There is a question you don’t expect to get while ironing clothes the day of a big family vacation. Nevertheless my 9 year (at the time) with angelic face and sincerity was asking the question. As I cautiously pressed the iron along the pant leg of my overalls “stall for time,” I thought then I unexpectedly heard my voice calmly say, “What do you mean?” Her response was more chilling than the initial question, “[blank’s] cousin asked me if I would ‘do it’ with him and his cousin.” Take me now Jesus cause I just can’t go on. What do you say to your 9 year old the day of a big vacation about ‘doing it?’ Luckily I had a four hour flight and plenty of support on the ground to help her, and to help me.
While I can look back at that moment some 12 years ago now and almost laugh, at the time as a parent I was terrified, angry, unprepared, and acutely aware that how I responded would make the difference in our relationship henceforth. Beyond the terror that something may have happened to her or she was exposed to something was the anger I felt for innocence I perceived was being lost. I was angry that someone asked her that question, angry that I was not prepared, and angry that I did not have time to plan the response out and I was scared. I asked her if she thought we could talk about it on the plane; she said sure. Then I instructed her to go grab her bags so we could load up the car. I did not know then I was devising steps to responding/talking about sexuality and other sensitive topics but I was already on step 3.
I don’t know if any one is ever ready to talk to their child about sexuality but I do know that being prepared alleviates some of the anxiety. I’ve also learned that there is no such thing as “The Talk” because as my daughter grew more conversations about puberty, friends, dating, make-up, clothes, love, sex, music, movies, television, pop culture, religion, and our family values all played a part in her development. I was right about my response determining how our relationship grew going forward. Because I didn’t ‘freak out’, I didn’t shame her or scare her, I asked questions and I listened to her thoughts, she continues to this day to seek my input. I’m proud to say my daughter at 21 uses me out as a sounding board. She tells me, “mom I just need you to listen.” I’m ok with her friends teasing her that she tells her mom everything; of course I don’t think she does but the point is I’m here and she knows I’m here. Even when we disagree the conversations don’t stop, they may get heated but they don’t stop. That experience changed my life and my career path. Talking with your child can be one of the most laughable, enlightening, sometimes annoying, but beneficial things you can do in your family. Below are some of my steps and tips for parents on talking.
- You are their source; never get tired of answering “why.”
- Stay calm; if you freak out they will try to protect you from yourself.
- Ask for clarification of questions so you understand what they are asking.
- Go beyond ‘because I said so’ this will help them understand and encourage reasoning skills
- When in doubt find the answers together. You don’t have to be an expert on everything.
- Words are powerful, be careful how you use them.
- Listen, listen, listen!