Prompted by an article about a water birth in the new Irish Natural Parenting magazine, I recently had a great discussion with my kids about their births (one was a water birth, both were at home). This led naturally to an animated discussion about reproduction; what goes where, menstrual cycles, ovulation, the whole nine yards. It’s a subject we are building on over the years and return to again and again.
My daughter is ten and fast approaching puberty. My son is almost eight and old enough to ask pertinent questions. A friend of mine once said, “If they ask the question they’re ready to hear the answer”. I love these discussions and the range of questions they cover. For my children, it’s still all about the mechanics; they experience no embarrassment or shame discussing these topics. They are unable to conceive of or understand sexual energy at this age, so it comes down to a fun, open, practical discussion. They understand private parts of the body, stranger danger and physical boundaries, to a point. The rest will come in time.
I’ve come to understand that this is an ongoing conversation and continual growth together, not a case of ‘did you have that conversation?’ Like talking about death, loss, God, religion or other philosophical subjects, it comes around every few months and each time, we explore it in a new way. The cats were mating all over the place at one stage last year, as they scratched each other yowling and screeching, my son asked jokingly ‘is that what you look like when you’re mating?’ Well that got me laughing!
What I am learning from all of this is how different it was for me. Puberty as I recall it, was an awkward, embarrassing time with some basic knowledge but very little understanding of what was normal or acceptable behaviour and what was not. The fine lines of innuendo, sexist overtures, harassment or power play were not discussed, we were left to figure those things out as we grew up and sometimes that information was hard earned. All I can say is, I’m trying is to cultivate an environment of curiosity and questioning for my kids.
As a wise teacher once said ‘why tell when you can ask’. Questions like ‘why do you think they’re behaving like that?’ or ‘why do you think she says that when you feel she doesn’t mean it?’ can be a really helpful way of discussing dynamics between friends and peers, helping them to come up with their own answers. Ultimately, the mechanics of sex discussed in school along with STD’S etc. while obviously important, are the least important part of understanding sexuality and relationships. The real topics, far harder to pin down yet ultimately more engaging, are about dynamics and behaviour.
Group dynamics, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, sexual energy – what do these things mean and how can we explore them? Why do people behave as they do? What influences our behaviour and how can we change it? What kind of choices can we make for ourselves with friends, boyfriends and girlfriends? Who do we surround ourselves with and how do we spend our time? What is sexual energy and how do we use it? If it’s like a fire within us that can create a painting or a book, just as it can produce life, what else can it do? What happens when you connect with another person in that way? Is it a form of power that can be used to love or to harm?
For young women in particular this is an interesting discussion, as media, music and magazines are so full of explicit images of super manicured female bodies. The pressure to have hair, nails, eyebrows, make up etc. all present and correct for a night out seems to be more intense than ever. And yet all any of us want in the teens and early twenties is to have fun and enjoy being young. How best to manage it all?
These are the sorts of questions I am fascinated by and interested in discussing with my own daughter as she comes of age. I don’t want to tell her things, what I’d really like is to help facilitate a journey of self discovery, asking these and other questions about sex, sexuality and relationships.
How can we as parents work towards this together, empowering ourselves and empowering our children to love and accept themeslves, to grow into their sexuality in a healthy, beautiful way?
Sex is a Funny Word - Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Bully proof kids – Stella O Malley
Emotional Intelligence/Working with Emotional Inteligence – Daniel Goleman
What do You Really Want for Your Children – Wayne W. Dyer
Happy Children – Rudolf Dreikurs
Siobhán Daffy runs Natural Rhythms Homeopathy using natural medicine for children and adults at Alethea Holistic Centre, Parkwest. She also runs regular Happy Healthy Children courses for parents. www.naturalrhythms.ie www.facebook.com/naturalrhythms