I grew up in an open family where all of the otherwise mortifying conversations came pretty easily. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that my mother and both grandmothers were nurses, so they were comfortable discussing things other parents might avoid.
When I was an awkward preteen, Grandma Mabel gave me a copy of "The Teenage Body Book," a clinical book on puberty that attempted to make the topic cool by listing questions in a casual Q&A format. I spent hours reading riveting Q&As on everything from masturbation to crabs, and I'd grab my younger sister and bring her into my room where we'd laugh our heads off looking at the drawings of the penises. I still have my ratty old copy, and though it could certainly use an update, the book opens naturally to the page of penis drawings, and I still laugh at them because evidently I never actually grew up. Perhaps when I'm an eccentric but fabulous grandma, I'll pass that family treasure down to my grandchildren.
Now, I'm middle aged and have somewhat successfully managed to raise two terrific stepchildren who are young adults living on their own. My husband and I are putting the finishing touches on raising our youngest, a 15 year old girl. She started pushing the awkward conversations on us at a very early age, so we discussed breasts and periods and sex pretty early on, letting her questions guide the timing. I remember scribbling a terrible drawing of the female anatomy on a napkin and how hard we laughed at it. In that same conversation, I had my daughter open up a tampon package, and I used my hand to create a sort of makeshift vagina puppet where I demonstrated how to work all of that out. Afterwards, my daughter thanked me profusely because my demonstration was MUCH better than the drawings provided in the tampon box. Mission accomplished!
Yesterday, one of my best friends who's a fantastic mom told me that she bought the American Girl Doll book on puberty, gave it to her 9 year-old daughter, and prefaced it by asking, "Do you want to read it together, or read it first and ask me questions?" The kid preferred to read it on her own, and afterwards, my friend and her daughter had a really open conversation about puberty. My friend noted that afterwards, she had a realization that I think we often have after moments like that: "Hey, I'm an actual parent doing parenting!"
Now that most of the awkward conversations have happened at my house, I'm happy to share my parenting hack with you in the hopes that it can help some of you navigate those often uncomfortable waters.
Have some of those conversations at night while your'e in the car.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it's a really great place to have these talks. For starters, you can have music to buffer the awkward silent pauses. Then, there's the element of everyone facing forward so the difficult facial expressions are hidden from view. I can't tell you how many times I've pulled up in front of the house with the radio still going, talking to my kids about everything from safe sex to underage drinking. Every time, we've gotten out of the car and walked up to the house together, our bond stronger, and perhaps for both of us, a feeling that we've grown up just a little.
For the kids, the comfort of being in the car seems to give them a little dose of truth serum. I'm amazed at what my kids have decided to share with me during these Mom Taxi Confessionals. We've shared really difficult conversations there, and later it dawns on me that for a kid, not being forced to sit on the couch across from the perceived judgmental looks from their parents helps put them at ease.
I'm certainly not suggesting you have every awkward conversation in the car, but that if there's something you've hesitated to bring up, it might be just the right place to give it a whirl. Whether you're making vagina hand puppets, drawing penises on dinner napkins, or talking about life's weird things in the comfort of your car or at the dinner table, it's having the awkward conversations that matters. I can promise you this: you're better at it than you think.