‘Being open and talking about puberty, periods, sex, and relationships with your child keeps the door open to discuss other issues as well.’ One mum of two shares why she decided to make it a point to discuss these topics with both her daughter and son early on
The other night, Lula walked into the kitchen with great determination while I was waiting for something to boil on the stove.
Lula: Mom? Can I open an Instagram account?
Me: No. Absolutely not.
Lula: Why? (said not very respectfully and with great annoyance)
Me: Do you want me to show you all the scientific articles that prove that Instagram will ruin your life? Do you really think I’d let you get on an app that basically has pornographic images disguised as ‘art’ as well as content that could cause you to be anorexic – and all before you turn 16? Or have a bunch of creepy men contacting you? I don’t think so!
Lula: But Addie (her 12-year-old friend) is on Instagram!
Me: Good for her! That’s between her and her mama.
Exit Lula, probably rolling her eyes on the way out.
Usually I end these conversations with, “I love you so much, and it’s my job as your mother to protect you as long as I can. When you’re 18, you can do whatever you want.” Of course, that’s just a random number. I plan to keep her close and away from harm until she’s at least 30! (Joking, not joking).
We don’t tiptoe around conversations in our home. I don’t believe that’s useful or helpful for my children. My tone isn’t always so blunt, but we’ve already had this conversation before. So a hard no was in order here. Of course sometimes when they start the “why” game, I say to Lula in particular, “I’m not going to give you reasons because no matter what I say, you won’t listen. The answer is no.” But in general, my husband, Jay, and I have always tried to explain, with age-appropriateness in mind, whatever it is our kids want to know.
Remember the conversation I had with Lula about the kid who wanted her to send him pictures of her? That’s another example of when a straightforward, candid conversation could’ve been awkward but was necessary. And remember the results? She listened to my reasons and acted accordingly!
We told our kids about sex when they were 5 and 7 yrs-old
One of the scariest, or maybe most awkward, topics parents have to address is sex. Even with this “big one”, Jay and I have tried to be open and candid. Most people are shocked when they find out that we told our two kids about sex when they were only five and seven years old. Before you gasp and heap on judgment, let me explain why and how having that conversation at a very young age led to having candid conversations with our kids.
Jay and I grew up in wonderful homes with very loving, present parents who we are still close with today. However, they weren’t super open about those awkward topics. I didn’t even know what a period was until I started mine, and then my mom told me! Talk about shocking! I also learned about sex from a famous male family psychologist explaining what it was on cassette tapes. I had to listen to them with my mom in the car, and at the end, she said, “Do you have any questions?”
And that was the end of my sex education! The rest of it I learned about from friends over the next few years.
My husband had a similar experience… he was given a book to read, which he never did, and that was the end of that! We were both determined to have a different, more open relationship with our kids regarding these matters. I imagine every parent goes into raising kids with this plan: to do things differently than their parents. And then we all end up doing things at least half the same way in the end… because our parents actually knew a few things and we can now appreciate that! But I digress.
We had no idea that we would end up telling our kids about sex when they were five and seven years old. But when my daughter started asking me about sex after hearing some kids at school discuss it, we decided we didn’t have much choice. It was us or them.
So on a road trip as we were driving, my husband and I shared the facts of life with our kids. We gave it to them in age-appropriate terms. Keeping it very simple and basic but clear. We allowed them to ask questions, and of course there was a lot of giggling! Some of the questions we said we would address later when they were older, but we tried to give them a good overview along with our beliefs and values about sex before marriage, etc. For a month or so after that first conversation, they continued to ask specific questions. And again, some were answered, some were not. I loved that they felt comfortable asking us anything they wanted no matter how weird or awkward. That was exactly our goal.
Having the “period talk” with kids
This candidness has continued over the years, as we’ve had to readdress some of these topics. Another way I decided to keep the conversations open was by sharing with both of them about “that time of the month”.
This is really awkward for me, something I barely even discuss with my husband. You might have the impression at this point that I’m just an open book! Loud, maybe a little obnoxious, and completely at ease with discussing bodily functions, etc. But you would be completely wrong. I am one of the most private, modest, don’t-want-to-have-an-awkward conversation people I know. However, parenting has changed me. Wanting to be more open with my kids has allowed me to be more open in general, and I find it refreshing and freeing.
Back to “period talk.” I wanted both my son and daughter to understand this big thing that happens to half the world’s population every single month. Not just to understand it, but also to consider it normal and not a big deal. I started talking to them both about a few years ago, knowing that my daughter would be entering into this phase of life at any time.
How did I do that? Simply stating sometimes, “I’m on my period, which is making me really, really tired and grumpy. I don’t feel like playing right now.” We had also discussed puberty with the kids and how boys and girls’ bodies both change physically, and how girls start to get periods.
Getting rid of taboo conversations
Why do I talk to my son about periods too? Because he’s going to have girlfriends someday and most likely a wife. He also has an older sister he’ll be living with for many more years. I wanted to build empathy in him from an early age. I didn’t want this to be a taboo, awkward topic. I still find it embarrassing to announce such things to my kids, but I make myself do it.
We don’t have a perfect family or perfect relationship by any means! Opening up to them in these ways, though, has allowed us to be open and communicate so much more on every level. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change how we approached these issues. I’d do it exactly the same way. I love that my kids feel comfortable around us and can share gross, awkward and embarrassing things.
I realize cultural differences are at play here. I’m American, and we tend to be louder and more open. However, when it comes to raising kids, I think it’s important for every parent to establish open communication with their children. Especially in our current society where there are so many more dangers than ever before. Social media and the Internet have introduced so many new challenges to parenting. We’re all navigating these new dangers together.
But by being open about the “normal” things… like puberty, sex, relationships, and your family’s values and beliefs, this keeps the door open to discuss all of the new issues as well. If you’re talking to your child about puberty well before it hits, you become the resource and their go-to expert for all of the other issues they will face… hopefully!