“Mommy, what’s an erection?”
Morgan was six, Wendy was four and I was pregnant with Thomas. Morgan’s questions were detailed and specific, including a demand for information on just how, exactly, that baby got in my tummy. I explained that for her baby brother to reside in my tummy would have required an act of cannibalism, but an act of sex was what landed him in my uterus.
While responding to her exhaustive interview on the rise of the male sex organ, I noticed that Wendy had retained her right to remain silent. She was frowning, drawing pictures on the wall with her fingers and quietly singing to herself. I asked if she had any questions and she silenced her crooning and glared at me. As she opened her mouth to speak, her pained look suggested there was no way in hell this was going to work for her.
“I just want a cat.”
During pre-adolescence, all three kids approached me with similar concerns, convinced something was terribly wrong with them because of their ineffectiveness in barricading the barrage of sexual thoughts and the desire to touch themselves. I assured them that what they were feeling was perfectly normal and commiserated with them over the juxtaposition of physical maturity and the lack of emotional readiness. On discussing the concept of masturbation, I received a collective expression of gratitude and sighs of considerable relief for the fact that such terminology actually existed.
As a teenager, Morgan presented me with a request to host her boyfriend and five or six additional friends in a co-ed sleepover. This raised the obvious question of whether or not my child was ready to become sexually active. I already knew the answer because she had already voiced it. She was not. I could have given her request a quick rebuttal and tuned out her protests, but I wanted her to understand my reasons for saying “no.”
My explanation, which was intermittently interjected with the phrase, “But, Mommy!” went something like this: “If you came to me with a decision to have sex with your boyfriend, this would be a different discussion. But here’s what’s dancing in my head. I’m sound asleep at 2:00 AM and no longer supervising. Your friends are also asleep or paired off and you and your boyfriend are sleeping bag snuggle bugs. Things go to a place you didn’t anticipate and you cross a line you were not prepared to cross. You are subsequently filled with regret and possible self-loathing and I am the parent who has put you in that position. Do you see my dilemma? I’m not going to be the mom facilitating that.”
“It’s not fair! Nothing’s going to happen!”
Two hours and several incarnations later, she got it. She really got it. She explained it to her boyfriend and eventually admitted her relief in my protecting her. My patience in repeatedly explaining it to her paid off and has turned out to be one of the most valuable tools in my parental shed. So, on similar occasions, dinner got cold, the movie was DVR’d or the outing happened another day. Helping my children understand “why” was a consistency I was not willing to give up. Impatience is a distraction and a preventative measure in what we are trying to accomplish. Helping them fully understand my decisions created an open line of communication that set the tone for our relationships.
Sexuality is a scary subject, especially when it comes to our children. Most of us remain in a state of bewilderment about it our entire lives. How can we be expected to adequately explain it to them? This thing we all engage in has the capability of bringing us the most precious gifts we will ever receive and, when treated lovingly, is a gift in itself. We are culturally bombarded by images of sexuality while simultaneously shamed for acknowledging that incredibly powerful drive. Much of our confusion seems to lie in the fact that it is often implemented as nothing more than a physical act, so how do we justify that to our children? Do we have to?
Expending time and energy molding parts of our children into what we think they should be is inefficient and quite tragic when their own limitless beauty is right in front of us. There are so many different pieces, but their sexuality is one we seem to want to control. We crave their happiness but we often make the assumption that they must then obtain our individual ideals. What are we so afraid of? We say we want them to be who they are, but then balk at the idea that their choices might fall outside the lines of cultural acceptance. How can we expect society to accept diversity if we can’t embrace it in our own children?
Denying any facet of our children is to instill fear and to teach them to lie. To truly approach their newborn clean slates with the love, compassion, honesty and respect they deserve is to accept all that is real to them and administer their emotional equipment for facing the current surplus of cultural judgment and intolerance. In this era of slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, campus rape and gender and sexual orientation discrimination, among many other issues, it is essential. And what parent would want to deny their children the strongest possible connection they will ever experience?
My children trust me because I have never judged them or invaded their privacy. I do not mean I set out to be their cool best buddy. It is my job to provide guidance and age-appropriate boundaries and to furnish a safe haven for all of their questions.
Raising my children transformed me in unimaginable ways. Until I held them in my arms, I didn’t truly grasp the concept of unconditional love. I would do anything for them. I would die for them without hesitation and without expectation. So, why would I ever want to shame and deny them the experience of binding their innermost selves with the human being of their choice? There is nothing greater.
It is simple and has become a cliché, but it is a cliché for a reason. True respect is mutual and only comes in the form of reciprocity. Teach love. The rest will fall into place.