations mostly need to be started by me. I need to check in regularly and find out where they’re at, and hopefully they will follow with what they want to know.
I don’t think that kids should be left to get Sex Ed from school but I’m extremely grateful that my children’s school has an annual workshop for the senior primary students where they’re given age appropriate talks about all sorts of tricky subjects. These talks happened last week and have opened the doors to conversations between the kids and I. We’ve talked about a whole host of things in the last few days. In light of the horrible Brock case that has been all over the news this week, I realised that the talks also need to emphasise my daughter’s right to say NO, no matter the person or situation. And for my son… that No is always No, and saying nothing doesn’t mean consent.
It’s a learning curve, as is everything with parenting. What has your approach to “the birds and bees” been? And how do you feel about talking about the really uncomfortable stuff like rape?