“Mom, what is oral sex?”
I can legit remember asking my mom this question one day in our family’s kitchen. To her credit, I don’t remember her hesitating at all. All she did was calmly respond, “Well, what does oral mean?”
It didn’t take me long to put that together, and at my young age, you better believe I did my own squirming and blushing.
The reality is, when it comes to matters of body parts, sexuality, and what relationships are all about, our kids are guaranteed to get curious. Even though it can be an intimidating conversation to get into with our kids, we must bravely venture there. If we won't talk about it, our kids will take their curiosity to their friends, to media, or to Google. And I think we can all agree - THAT can be dangerous territory.
So, in the face of the awkwardness, we can bravely communicate: "You can ask me anything!" We want them to be convinced that we are the experts on the topic, not their middle-school aged friends.
Not One Big Overwhelming Conversation
As we go through life with our kids, we can train ourselves to look for opportunities to help facilitate these foundational conversations. There are messages about body image, sexuality, and "normal" relationships in advertising, in Netflix cartoon series, and in the interactions are kids are having with friends and family.
When we ask our children, "What did you notice?" or "What did you think about that?" it opens up an opportunity for our kids to ask their questions and help them to form the foundations of their life on these crucial issues.
It's not about having one or two big, overwhelming conversations as your child tips over the edge into puberty, but rather about cultivating an atmosphere in the home where our kids can talk through what they are experiencing and feeling.
So, don't feel pressure to set aside an hour, but instead, begin this week to watch for the everyday-type situations that are opportunities for connecting conversations.
"You Can Tell Me Anything"
Something that goes right along with cultivating those open conversation is the ability for our kids to TELL us anything. As I'm sure every parent reading this can attest, our curiosity can lead us into some embarrassing, and even painful, places. Our children are going to say things or do things that may lead to feelings of shame, and we never want our children to have to wade through those emotions and thoughts alone. Those secrets are too overwhelming for us as grown-ups to navigate on our own. How much more difficult for children!
We can keep the door open to their hearts by communicating often, "There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you." Of course, we won't be thrilled by all of their choices, but no matter what age they are, our kids will need our support and the wisdom that comes from our experience.
Your Child's Future is Worth Every Awkward Moment
Though conversations around identity, bodies, sex, and relationships can be awkward (for everyone involved), your willingness to talk will stability and clarity to your child's life. And that is certainly worth facing sweaty palms or stumbling over your words.
Even though you may have done things that you aren't proud of in the past, you are not disqualified from being a voice to your children for the sake of their future. Though you may be intimidated, just a little bit of effort can make a huge difference in setting the tone for your family.
Bonnie Pue is a mother of five, as well as the co-founder of The Union Movement, an organization dedicated to having conversations with curious grown-ups about identity, sexuality, healthy relationships, and family. You can find her on Instagram @bonniepue or @theunionmovement, or by visiting www.theunionmovement.com