It’s amazing how many challenges come with parenting. Before you have kids you think about the to-spank-or-not-to-spank debate and if you’ll stay at home or not. After you have them you have to think about things like, well, vaginas and penises. Actually, I wonder how many of you knew that it’s vaginae…
Well, there ya go. Learned something new? Let’s continue.
I grew up in a family where sex was not talked about. Our bodies were not talked about. There was this general air of “You’ll know…” and a book that was handed to you when you turned twelve. About a month after receiving the book my mom would one day ask, “Now do you have any questions?” Ummm, no. And that was that.
I started my sex education from a little boy in first grade who, while hiding with me in the back of my parents 12 passenger van, told me that if he kissed me with his tongue in my mouth it would make a baby. Interesting….
The subject of s-e-x is really no big deal in my family now. You might even say that it comes up too often over a big plate of Shipwrecks at family dinners. My parents changed and grew over the years as all of us will, and do. So I think my younger siblings got a completely different experience. But still, I think that many of those in my ‘generation of parents’ had that experience of sex not being talked about and it really does affect how we look at our bodies and their sexual functions on a deep level. And it affects how we look at our children and our ability to teach them about their selves.
Travis and I had thought the whole thing through and decided how we were going the subject of private parts. We remembered the shame and confusion that a ‘Hush, hush!” approach had caused both of us and many of our friends. We also weren’t naive enough to think that we could just raise our perfect little angels until they were 12 and THEN have ‘The Talk”. Ok, seriously. How many of you really didn’t know about sex until them. Most of us knew just enough to be overconfident, confused, embarrassed but completely convinced that we were way past needing to talk to Mom and Dad about it. Just enough to be dangerous. While our parents were relieved to not have to spell out the details, many kids suffered from not having a real understanding and respect of their bodies. And many of us went on to ask all our questions from the kids who ‘knew’. Not so good.
It intrigues me how many parents don’t get the concept of shame that is almost always attached to these words. We say things like “I just don’t think it’s right to hear that word out of a 3 year old’s mouth.” We teach our children cute little words like peter and who-ha thinking that we are keeping them sweet an innocent until it’s ‘time’ for them to learn the truth. Which is what, how to say vagina and penis? Do you have a problem hearing your child say ear? I have a seriously uncanny phobia about feet. I didn’t teach my children to call their feet’ trotters’ so that I would feel more comfortable with what came out of their mouths. I know a few people who do double duty, teaching their kids cute words AND the anatomical terms. I guess that’s better. One friend has her daughter call it her ‘ninny’ which is absolutely adorable. I’m not gonna lie about it. But I wonder if that is really helping or not either. Aren’t you then maybe teaching them that their parts have these names that we don’t even say because it’s not appropriate, so we’ll say cute things instead, ok? Don’t get me wrong. Part of me completely wishes that I could be ok with that approach. But my goal isn’t to get through the younger years of my kids being uninhibited with what they say to who, without them saying vagina in public. My hope is to someday have completely confident, secure adults who know who they are and have a safe, respectful and appropriate view of what their bodies are made for. While a 3 year old doesn’t care what you teach them to call their vagina, when she’s 10 and aware of what her friends are saying there is an underlying awareness of not being ok to talk about it to mom and dad. I mean, I wasn’t even supposed to say the words….
Teaching Selah to use the appropriate words for her body seemed so simple, but I really did struggle with it at first. I didn’t even realize how much shame I,myself, had attached to the words. I cringed and blushed the first few times I heard the word ‘vagina’ in her sweet little 2 year old voice. I had to cautiously work through my response and it was hard to do. The more I went through the process, the more I was thankful that we were teaching our children to respect their bodies and be comfortable from the beginner. I had no idea what I would get out of the process. My own shame and discomfort evaporated little by little as I watched my daughter in complete innocence grow more confident and secure with her body parts at 3 than I was at 30. They’re there. They’re important and have a purpose. She learned an appropriate respect and boundaries without there ever being an issue of ‘don’t say that’!
And here’s the thing. I am forever in awe and thankful for following what I felt was God’s gentle prompting to teach my children their bodies. Period.
I was completely unaware of the potential consequences of disguising body parts with play words, until the day that Selah told us that someone had touched hers. It something that every parent fears and prays that they never, ever, ever have to hear. I’m just not even going to go into the extent of pain and crushing that can happen to your heart in 5 words from a precious, tiny child. She was 3 year old. It’s debilitating to face not being there in a moment when your child needs your protection. I may share that someday, but not today.
We’re not the kind of parents who were going to brush over these things and ‘hope that she’ll forget’. We went through the appropriate measures of reporting the incident to the police so our baby girl could get the counseling and support she needed to work through this. Waiting. Is. Not. An. Option. Even if you’re having a baby that week. It’s just NOT.
To make the report we had to take Selah to the Child Protection Agency so she could make an official police statement. It was….hard. It was after Selah gave her statement that I realized how huge it is to teach your children their bodies. The woman who interviewed Selah thanked me for teaching our daughter about her body, and was amazed at how secure and confident she was in talking about it. Apparently one of the biggest problems that they deal with is the ‘play words’ that run rampant though our childrens’ vocabularies. If she interviews a child who uses play words, they are not considered able to give a clear statement and it can be a very damaging setback in prosecuting their abuser. On the other hand, if you try to ‘fix’ it and teach them the real words after the fact then it is considered leading a witness. As if the trauma of the situation isn’t bad enough for these children, imagine the helplessness of knowing that teaching them one word, the real word, could make of break the case against someone. Our situation was different and we did not press charges for very specific, well thought out reasons.
Selah is fine. She’s about the most confident, secure seven year old you will meet. We’re fine. We’re thankful for what we learned, even if we would never had wanted the experience for her or us. This one is heavy today, and I know that. But seriously, if you haven’t already… Tell. Them. About. Their. Bodies.
Edited to add: This is not meant to be a bummer of a post, but I do believe that good can come from circumstances that just aren’t. I’m thankful and want to share with other parents what we learned through the experience. That whole God used it for good thing, ya know?