caligula would have blushed


In yesterday’s comments, Chip put it out there, and I agree this is a great question: “To all commenters with kids….. how do you prepare or plan to prepare your daughters (and sons) for the world of sex and relationships?”

I think this is such an enormous topic/problem/pursuit that I’ll attempt to answer it simply, with bullet points.

• There is no strategy or golden bullet. Any success you have will come from an entire lifetime of reinforcement.

• We want Lucy to see what everyday love looks like, so we try to show each other respect in front of her, as well as a non-gross bit of PDA.

• I sing Tessa’s praises to her when Tessa isn’t around. Perhaps that will imbue in Lucy the importance of finding somebody who truly thinks she’s amazing.

• You can’t shelter your brood from disappointment or heartache; you can only give them tools to deal with it when it happens (that’s a whole other blog).

• I think both of us have subtly reinforced the notion that finding her passion – or ONE OF her passions – is of tremendous importance. Maybe, much later, she’ll take away the idea that her romantic life can blossom once she has found a greater purpose, as opposed to basing her self-worth on the vicissitudes of dudes.

• The Lulubeans is only 7, and she is decidedly in no hurry to grow up. She is an ethereal cloud of random boisterousness, prone to nostalgia, and as Tessa says, she’s “a bit Edwardian”. Her favorite TV shows are Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls and Downton Abbey. She talks about her friends in 1st grade having crushes on boys (and can diagram them for you), but she’s much more interested in learning about surgeries and musicals. All this to say, we delight in her age of innocence and have no plans to scoot her into experience.


Lucy wonders if Uncle Seth is gonna eat that

I’m fascinated, however, to ask the same question of all of you. Even if you don’t have kids, how would you go about it? Those of you with older children, how the hell did you do it?

[WED. UPDATE… excellent comments so far, but this stuff is important, and more input has been requested! C’mon, people, I know it’s the middle of summer, but be more communal, community! – ed.]

10 thoughts on “caligula would have blushed

  1. Ehren

    I remember my dad coming home from work and slow-dancing with my mom in the hallway for a minute from time to time. I think that sort of thing really does leave a lasting impression.
    I have no other thoughts other than to say that these bullets seem great. As a guy, my parents felt like they had a different set of marching orders when it came to preparing me for relationships, but I don’t really remember my parents giving me any explicit advice on the matter, except perhaps to be a bit less of a pushover with some early relationships.

  2. TPQ

    You can only show by example. All of your points are true. You guys are already doing an amazing job. I think the hardest part is as they get older, you want them to think independently and not go along with the crowd. If they are independent thinkers/ leaders among their peers, they will also be independent thinkers around you. Causes some pretty good “discussions” at home. As much as you want to be their friend, and you can be, you have to be the parent first.

  3. Kmeelyon

    I don’t have kids after all which sometimes is a surprise to me.
    But anyway, I’ve wound up being a sex educator of sorts in my work. At least I’m teaching somebody about sex.
    Three things my mom did which were fantastic and I planned to do them when I became a mom:
    1) She answered any question I asked honestly and without judgment.
    “What are lesbians?” was “Oh, those are women who have sex with women instead of men.”
    “How do they do it without penises?” “They use their fingers.”
    Oh! Okay.
    She wasn’t weird about any of this. And I trusted that if she wasn’t weird about it, then maybe none of it was weird.
    2) When she caught me masturbating as a toddler, there was no shame or judgment. She said, “That’s okay to do, but do it in your room in private.” (Thank you, Mom for not taking that away from me!)
    3) This book Where Did I Come From was just on the bookshelf with all the other books and I found it as a kid and it gave me a lot of good information in kid-friendly terms. I can’t remember if I found that first, but by 7, I was also taking out library books on sex and reproduction in my school. Then I explained stuff to other kids, so maybe I was a sex educator even then.

  4. Kmeelyon

    P.S. Sadly, I can’t say I learned as much about healthy relationships from my parents. I guess you can’t always have it all.

  5. Bozoette Mary

    We answered his questions honestly but simply, and we tried to show him what love looked like. My husband explained the nuts and bolts (so to speak) when he was 10 or so. And, when my husband found a rubber in my son’s pocket, he explained that yes, sex was amazing, but it was most amazing when you did it with someone you loved and who loved you.

  6. Deb

    Slight tangent: We’re sending our 5-year-old boy to camp next week, where they will be changing in and out of swimsuits in a locker room. It’s been a conundrum for us how to explain “bad touching” to him, when we feel it’s too early to explain “good touching”. He’s a super-scientific, analytical kid, so we’ve already answered all his questions about where babies come from, other than the initial “how”. Not because he hasn’t asked, but because we think he’s too young and it could freak him out… right? We’ve always been super-straightforward with him, answering every question about just about everything honestly, and he seems to appreciate it, but there’s something about this one that gives me pause. He knows that he can marry a man or a woman if he wants, and all the options for having kids if he chooses the former, but there’s something about this ONE question that I’m hesitant about answering, and I’m completely stymied as to how to even go about it. Up til now we’ve just discussed the microscopic angle and (clumsily, I’m sure) changed the subject.
    As for the camp thing, so far we’ve told him two things: If anone–a grown-up or kid–does anything that makes you feel bad or uncomfortable or embarrassed, it’s very important that you tell us. And if anyone tells you not to tell your parents, do not listen, and telling us is the first thing you should do. MAN, I hate that we have to worry and talk about this stuff.
    I look forward to reading others’ ideas!

  7. Jackie

    My partner and I each have two grown kids and we’re raising a 15 year old gay son together. So far, no std’s or unwanted pregnancies. No abusive relationships. Some heartache and so far, one excellent marriage.
    We talked about sex early. Not OUR sex, although they knew we had it. We bought books like “where did I come from”. Our youngest is the result of artificial insemination and identified as gay before he started kindergarten. It was difficult to have the kind of talks that we did with the other kids because they usually started with how the kids were conceived. There is a lot to be said for test tubes and syringes but they don’t work for sex talks. And, don’t get me started on how bad a book “Heather Has Two Mommies” is. I know because I had to read it hundreds of times.
    We accepted that our teens would be sexual. We taught them to have the conversations about std’s and what happened if an unplanned pregnancy occured before they got undressed. After is no time to discover that you and your partner disagree about abortions.
    None of this is foolproof. Our 15 year old received a box of 250 condoms from his 24 year old brother along with a note telling him to be careful and that if he needed more (!!!) his brother would get them. (I know this because I asked big brother to do this so that he wouldn’t have the embarrassment of his mother buying h condoms). His 29 year old sister is a sex educator who he calls frequently to talk over friends and relationships. And yet, he still came to us lastontj to say that he had had unprotected sex and was terrified.
    The key, I hope, is that he was terrified and that he could come to us. I asked him if in any way he had been pressured and he said no. We took him to be tested and he was clear. I hope that was the lesson of a lifetime.
    Even in our hardest times we have been respectful and loving. We have insisted that they be respectful and loving. My older son tells the women in his life that he was raised by three strong women and a sister who is five years older and that he has been taught that no is no and that he is responsible for being respectful, loving, good and giving. And, that he knows that after a pregnancy occurs he is not in control.
    I hope they all have great passion and love in their lives but that is no longer in my control ( even with the almost 16 year old).

  8. Jackie

    In response to some of the questions above: we answered any question that was asked but we didn’t give more info than we thought they were asking for. The door was always open but there is a boundary line that they needed to have. Too much info is intrusive and doesn’t help kids learn they have a right to limits.
    As to unwanted touch, we told them that their bodies belonged to them and that no one, not a parent, a teacher or a doctor, anyone, had a right to touch them if they did not want that touch. I stopped tickling my kids when they told me that I was violating my own rule.
    My kids knew early, not because I wanted them to but because a person with no boundaries told them, that I had been sexually abused as a child Since that was part of the equation, we talked about what they wanted to know and what I was willing to share. That was limited but it gave us a way to say “I know what this is like. I know what it’s like to be told not to tell and I want you to come and talk to me if any grown-up makes you uncomfortable.”.

  9. Protective Daddy

    Deb, because of all of the Sandusky talk, we had several conversations with our kids about inappropriate touching by adults, kids or loved ones. They know to scream as loud as they can and seek help from one of us or a policeman or another mommy if they are in a park and someone touches them inappropriately. We are testing their boundaries by letting them go to the bathroom at the pool where we belong. We know most of the people there, but we still count down the seconds while they are gone and I have, on a couple of occasions rushed in, after too much time had passed, only to find the kid was taking a #2 instead of a quick #1. Whew.
    They know that no one can touch them on their private parts. Even with doctors–and our wonderful pediatrician reinforces our message–they are only allowed to be examined when one of us is present.
    In addition to all of those precautions, we have given our kids complete latitude in deciding whether they want to give hugs to people that they meet through us. I read an article called, “Do my kids have to hug grandma” and the article talked about how parents unwittingly set a baseline that kids should go hug this relative or that trusted friend when they meet them. The danger being that we mistakenly make them think that everyone should be trusted. Instead, the article suggested, you should leave it up to the kids. They have a great inner barometer for whether folks can be trusted. So far, there have not been any awkward moments and they are very affectionate with our trusted friends and family. But they never hear me say, “Go give so-and-so a hug.” They have complete discretion.
    Finally, we told our kids that if anyone ever made them feel uncomfortable, whether it was another kid or our best family friends, we would never associate with that person or family again. And, if anyone ever harmed them in the way that Sandusky did those poor kids (no, I didn’t go into details with my kids), I assured them that that daddy would make it so that person never harmed another soul.
    Ever again.

  10. Caitlin

    Starting out by teaching our now 7 year old daughter the right words for body parts. Although it was kind of hilarious hearing her run around naked after a bath at age 4 saying “I’m gonna shake my booty!” (learned at preschool) followed by “I’m gonna shake my vulva!” And it can sound a little too clinical. But hey, she should know what her own anatomy is all about, and I care enough about words that this is important to me.
    We’ve talked a little bit about sex. She certainly has seen her dad’s body and her best friend’s, so she is familiar with the idea of penises. She asked questions at the zoo when we saw two randy donkeys mating. I try to answer questions as they come up in a relaxed and informative way.
    As for relationships, I hope to show her that in a strong relationship people can disagree while still being secure in their love for each other.

  11. chip

    Since I posed the question,
    1) I appreciate the answers
    2) I’ll write more myself tonight
    3) I was thinking more of the relationship aspect than anything else.

  12. Alyson

    I am wondering what we’ll call my baby daughter’s vagina when she’s old enough to talk. It seems every family has a word for it, but I don’t like any of them. Maybe we’ll just stick with vagina from the start.
    I have thought about how to talk to her about not only sex, but her period and all the other developments that come with puberty, too. I just want her to feel okay about everything without feeling awkward about learning things from her mom. My mom gave me great information, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about crushes and other boy stuff. If my daughter chooses to never talk to me about those things, I think it would be fine. I just don’t want her to have the anxiety over it that I did.
    My husband and I have talked a lot about how it’s important for her to see how much he and I love each other and respect each other. Neither one of us saw as much of that from our parents as we should have, and the example of a good marriage is a gift indeed.

  13. Deb

    It’s interesting that I went immediately to the question that seems “harder”: the sex talk. Maybe I just assume that if my husband and I have a good relationship, that will just rub off on the kids, so it doesn’t need explaining or nurturing. Whenever we fight or even have a friendly–but heated–debate, my oldest (5) yells at us to “Stop fighting!”, and I do want to reinforce that some fighting is ok, as long as we love each other and don’t fight all the time. But it definitely illustrates the “little pitchers/big ears” cliche, which makes me think we should reinforce everything a little more. We’re more private, PDA-wise, and I don’t know if we need to be more public, just for the kids. Ah, the omnipresent cloud of “How Am I Screwing Them Up Today, And If I Do The Opposite Will It Screw Them Up The Other Way”.

  14. jje

    Quick question for Jackie – I am curious about one of your comments. You said your youngest identified as gay before kindergarten. What does that mean exactly? I have a rising 2nd grader and one who is a year away from starting kindergarten. I am wondering what sort of indentifing feelings would come up as a four or five year old? My oldest just recently started having little puppy crushes on his girlfriends, but my youngest…well, all we know right now, without a shadow of a doubt, is that his sports preference is solidly, unabashedly, and passionately Carolina. ;-)

  15. jje

    Bah – identifying, not indentifing.
    And I agree with PPs that modeling a healthy, physically affectionate, respectful, loving, kind, secure and “real” relationship in front of my kids is the best prep we can give them.

  16. Julie

    I follow the train of thought of most people here. I am very honest with both my boys (weeks away from turning 8 and 10). Whatever questions they have had over the years I answer honestly with all the anatomically correct terminology. But not too much information – I gauge their interest by answering in short sentences which may or may not lead to more questions.
    As for the actual relationship side of the question, I can’t say we have had actual conversations per se. We do emphasize being a “nice boy” in all senses of the phrase. Not only to parents and teachers but also to your peers and coaches. Respect is a big thing to me and is a hard concept to teach but is one of my biggest goals. I want my boys to respect their elders, their friends, both girls and guys, choices that friends and loved ones will make, etc. That is as far as we have gotten on relationships. My older boy is at that stage where girls are slightly alien, and it is all about the male pecking order. My younger one, although very sweet and empathetic, is quite aloof and doesn’t understand why all the girls converge on him. He waves them off with a “whatever” in his voice but also with a half-smile that emphasizes his dimples. He is going to be my heart breaker.

  17. Just Andrew

    I’ve got 2 boys, 12 and 9. The 12 year old most recently had a long conversation about sex last year. It was certainly uncomfortable for both of us, but I certainly felt it was information that will help him process the world of dating and how he fits it. He’ll process and apply information and I think will come back with questions as he has them.
    The 9 year old – not much yet. The whole good touch/bad touch thing and some basic biology. Beyond that we’ve let it go to this point because it simply isn’t on his radar. The time will come when all the rest is discussed.
    My overriding thing that I’ve gathered from talking to other parents and reading comments like we see here is that our generation of parents spend a lot of time discussing what great parents we are compared to previous generations. I think the result is that we’ll be fucking up our kids minds in new and different way that we don’t imagine yet.
    There is a whole new world with consequences we don’t understand. Short of keeping a child in a bubble (which is certainly a massively unhealthy way to raise a kid), they are going to learn about sex from the internet. They are going to learn that things like texting nude photos is acceptable. They are going to deal with things we haven’t begun to try to counter.

  18. Deb

    Interesting, Just Andrew, because I see a lot more uncertainty from my parent-peers than I see self-congratulation. I feel like previous generations didn’t question themselves nearly as much as we do…which may prove your point about screwing our kids up more. But our kids don’t live in a “because I said so” world. Kids are given ownership over their feelings in a way I don’t think I was. I wasn’t asked if I felt like going to the grocery store with my mom, we just went. I wasn’t asked if I felt like saying I was sorry. At any rate, what I’ve seen is a culture of tentative parenting–even among the back-patting few.

  19. monheric

    We had two principles (our boys are now adults):
    1) It’s all normal so act normally when communicating
    2) Belong to a UU church – great 8th grade program (OWL)

  20. amy a

    Ok, since you asked the opinions of those of us with no kids, I’ll throw in my two cents. (I also don’t intend to have children, so parents please just ignore this post if you wish.)
    Your 5th bullet point about developing passions first and foremost is so right on the money I could do cartwheels. If I had kids, that would be foremost for me on this topic: development of a strong sense of self, their own passions, their own worth, and then not compromising that when cute boys or girls come along. I’d want them to know they are equally valuable to me and the world whether or not they have a boyfriend/girlfriend.
    I’m not an avid viewer of the show “Glee”, but I did happen to catch an episode where this topic came up, and the father of one of the lead characters, an openly gay male teenager, was discussing sex and relationships with him. It’s a scene that has stuck with me:

  21. Jackie

    In response to the question from jle: he did have crushes on boys early but we didn’t assign anything to that. And, when pink was his favorite color, we determinedly hung on to the fact that he had been raised to be allowed to have any choices he wanted. But, when I asked him what it was about boys he liked, he was quite clear that it was the way their muscles looked in their chests and legs. And the look on his face when he said it!!! That was pretty clarifying. He was five.
    When he was in fifth grade, A girl told him she liked him. He said “I’m gay but why don’t you check with Tim. He likes you”. And, that was that. He was out. We had to work with his middle school as they had never had an out kid. Now, they have had several. And, it’s hardly a subject in his high school except for the matchmaking girls do for him.
    He and I talked a few weeks ago about the awkwardness of lesbians having a gay son. I catch myself saying “I also have two straight kids” because I think people will think I made him gay. And, when he tells kids that his moms are lesbians he always adds “they didn’t make me gay”.
    He is the delight of my life.

  22. Ruth

    My mom was very frank with us from an early age about the nuts and bolts of sex and death, in a way that was appropriate to our development. We also knew gay people and got our open-minded view from her. Although my parents’ marriage was affectionate and lasted until death, I don’t believe just demos of affection are enough. My older-generation parents (dad was in WWII) just plain didn’t talk about relationships of any kind really, and so I don’t think we got any handle on the emotional side from them. I think that your focus on Lucy’s emotional health and self-esteem is absolutely key. Lucy is lucky to be growing up in the time she is and with the parents she has.

  23. janet oh

    i dont talk about sex and relationship problems with my kids….we talk about the problem of talking about the problems which arent even there….once you talk about it x


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