We were having family game night at our house with friends and my three teenage kids. It was a good evening with laughs and lots of talking. These are the moments as a parent that make me think that I have done alright, I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful kids.
As the group wound down and started to disperse, my 18-year-old son got up and announced he would be leaving to go spend time with his friends. As he grabbed his keys and headed for the door I gave what had become a family chant to the boys as they leave the house for an evening out; “Put a helmet on that soldier!”
The next day one of my friends commented that I might want to be more careful in the future; that the “helmet” statement could be embarrassing for my sons coming from me, their mommy. I realized that just like I had talked to my kids about how nasty smoking was, how treating other people with respect is important, and always giving others the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that talking openly about sex, which I consider to be part of every healthy humans life, was open game for conversation with my kids.
I was not embarrassed in the least but taking her advise on board, I asked my son about it later. He said, yes there were times that I was a bit up front about it, but he appreciated that it wasn’t a big deal in our house. He has friends who had never even had the birds and the bees talk with their fathers.. and they are all 18. No matter whether they were sexually active, they just didn’t talk about that stuff in their family dynamic.
Here is what I believe in regards to things my kids are experiencing and information they have access to; if we aren’t talking about it, it doesn’t mean they aren’t dealing with it; It just means WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT IT. And rest assured, if your kids have access to a computer, or any media/digital device, or any another human being on the planet earth.. they know way more than you did at their age .. and they probably know more than you do NOW.. they just don’t know what to do with some of the information.
The biggest lesson to date I have learned as a parent was not in a class, not from a book or video, and not from conversations with other parents; I learned the biggest lesson I have learned to date as a parent listening to my kids. Here is the scenario:
One day driving with my three kids in the backseat of the car about 5 years ago – I listened as they had a conversation about who was popular at school, who liked who, and who was going steady. The conversation switched to talking about how my middle son, we will call him R – was popular, and lots of girls thought he was cute. My daughter asked him if he liked anyone. The conversation was open and non judgmental as they discussed who R liked and my older son started giving advise on how he should proceed to let the girl know of his interest and where they could go if they went on a “date.” I suddenly realized that my children had forgotten I was there – they were sharing something and I had become the “fly on the wall.”
They decided that a movie would be the best first date; they could be together, be in a group, and not have to talk. They discussed which movie, who else should go, and when. I realized that my daughter and oldest where very animated, R sat motionless, pale with eyes wide. He was afraid.
I listened until the conversation ended, and after a few minutes of quiet I looked at R in the rearview mirror and said: “Honey, if you don’t want to go out with a girl to a movie you can tell your friends that your mom wont let you.” He looked at me and relaxed. I didn’t need to say anything more, he had his out and was greatly relieved.
Thinking about this later, I recalled my first kiss. It wasn’t done looking dreamily in the boy who I cherished eyes on a moonlit night, it was in the rain outside the swim pool at a swim meet with a boy that had great hair and eyes and all my friends thought was so cute. I was there because I had been told he liked me and that was the thing you do. It was just a kiss, but what else do kids do because others say it is what you do, or so they can fit in? I want my kids to know that there is always choice, they get to decide. When in doubt..don’t – a statement I reinforced to them even now; a multi purpose statement applicable for most anyone in any situation that is confronting or new.
I am glad my kids and I have conversations about their bodies and sex. I am glad they know all the correct terms for their parts, and that my daughter comes to talk to me snuggled in my bed confessing her concerns about boys and relationships; and sometimes asking for advice!