I have a story to share that has been bubbling within me for some time, now. I have been reluctant to share it with you, because of my concern that someone, sometime down the road, may attempt to use it to cause embarrassment for one of my kiddos, but I have made peace with that.
I do want to acknowledge the difficulty about writing candidly about parenting, especially in the realms of discussing sexual identity, development, gender identity, or sexuality in general.
Someone recently remarked to me that she was convinced that my child might become POTUS one day. In this current setting, that is a weird thing to predict… and I try to receive it with grace. You see, we are terribly hard on those who would lead us — who would assume positions of public service through political or spiritual leadership. We place them on a pedestal and micro-criticize their every potentially embarrassing moment — throughout their lives! We sometimes forget that they are people. We fail to give them the grace or kindness – or reality checks – that we would offer to a friend or brother or neighbor. They may change their minds at a later date when new information becomes available, but we critique, deride, and pick on them for this, labeling them as wishy-washy, or worse. Seriously. When someone is willing to re-evaluate their stance on something as a result of new information, we should celebrate that! They are not so narcissistic as to assume that they always make the right call the first time!
So with that said… and my previous acknowledgement of the potential for this to be broadcast at a later date… If you are referencing this blog or story in an effort to shame or embarrass my child, you are a schmuck! And you did it, too!
Now for the meat.
Some time ago, I was tucking my pre-schooler into bed. While we were reading stories, I was aware of some unusual gyrations going on next to me in the bed. I continued reading, wondering what would come of it. I did not have to wait long. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my child sniffing his or her fingers. I paused in my reading of — probably a Little Critter book, and asked, “Does it smell interesting?” My child sheepishly made eye contact and nodded. I put the book down, and told my child this:
I remember a time when I was about your age and I was exploring all the parts of my body and what they smelled like. What you are doing is okay. It is normal. But there are some rules.
I watched as embarrassment yielded to incredulity, to a warm and interested smile, to rapt attention, as my child awaited the boundaries I was about to share.
There was no shame. Not even a hint.
The rules are: you may touch your body in whatever way you want, in the privacy of your own room or the bathroom when you are alone.
You may not touch other people until after you have washed your hands.
If you are in bed, be sure you wash your hands before you go to sleep.
Try not to put your hands in your mouth after touching your bum.
My child expressed understanding. “Got it.”
I offered two options:
1) I can continue to read to you and then tuck you in, but you will need to go wash up first, or
2) Reading time can be over, and I can leave you in privacy.
My child chose option 1 and promptly returned after going potty and washing up. Bed-time routine continued without any further distractions.
It worked! Whew! That was easier than I expected. Simple, appropriate, easy rules, No shame. How do I know it worked? Two ways.
- It hasn’t come up again for about 6 months.
- About 20 minutes after said child was tucked in, I was standing in the laundry room emptying the dryer when I see my child skitter past into the restroom. With mom-like reflexes, I poked my head into the restroom prior to the child closing the door, and asked, “Why are you out of bed?” The response, “I had to wash my hands.”
If you think this is inappropriate or gross, I imagine you have already stopped reading. For sex-positive parents… This does not have to be an awkward of scary process. Just remain mindful in the moment of your commitment not to link normal sexual development to shame. Remember your own sexual development and don’t be afraid to share, in developmentally appropriate ways. You are the parent. You are the first and (for now) most reliable resource your child has!
My struggle at this point, is how to continue to raise my child in this way, in what has the potential to be an alarmist, or sexually-shame based culture.