If you and your partner got "caught" in bed by your kid, what would you say?
Parenting magazines often run cute stories on "Things to Say at That Awkward Moment!" My favorite of these helpful tidbits was this suggestion, "Oh, honey! Daddy was helping Mommy look for a quarter she lost!" Where, exactly? Anyway...
Most parents have at least considered this moment. Then we do the mental equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and closing our eyes to block out the horrific, therapy-requiring fallout that we imagine.
Practically speaking, we lock the door and hope for the best.
But childhood is long, and good marriages are lubricated (I know, sorry!) by sex. Don't most of us have a time-we-heard-our-parents-doing-it story?
Here is my 9-year-old son's story. He can't fall asleep. He hears a noise. Noises. Weird noises, coming from his parents' bedroom across the hall. Is someone crying, or angry? Heart pounding, he gets out of bed and stands outside the door for a minute, listening. More noises. He knocks. The noises stop, abruptly. "Yes?" he hears. "Ummm, is everything OK?" "Yes, honey, get back in bed. I'll be there in a few minutes."
So what did we tell him? Brace yourself. We told him the truth.
What?! Well, think about it. In your friends' stories about "catching" their parents, didn't they know (or figure out later) what was going on? Did the lies their parents told -- an allergy attack, an upsetting phone call, a TV program turned up too loud -- ever fool them? No. It drove a wedge in the communication, made it clear that kids can talk to their parents about anything... except sex.
Later, sitting on the edge of my son's bed, "Remember we told you last year about sex?" "Uh-huh." "That's what we were doing." Pause, while I brace myself for hysteria.
"Oh, OK. It sounded like it hurt." Brain spinning, stall, stall... then I say "Have you ever heard one of your brothers in a different room and you couldn't tell if he was laughing or crying?" "Sure." "It's like that. It doesn't hurt at all, but it's a strong feeling." "Oh. I'm glad you're OK." That was it.
The main reason my husband and I decided in our hurried conversation to tell him the truth was this: we keep demanding honesty from our kids. We'd rather talk about hard stuff then send a message that certain topics are off-limits for discussion.
Lying to those who know you best is fraught with peril. You get stuck in the details, or your child senses an inconsistency. If they pursue any kind of questioning, you get defensive or angry, cutting them off with emotions that don't match the moment, from their point of view. Why are you angry that I'm asking who was on the phone, or what you're allergic to? The whole thing leaves both parties with a very bad feeling in their gut.
So lock the door. Be quiet. And consider telling the truth if you get "caught."
Will he still need therapy? Sure. Because now his story ends "... and then my Mom wrote about it for the Huffington Post." So, if you see him, don't bring it up, OK? Or else toss us a twenty for the Therapy Fund.
Follow Dr. G on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AskDocG