by Jenny Hyslop
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: May 2017
You know those questions your kids spring on you out of the blue? I’m referring to those queries in the realm of sex, drugs, and other such PG-13 topics. Those questions. I love them. LOVE ’em. Few moments bring me greater joy than when I get to stop scrubbing a casserole dish, remove my son’s menstrual cup-hat, look him in his big blues eyes, and describe the intricacies of how and why uteri slough their linings once a month.
I’ve met a few other weirdos like me who start acting like 12-week-old golden retrievers when their kids bring up juicy subjects. “Do we get to talk about puberty now? Do we, do we, do-we-do-we-do-we?!”
But most parents I know find it all pretty awkward and maybe even a bit stressful trying to navigate those tricky waters. And I’ve certainly stumbled more than a few times when particularly heavy topics have come up. So how do we answer our sweet inquisitive offspring with minimal stuttering and sweating? I’ve never Googled it to get a professional point of view, but as a mere layparent, I’ve figured out a few tricks that have served me well over the years, and might just minimize possible trauma for both parties. See what you think:
1. Make it more of a conversation than a lecture. Acknowledge their curiosity and ask questions back. “It sure is an interesting phenomenon, eh? What made you curious about that?”
2. Try to stick to short answers, one question at a time. I’ll be the first to admit that I forget this one often. If asked, “How does the baby get out of the uterus?” I could simply answer, “Usually it goes through the mom’s vagina.” But it’s also likely that I launch into a 20-minute rant about the medicalization of childbirth, possibly peppered with a few gripes about people saying “vagina” when they mean “vulva.” Cut to my daughter staring into space, then popping out a non-sequitur about the Ghostbusters movie. Like so many things in life, keeping it simple is usually best.
3. Recognize differing points of view. For example, “In our family, grownups and kids sometimes have a bath together. Other families might like more privacy.”
4. I like to encourage my kids to empathize as much as possible. When I point out that people who make not-so-hot choices are usually not actually bad people, we often end up having particularly thoughtful conversations.
5. Sometimes I get my kids to answer their questions themselves. This usually works best for the big philosophical questions, like death and the afterlife. “What do you think happens after we die?” If they still don’t have a clue, I fill them in on my thoughts, then try to keep the conversation going so I can bring it back to their own ideas. This is another good time to recognize other points of view.
6. How about the issue of proper terminology? I’m all about testicles and rectums, but for some reason I still struggle to say “breasts” instead of “boobs.” I’m working on that one. And I suspect in our household, we’ll always say “poop” and “bum” instead of “feces” and “buttocks.” I suppose I’m finding a happy medium wherein I avoid the crude and the cutesy, but still use commonly used words that would be acceptable if my kids repeat them on a school playground. On a side note, there are fewer things cuter than a 3-year-old talking about her “utewuth.”
7. Use books! There are so many incredible books out there to help you tackle the hard stuff. Libraries often have a great selection. I like to make sure I have a good read through it first to make sure I share the point of view the book presents. In the last few years, some great kids’ body/sex books have come out that address topics like same-sex relationships and gender identity.
8. Use other resources. My son loved watching some (thoroughly vetted) YouTube childbirth videos in preparation for the arrival of our second kid. And why not ask other close family members and friends to get in on conversations? If your child asks “Why doesn’t Uncle Alex drink wine with you guys when he comes over?”, Uncle Alex might like the opportunity to explain in his own words. It would probably be a good idea to check with him first though.
9. What if a kid who’s not your own asks you an awkward question? My standby line is “That’s something that parents usually like to talk about with their own kids. Why don’t you try talking to your parents about that?” Then I give the mom(s) and/or dad(s) the head’s up.
10. Sometimes those questions delve into topics that could be too intense for little ones. I say trust your good old gut on this one. Is it merely an uncomfortable question, or is it one that your kid might truly not be ready to understand? If you stick to giving answers, one question at a time, the topic might move along naturally. “What’s that on the sidewalk?” “It’s a syringe” “What’s a syringe?” “It’s usually used to put medicine in people.” And that might be the end of the topic (likely after there’s a discussion about not touching them). But what if “Why is it on the sidewalk?” follows? I say go ahead and say “I don’t know,” if that’s as far as it feels okay to go. Because it’s still totally the truth. Or at least enough truth for the time being. And if the questions continue, you could say something along the lines of “It’s kind of hard to explain. I think we should talk about this again when you’re in Grade 3.”
What do you think? Makes it sound kind of fun, right? Just a little? So you might not ever revel in doing the condom-on-a-cucumber demo, but maybe you’ll be able to answer “talk to my kids about the drugs I’ve tried” over “get a filling at the dentist” in a game of Would You Rather. Overall, I’m doing my best to create open-ended, open-minded discussions that will evolve over the years. My goal is that my now-young kids will keep coming to me and my husband with their questions when they’re teenagers.
I’m not naive; I don’t expect that my daughter will only have the occasional beer once she hits 19, or that my son won’t ever check out porn. But I hope that they’ll know exactly what to do when they’ve had some impromptu drinks after driving somewhere. And I hope they’ll realize that pornography sex is a strange and unreal depiction of the real thing. Because such conversations have been going on for so long in our house that they don’t even remember when they first learned these things. That info is just there, mingling in their brains alongside multiplication tables and celebrity trivia, and perhaps a vague image of their nut-job mom with an excited glint in her eye.
Jenny Hyslop is a yoga instructor/ kids’ music teacher/ artist/ writer/ comedian/ collector and seller of vintage odds/ mama of 2. She lives in a wee island community and loves to continuously add titles to her bio.
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