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May 7 2012

Our Family Nudity Policy, or Lack Thereof

By at 11:47 am

gypsy stripperMy middle son is 8 years old. My daughter is 5. They’ve been taking baths together since she was old enough to sit up in the big tub without drowning. And they still do. (My 12-year-old son now prefers manly showers but, every once in a while, all three of them still jump in.)

They also, up until a year ago, shared a single bedroom, which meant plenty of running around in various states of undress and, periodically, re-enactments of the stripping scene from the musical “Gypsy,” while singing “You’ve Got to Have a Gimmick.”

They’re not the only ones. In a household with five people and one and a half bathrooms, sharing is a must. Which means if either my husband or I are in the shower and a kid’s got to go–the kid’s got to go, everyone’s modesty be damned. And this doesn’t even include all the times I’m in the shower and my children suddenly discover they need me to negotiate a critical cease-fire or solve a burning dilemma like whether or not lizards have eyelids immediately.

Our apartment also gets extremely hot in the summertime, which means sleeping in as little clothing as possible. And, I’m sorry, if a child wakes up in the middle of the night crying, I am not going to take the time to put on an overcoat before rushing in to find out what’s wrong.

In case it’s not clear, what I am trying to say is we are very, very casual about nudity.

Just like we’re pretty chill about calling all body parts, not just the safe ones like ear and leg, by their proper names (want to stifle any child’s curiosity in the bud? Answer all prurient questions like a biology professor. Then stand back and watch their eyes glaze over).

As a result, my kids don’t bat an eye at Greek and Roman statues in museums, provocative advertising, or The Naked Cowboy in Times Square (except to ask if he’s cold). They know all about human reproduction the same way that they know how the circulatory system works and where poop comes from (that last one is way more interesting, as far as I can tell).

They do periodically comment on who has what genitalia, its comparative size, and what hair grows where on whom. But, they do it in the same way they compare the many shades of skin in our family, or our respective heights and weights and eye colors. The human body, in all its shapes and sizes and infinite variations, is deemed perfectly natural and normal. Nothing to obsess or snicker over.

I’ll be honest, I was never one for reading parenting books or listening to experts (my husband loves to tell people how I got through my first pregnancy with nothing more than a magazine that showed the fetus’ month-by-month physical development in color, 3-D photos, no baby care guides, no pre-natal classes, no support groups). I just kind of made things up as I went along and dealt with each situation as it arose, following my Occam’s Mother stance that what’s easiest for me is best for the kids.

Which means it’s not that my husband and I sat down and hammered out a Family Nudity Policy, surveying the pros and cons, setting out guidelines and limits and very definite expiration dates. We just did what worked for us on a case-by-case basis.

However in doing some research, I discovered that this is apparently a very controversial subject, with some even going so far as to insist that “if you would be uncomfortable with a neighbor’s child the same age seeing you naked, then that’s the age you should start covering up in front of your child.”

By that logic, if I’d be uncomfortable with the neighbor’s husband seeing me naked, then I should cover up in front of mine, too? (For the record, I gave birth three times in a teaching hospital, which meant a rotating roster of residents coming through every hour and happily feeling their way around. I am not uncomfortable being naked in front of anyone, ever, after that.)

As for siblings bathing together, that’s up for public debate, too, I gather. The online consensus seems to be that 8 and 5 is too old. But, my kids like taking baths together. They make beards out of soap bubbles. They build skyscrapers out of shampoo bottles. They race their toy boats, and blow water through straws even though they’ve repeatedly been told not to.

They know that they’re naked, but since it’s been this way since they were little, there’s nothing unusual or interesting about it to either of them. They also know that being naked inside the house with your family is not the same as being naked outside with strangers–or even friends. Just like there are things we talk about at home that aren’t for public consumption, the same goes for nudity. Life, we tell the kids, is not clothing optional. (In fact, some mornings, as my husband is stumbling around in a sleepy daze, lumbering to get out of the house, it’s not unusual to hear one of the kids remind him, “Work is a pants-mandatory activity, Daddy.”)

Some day down the line, one of my children will most likely start to feel uncomfortable and ask to bathe alone. But, as far as I’m concerned, that choice is going to be made by them, not me.

And certainly not by popular opinion.


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