Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Sex

From the title of this blog post, you are going to think that I am about to give advice about talking to children about sex.  Alas, that is not my intent.  I want to recount a situation I found myself in with my 7-year-old grandson last night.  Let’s call him “G.”
I was asked to “babysit” my two grandchildren last night and that meant I would be putting the two kids to bed and reading stories, a fun task.  I finished reading to “L” and put her to bed and asked G to pick out a book.  He spent a few minutes in his bedroom and came out with a book titled “Where Did I Come From?”  I had just a fleeting moment of hope that perhaps this was a book about geography or at worst, a simplified version of the birds and the bees.  My hopes were dashed by the first page which mentioned that the topic we were going to discuss might cause some people to blush.  By page two, with the cartoony completely nude pictures of the male and female anatomy, with description and numerous slang versions, just for educational purposes, I guess, I was in over my head.  

What to do?  “Have you ever read this book before, G?”  “No.”  “Where did you get it?”  (hoping maybe I could somehow get out of this reading….) “From my church.”  Well, I assumed, if he got it from his church, it must be sanctioned by his parents.  After all, it was on his bookshelf.

I continued reading, getting in deeper and deeper, page by page.  This book not only talked about the anatomy but described in great, albeit youth-oriented, detail the entire sex act, complete with such phrases as “on top of,” “wriggling around” and “explosion.”  Fill in the blanks yourself.  And did I mention the illustrations?  At that graphic point in the reading, G said softly “THAT part doesn’t happen!!!”  “Oh, yes it does," I said, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be called upon to clarify any further.  G seemed to take my answer in stride, not asking any further questions.  

After the complete description of the sex act, the rest of the book was quite tame.  It showed the growth of a baby inside the womb and the umbilical cord and completely glossed over the graphic parts of birth, never showing any further body parts.  I guess most children have had a little more exposure to the actual birth but rarely have gotten the true picture on exactly HOW that little egg and sperm get together.  That was always a mystery to me for many years.  I certainly didn’t learn it at seven!

We finished the book, G had no questions, although I didn’t really ask for any, and G went to bed.  When his parents came home, I thanked them profusely for this amazing “opportunity” to be the first to explain these issues to G.  They did not recall the book, finally remembering they had picked it up a few years earlier at a church used book sale.  It had been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years.  Why tonight?  Why ME?  I guess we won’t know the answer to that question.

In my own defense, in spite of my red cheeks and stilted voice, I KNEW that I needed to read that book straight out, not leaving out a word (G is a voracious reader and would have known), never faltering or acting embarrassed.  If this was to be G’s introduction to the world of sex, far be it for me to give him any reason to see a therapist or be traumatized in his later years!  

As an addendum, here is the email I got from G’s mother later that evening:

That book has LITERALLY been on G's shelf for at least a year (maybe two?) with no one bothering to look at it.  A twist of fate made it your night.

I just read it cover to cover and it's a book that I'm happy to own.  I think it's a book that G is ready to hear and dives into the next step of information in an age appropriate way.  My only regret is that it was thrust upon YOU!  Please know I would have also been red faced and teary eyed.

What can I say... THANK YOU for taking it stride, taking the bull by the horns, and getting through such difficult material with grace and love for our son.

If you’d like the opportunity to read this book to your child or grandchild, it is now a collector’s item, written in 1974, and available in hardcover from Amazon for a hefty price.  Where Did I Come From?:  Facts of Life without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations.  THAT is an understatement!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Improving Relationships Sometimes Means Examining Your World View!

When my husband and I were engaged to be married (42 years ago this month!), we were required by our church to have several sessions of premarital counseling. The pastor who counseled us was an older, single man. He asked us how we handled conflict. I answered, "That's easy! We fight and fight and fight and then I cry and he gives in!" I was dead serious. The pastor suggested that perhaps we weren't ready to get married and should put off our decision until we had worked out better ways to solve our conflicts.

Being all-wise at the age of 21, we were quite sure that this pastor, having never been married, couldn't possibly know what was best for us and had no right to tell us we weren't ready for marriage. Besides, our method was working quite nicely (for me at least), so we ignored his comments and proceeded to use this very method of conflict resolution for the next 6 or 8 years. I was the master of the long pout and could hold out for several days, if necessary, to get my way. My husband, himself a conflict avoider, wasn't happy with the outcome at times, but since his goal was to keep me happy at all costs, this method worked for him as well. We would kiss and make up and have great make-up sex!

A funny change happened about 8 or 10 years into our marriage however. At some point, my tears stopped moving my husband to give in, and we gradually realized that our methods weren't getting either of us any satisfaction. We began the long process of learning to fight fairly, learning to negotiate, learning to look at the possibility that we might both have a valid point in any given situation. Many methods, books, counselors, retreats, friends helped us along the way. I plan to bring some of those ideas to you in later posts, but today I want to talk about how my own world view changed.

We establish our world view in our family of origin (the family we grew up in) and usually don't realize that we are acting out of that world view. My world view was that the most important thing about an argument was being "right." If I wasn't "right" then my whole belief system began to crumble around me. I needed to be "right" to prove that I was a loveable, "okay" human being. If I was "wrong," then there must be something fatally flawed about me. Many of us suffer from this black and white thinking.

One of the most important changes you can make in your relationship is to begin to accept the fact that your partner's position on a given subject has equal validity to your own and that there is a possibility that you are both "right." For example, you might assert that the "way" to get to the grocery store is by taking certain streets, making sure that all of your turns are left turns. Your partner, however, may choose a route that goes past some familiar landmark and assert that this is the correct route. Is there a "right" way to get to the grocery store? Obviously, this is a simple example, and many far-more-complex examples abound in any relationship. What is the "right" way to discipline your child? Or the "right" way to clean the kitchen? Or the "right" way to celebrate a holiday? Or the "right" way to spend or save your money?

When I began to accept that both my husband and I had valid points in a disagreement, our relationship began to grow. I began to understand that we could both hold different ideas at the same time and both be "right." I began to look at the world as a place where not only black and white exists, but many colors and shades in between.

Think of some areas where you might be willing to consider your partner's point of view and begin to change the way you see the world!