If you’re like most parents, The Talk fills you
with a strong sense of discomfort. It might completely scare the living
daylights out of you; you might find yourself breaking into a cold
sweat whenever you think about it. You remember when your own parents
gave you The Talk and how desperately uncomfortable
everyone was. You may have been completely shocked at what they told
you, amazed (and possibly disgusted) that grown adults would carry in
such a messy fashion; more likely, you already had received some
playground instruction from your friends and so had at least an idea of
what you’d be learning. If you were lucky, you got all of your
questions answered; if you were typical, you later had to connect the
missing dots by comparing The Talk your parents gave you with the versions your friends received.
Yup, if you’re a parent, talking to your kids about sex is
intimidating. There’s so much room for mistakes, and getting your kids
off on the wrong foot can screw them up for the rest of their lives.
Too permissive and your kid is the one whose name and phone number will
be joining the “For a good time call” section of local diner bathrooms;
too strict and they’ll have hang-ups it’ll take years to clear. The
temptation to take a dive and pick an extreme (“There’s nothing wrong
with sex, have fun!”/”Sex is evil, you can only have it to procreate,
and even then you’d better not be having any fun!”) is strong, because
at least those positions are clear, easy to articulate, and consistent.
When Steph and I first got married, we sat down and had a long
series of talks about parenting. We both knew that kids were in our
future (even though we had planned to wait a few years before having
them), and we wanted to have plenty of time to figure out how we’d
handle several topics — The Talk being one of them. What we ended up deciding is that instead of trying to figure out the “right” time to have The Talk,
we’d instead keep an open conversation going with the kids, making sure
to deal with concepts and details they were ready for and (we hoped)
helping them feel more comfortable about coming to us when they heard
things from their friends or had questions. It also means keeping an
eye on what they’re reading or watching and being prepared to discuss
it with them. This is our core approach to parenting, and so
far it seems to be working.
I had an opportunity to revisit The Talk with
Alaric today. He knows that ladies in lingerie (such as one might see
in catalogs and advertisements) are “being sexy” and, like most kids
his age, thinks that sex is a bad thing. We had a very good
conversation; he was at first a bit uncomfortable, as I think he
thought he was in trouble, but he soon opened up and started asking
questions and trying to make connections on what I was telling him. He
was clearly able to understand that whether or not sex is bad depends
on the context (although he of course wouldn’t use that category),
including the concept that certain things are okay for his parents to
say and do in private but aren’t okay for us to do around him or his
sister. He also made a breakthrough when he realized that some of the
restrictions we’ve put on him are designed to keep him from being
inappropriately exposed to subjects he’s not yet ready for.
The highlight of the conversation came when he told me that he was
“uncomfortable” thinking about sex and that he worried about having to
learn about it. He looked relieved when I laughed. “Alaric, I am very
glad to hear you say that,” I replied. “You’re a seven year-old boy. Do
you think you’re ready to learn all about sex?” He shook his head very
solemnly. “Of course you’re not, and that discomfort you feel is the
warning system God built into your body and brain to tell you that!
Although you’ll be ready to learn more about sex when you’re older, you
don’t have to worry about it now. So that discomfort is a very good
thing, because it tells me you’re listening to your sense of
discernment. You can trust your mother and me to tell you what you need
to know when you need to know it; you don’t have to worry about this
one right now.” He cocked his little head to the side and digested that
one for a bit, and then a smile slowly spread across his face.
I’ve got some wonderful scary smart kids. I shouldn’t brag, but
damn, my kids are awesome; I have been blessed. I worry a lot about being a good parent,
and it’s a lot easier to do it when you’ve got kids of this caliber.
I’m a lot less worried about The Talk than I used to be.
For those of you who are parents, how have you handled The Talk (or plan to handle it)?