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How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex, Death and Everything in Between
While some topics are hard to discuss and might make you uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean your children need to be sheltered.
I lie to my kid constantly. I tell her the store is closed in the middle of the day, when I don’t want to go. I will say, “I have no idea where that chocolate cookie went,” when I know exactly where it went — in my mouth. I’ve even been known to suggest that there are magic green beans, and if she eats enough of them, she might grow into a giant with fairy wings.
Knowledge is empowerment. Even though some topics are hard to discuss and might make you uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean your children need to be sheltered. When kids express curiosity in a subject, there is a way to talk about these issues in an appropriate and upfront way, yet not crush their innocence in the process.
When my 3-year-old asked me how babies are made, I told her. I didn’t go into graphic detail, but I answered her questions honestly. After hearing the information she took a minute then asked, “So you know Sally that goes to my school? So her dad put his penis in her mom’s vagina? Then sperm came out, and got all scrambled with her mom’s eggs, and Sally lived in her mom’s tummy until she was born from her vagina? That’s happened with all my friends?”
Did I consider that maybe my daughter would tell little Sally about her dad putting his penis in her mom’s vagina? Not until that moment. Sally’s mom and dad might have frowned upon me, but guess what? It didn't happen, so I can still go to PTA meetings with my head held high.
Same-sex marriage was a 30-second conversation that went like this. “So boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls? That means some kids get to have TWO MOMMIES!? They are so lucky!” Now all her My Little Ponies are gay-married.
Death is a huge part of life, and if we hide it from our kids, we set them up for a major existential crisis. The more you fear death, the more tortured you will be by the inevitable fate of us all. I live on a farm, so we have a lot of firsthand familiarity. First off, I have a cat who is most likely part of a cult. She brings us mice after ceremoniously eviscerating them, and then strews their body parts across the house creating a variety of mandalas. This has ignited many talks about the circle of life, and how all creatures eventually die; that death is nothing to fear, but a reminder to appreciate life. My now 5-year-old will peacefully play next to a mouse head, and wait patiently for me to find rubber gloves to cart away the carcass.
Every year we house baby turkeys who eventually become Thanksgiving dinner. After a few years of holding the tiny birds, my daughter decided she didn't want to eat turkey anymore. She is making her own informed decisions about consumption through her actual experiences. I am not enforcing any value system, but rather exposing her to the reality, and she is free to make her own choices.
We have talked at length about drugs and addiction, because I think any parent who doesn’t exclusively feed their child bark, deals with the obsession with sugar. What does it mean to crave sugar? Why does she always want ice cream when she is bored? What is it she is trying to fill with that kind of stimulus? We have conscious conversations about these issues, because many of us spend our grownup lives looking for outside substances to fill the void. How do we find balance between enjoyment and excess? Sugar is the first drug kids experiment with, and for most of them, it won’t be the last. The earlier we start asking these questions, the sooner we can dissect and understand our own motivations. I’m not saying she can never indulge, but it’s important to have awareness of what’s driving that desire.
My daughter and I talk about politics, police brutality, racism, global warming, the extinction of animals, and more. She is forming her own opinions of the world through my disclosures of reality. She believes humans who hunt endangered animals should go to jail, Wall Street should be less greedy and learn to share, and policemen need to remember their job is to protect people and not hurt them. Her solution for discrimination is to remember that we are all one family of people, and she is perplexed by sexism — although she is kind of sexist herself because she believes boys are yucky. The most socially aware and active adults are the ones wh o are knowledgeable and have a clear understanding of their worldview. Why not start when they’re young? You’d be surprised by how wise your kid is. Like mine, who has unequivocally concluded that sex is just plain silly.
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