I was at a neighborhood cookout over the weekend, and ended up in the kitchen with a bunch of Moms. We all had kids in the pre-teen and under range, and as Moms are wont to do, we were swapping stories and laughing at our kids and ourselves.
Sooner or later, the talk turned to how quickly they all grow up. One of the mothers, who I know to be fairly liberal and open-minded, told us how shocked she was when her twelve year old daughter asked her about a certain sex act. "Oh my God!" One of the other mothers said, "What did you tell her?" My friend the open-minded Mom replied "I told her she shouldn't be asking about that stuff."
That led to another mother regaling us with the tale of her twelve year old son, who used the facilities at a service station and told her afterward that there were condoms in the bathroom.
"I didn't know if he was just reading the word," she said, breathlessly, "or if he really knew what they were. So I told him I didn't know what they were and asked him what he thought they might be for."
"And what did he say?" The other mothers were hanging on her words, waiting.
"He knew exactly what they were for! His friend had told him in fourth grade! Can you believe it?"
Yes, I can believe it.
What I find hard to believe are mothers who (a) Get freaked out when their pre-teen kids come to them with questions of a sexual nature and (b) Dismiss them or lie to them instead of answering their questions.
Maybe there's something wrong with me. If my Anna (who is eleven) came to me with a question of that sort (and she has already, believe me) I would tell her the truth. I wouldn't go into great, vivid detail, mind you. She asked me once about a certain sexual act and my answer was quite clinical: just a this-goes-here-and-that-goes-there and "some people like to do that with each other in bed" kind of explanation. She didn't need any more than that, judging by her facial expression.
It wouldn't occur to me to lie to her, or tell her she shouldn't be asking. Not telling her the truth only sets me up as being woefully naive in her eyes, or deliberately lying to her, neither of which is going to make her want to ask me about anything else of this nature in the future. Dismissing her will do the same. And if she can't or won't trust me for the information, where is she going to go?
And I assure you, she will go. She will find the answer, because she wants the answer, and the answer is out there. Unfortunately, so is a lot of misinformation. Would I rather her get those answers from me? Or via a dozen websites from God-knows-where and a dozen badly informed friends who heard it from a friend of a friend who has an older brother who knows what's what?
I want my daughter to feel like she can drop absolutely any subject in my lap, and I'll respond with truth. There's a caveat to that, though. I will respond with my truth, and I think that's where the parenting part of this equation comes in.
I have a vivid memory of coming home from school in the seventh grade with my paperwork for junior high health class. We would be talking about sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in a very clinical setting, and having peer discussions about it all during class.
My Mother was aghast. As a staunch Southern Baptist, she firmly believed that the only person who should be talking to her daughter about sex in any form would be her, or her daughter's future husband. After the wedding, of course. So she called the school and told them I would not be participating.
Before you think this is a rant about ultra-conservative Moms, I assure you it's not. My Mom had a perfect right to enforce the courage of her convictions. That's what Mothers do, and ought to do, to a degree.
She said not one word to me about the subject of sex until I was sixteen. She made me watch an ABC after school special called "My Mom's Having A Baby" which actually told kids where babies come from. When it was over, she asked if I had any questions. I said no and got out of the room as fast as I could. I never told her that I'd known where babies came from since the second grade. I didn't tell her that my friend gave me her book from health class in seventh grade so I could read it anyway. I never told her that sometimes when I had a sex question I went to the library in town and looked up the answer in an encyclopedia. It would have only made her mad and besides, she obviously didn't know anything about sex anyway, despite having three kids of her own.
And while I was grateful I never had to talk about sex with my Mom back then, I will tell you that I wish I could have heard from my Mom the things about sex that health class and books don't tell you.
Things like: A boy can tell you he loves you and not mean it, because he wants to have sex with you. You should pay attention to how he acts when you're not being physical. Things like: sometimes when a boy is kissing you and pushing his body against yours it can feel so good you forget yourself and make quick decisions that can alter the entire course of your life in a heartbeat. Take a minute. Think. Be smarter than that. Things like: If you're having sex because everyone else is and you feel like you should be, too, then you're letting other people make decisions for you about the use of your own body. Why would you want to do that?
My Mom never had the opportunity to tell me that because I never trusted her to tell me the truth, if she was even going to tell me anything at all, mind you. She could have said all that, and I wouldn't have believed it, because I had no basis to trust that she knew what she was talking about. If she had answered my questions honestly, then told me how she felt about the subject, based on her convictions and beliefs, I would have known I could trust her to inform me, at least. I may not have ended up agreeing with her beliefs or supporting all her convictions, but I would have known where she stood - and that she stood behind me as I faced this new and frequently frightening world brought on by puberty.
I tell my daughter now what she needs to know. Sometimes I touch on the deeper subjects mentioned above, and sometimes I just give her a straight, somewhat dry and clinical answer. It's depended on her age at the time of the asking and sometimes, her question is followed by my asking "Where did you hear that?" or "Why do you want to know about that?" which leads to even more open dialogue. The important thing is, she knows I'll tell her what I know, and sometimes, she knows I'll tell her how I feel about it, based on my own life experiences. Maybe those lessons will stick, maybe they won't entirely. I did my part, and will continue to do my part.
We need to be honest with our kids. We don't need to be overly explanatory or incredibly graphic, but we do need to tell them the truth.
After all, if she doesn't hear it from me, who should I trust her to hear it from?