I’ve spent most of my life muttering under my breath, “I’m so awkward.” I used to think I’d get to a point of feeling totally together. The other day as I was sitting on crinkly, white paper in an exam room, for a long overdue annual exam, the doctor said, “Are you having hot flashes or night sweats?”
“Umm, I mean, I get hot sometimes and I do sometimes wake up to damp sheets but, I’m not sure it’s hot flashes or—” I trailed off as the doctor cocked her head to one side and smiled gently at me. “I, ah, ok, so hot flashes and night sweats. I think that I do, or, I have. Yup.” She typed on her laptop and I thought to myself, “Yup? Yup? Why do you talk like that?”
I look at this enduring awkwardness as an asset. The girls need a mom and a role model, but it doesn’t hurt to also be able to say, “You know what? We all doubt ourselves and feel intimidated sometimes.” I wear it openly, as openly as I’ve tried to wear my emotions and endeavored to create a sense of the girls being able to talk to me.
It’s funny, growing up in Eugene, Oregon in the 70s it might seem likely that I’d be naturally comfortable talking about body or sex, but the truth is growing up words like breast, penis, fart, horny, they made my skin crawl and my face burn. When I experienced my first kiss at 14 or 15, I remember being completely shocked. The next morning I said to my two best friends, “And then, his tongue was in my mouth. His tongue!” We gasped and giggled over it.
I don’t want to rush away anyone’s innocence, but I am determined, for their benefit and my own, to deactivate my flinching at words or concepts. I’ve seen the way they alter their behavior based on my non-verbal cues.
Mom is stressed, they scurry.
Mom is angry, they try to fix.
Mom is distracted, they mumble.
Heaving myself out of my stress ruts are good for all of us. There are conversations to have, things to figure out together, and growth on both ends of this mother daughter relationship. I’ve been surprised at the reward of sitting through my discomfort and getting to the other side and also listening.
A while back Ave was telling me about the sex ed session they had in her 5th-grade class. I immediately remembered seeing Alice Dreger’s tweets in real-time about sitting in on a sex ed class. I flopped back on one of the cushions in her room and said, “Was it weird?” I aimed for nonchalant, but inside I had a nonstop stream of thoughts, “Am I doing this right? Is this weird? Am I ready?”
I talk to other moms about what they are going through. One mom said to me, “Yeah, I don’t know why he chose me, but my son said to me, ‘sometimes my penis gets hard. What’s that about?” I died. I’m not sorry that I get to be on the vagina side, but I do love hearing how other parents are handling it and, more importantly, what other kids are like.
Like just about everything else in parenting, I’ve realized kids come equipped with everything we need. They aren’t all the same, but the premise of being open, available, and willing to listen, works for all 3 of my daughters. They blow me away. Watch Ave cut through it:
I think allowing each of us a turn at the wheel, so to speak, has been central to establishing a comfort with talking. There have been times when the news has pushed conversations faster than I might have expected. We went from talking about politics and social justice to what, “Grabbing them by the pussy” meant.
I’ll admit that I stumbled my way through a rant on agency over our bodies, beauty versus competence, and ultimately consent. This is an area where my history, frustration, and passion run the risk of overpowering the conversation. I love visual tools and Youtube and Instagram really are the preferred resource for my older girls. Amaze.org was recently put on my radar and I have to say, from their playful, “more info, less weird” tagline, to their hiring practices of using young illustrators and animators of all genders, races, and personalities, I’m a fan.
I haven’t cracked the code for crushes, but I think that the ongoing discussions we have about school dynamics, particularly the topics of mean girls and the boys who are dismissive of girls work toward that. My mom told me when I was in high school, “I don’t care who your friends are, I care who they bring out in you,” that has stuck with me.
How do people make me feel?
I think we’re all still working on it, all of it, which if there is a secret to parenting is it—we never totally know.
“Sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human.” Say it, you can start quietly, but get to a point where you can say it out loud.
I know it seems unbelievable to think about talking about sex, masturbation, consent, fear, and excitement to kids as young as ten, but if not us then who? Learn from tv? Movies? Our president? The kids popping off in the back of the school bus?
We wouldn’t send kids into a snow storm without a coat or to a job interview without tips and a resume, we ought to do the same thing for adolescence. Organizations like Amaze can help carry a bit of the weight by being a part of the information relay. None of us have to go faster than kids are ready, but I really think that creating time and space to figure stuff out without judgment is as central to parenting as healthy food and consistent shelter.
It can also be fun. Check out more videos from Amaze, they cost nothing and I bet they’ll prove priceless. Take a look at their facebook page if you are FB fan.
Disclosure: I am happy to have written this post as part of a campaign. I was compensated for my time, as ever, my opinions are my own. I’d do it all over again for nothing, because we all need every bit of help we can get.
Here are more voices added to the chorus of parents who have written about talking to kids about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, visit these posts:
- Sex Education from a Mom’s Perspective by Lisa from Mom on the Side
- Making the Hard Conversations Easier by Tandra Wilkerson from Thriller Mom
- Single moms, you are your child’s most important sex educator (deep breaths) by Jessica Ashley from Single Mom Nation
- Healthy Relationships Have Never Been My Thing, But I Want Them to Be Hers by Leah Campbell
- How to Talk About Healthy Relationships with Tweens and Teens by Leticia Barr from Tech Savvy Mama