My daughter has a friend who is a single mother by choice. The other day, she braced herself for a conversation she was not yet ready to have when her son asked,
“Does Avi have a father? Does Donna have a husband?” My daughter matter-of-factly replied, “No.” “Well then,” my grandson continued with a pause,” who does things for her?”
I just heard about several unmarried sisters who bought a house together and adopted children to create a new family. Our gay friends recently had a daughter through an egg donor and a surrogate. All this within the observant Modern Orthodox world of which we are a part.
When I was raising kids, things were simpler, but not better. The “modern families” enrich the community. But the “birds and bees” conversation has gotten a lot longer.
I am of the opinion that kids can accept things pretty easily if explanations are age-appropriate, honest and given clearly in language they understand. Most important is that the explanations be given within the value system of the parents, consistent with other beliefs previously taught. Information needs context.
It seems to me that the easy part is Introduction to Sex for the little kids because procreative sex isn’t so hard to explain although, admittedly, it certainly does sound strange (especially when you really think about it). I remember that the morning after I had explained it to my own 7-year-old daughter and cautioned her not to discuss it with her friends (that was all I needed), she urgently called me into the bathroom for a private conference. “Mommy, if it doesn’t work (the egg and sperm getting together to make a baby), do you have to do it again?”
It’s recreational sex that is the challenge.
My son was in sixth grade when I nominated and elected myself to have a “teen-age” conversation with him about sex. It was taboo in my husband’s home growing up so he couldn’t handle it (the conversation, I mean!) but I came into my son’s room relaxed and confident. I just started talking. The first pink blush started right away, at the base of his throat. By the time I was up to “erection,” the blush was all over his face. When I got up to “masturbation,” he was bright red. I thought I was doing a great job, so I asked with some exasperation, “What’s the matter? Why are you so embarrassed?” “Most moms don’t talk to their kids like this,” he said.
Well that’s a problem. In the same way kids learn about other things from their parents, by what they say and what they do, and by inserting their value system as context, they need to learn about sex, too. And the generation that is now being born and raised, is learning way too much, too early and from the wrong sources. I am stymied by the challenge young parents will have. How do you teach respect for women when the sexualization of female bodies appears all over–on large posters, store windows, books, magazines and movies? How do you teach respect for the sexual act when it is promoted only as feel-good fun without consequences? How do you teach respect for life itself when casual sex is accessible and acceptable but can be a matter of life and death?
My next “sex” conversation with my son was right before college. That time he didn’t blush. We discussed some particulars but the main message I wanted to emphasize was that going away to college involved personal maturity, a high level of personal responsibility, and respect for others and oneself.
So, good luck. Maybe you’ll be lucky and by the time your kids are teenagers, chastity belts, for girls and boys, will be as cool as iPads are now. Maybe they’ll even be remote controlled.
For more advice from this grandmother, check out what she has to say about discipline and breastfeeding.