What Parents Must Teach Their Children
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Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This
I had helped my daughter with a report on global warming for her science class. That afternoon her younger brother pulled me aside and said, “Mom, I need to have a private conversation with you.” I had no idea what to expect. He then said, “I want you to tell me all about global warming. Winter is my favorite season and I don't want it to go away.” It cracked me up that he was spending so much time thinking about the subject, and I had a great conversation with him.
Schedule a talk with your daughter about menstruation well before she hits puberty. The age that girls start their periods has been trending younger and younger, and you want her to be informed before she actually begins menstruating.
The “Birds and the Bees” Discussion, Modern Style
Talking about sex to children used to be even more embarrassing than it is today, so it was put off as long as possible. But that secrecy often caused needless confusion and worry. It certainly did for me.
When I was about nine, I saw a sanitary napkin in my mother's bathroom and asked her about it. She blushed and told me she would tell me when I was 10 years old. It seems that Mom was saving up a lot of things to tell me when I turned 10: That was her standard answer whenever I asked a certain kind of awkward question. I even wrote a poem at the time about all the secrets I would learn at that magic age.
Well I fooled her. Shortly after our nondiscussion about that napkin, I was at a girlfriend's house and didn't feel so well. I went to the bathroom and there was blood on my underpants. I panicked and thought that somehow I had cut myself and must be dying.
When I got home I kept it a secret as long as I could, but finally I got scared enough to tell my mother that I needed to go to the hospital. She started to cry and hugged me (well, she smacked me first because of some crazy cultural thing from her Russian heritage—I never did figure out what that was all about). Needless to say I was confused. She got out this little pink book put out by Modess and read it with me. It explained about the menstrual cycle and all the things that were now happening to my body. Then she took me to the pharmacy to buy my own napkins and even got me some perfume so I could feel like a real woman.
Sex and the Modern Child
My mom could maintain her delicacy about the topic of sex because it was easier then to insulate children from sexual knowledge. The movies, TV, and advertisements were far less explicit than they are today. If you wait as long as my mom did before talking about sex to your children, you may find that they already know more about the subject than you do. But they'll know about sex without understanding your own values on the subject. So it's best to talk openly about it early on. The sex talk then can be seen as a series of minilectures, each one progressively more detailed. Here's the general sequence of events:
Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This
One woman really took her responsibility to treat the sex talk seriously. She was ready when her daughter got around to asking the dreaded question, “Where did I come from?” She'd even put together a cute little poster with illustrations of happy little bowtie-wearing sperm and eggs with pink ribbons. After she presented her masterful speech on the subject she asked if her daughter had any further questions. “Yes, Mom,” said the long-suffering little five year old. “Susie next door comes from Montana—where did I come from?”
- Your child will begin showing signs of curiosity as early as age five, when the customary question seems to be “Where do babies come from?” Most of us don't find this too difficult—at this age children are happy with a wonderful explanation of eggs and seeds.
- When your child is a little older he or she will probably ask for more details. That's when you can give a fairly simple explanation of how the mommy and daddy make a baby, and it's a good time to introduce a daughter to the concept of menstruation. You're probably best off keeping it simple at this time—she's probably not ready to be anything but grossed out by the idea of blood.
- When you're expecting a new baby, don't be surprised if your child shows another flurry of interest in the subject of sex. Since more details are probably required, you might be most comfortable renting an animated video that explains sex at a level a child can understand. These videos can be very useful, particularly if you're not sure how to raise the issue or need a little help getting over your own embarrassment about the topic.
Dealing with Your Own Hang-ups About Sex
Talking about sex is not easy because we all have our own issues with it. But no matter how uncomfortable you may be about having these sex talks, you want your children to know about it in the context of your own beliefs and values. Children today are constantly exposed to words and images about sex, from the advertisements on TV to sexually explicit music lyrics. It is confusing for them and frustrating for parents who are trying to instill a healthy attitude about the subject. And, adding urgency to our need to have these talks, today we face the fear that what they don't know can harm and even kill them.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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