Last week I received the following email from my son's preschool teacher:
"Hi Logan. Maverick told the class today that babies come out of vaginas. His friend, Reed, disagreed. She said that doctors use knives to cut babies out. It was a very interesting (hysterical) conversation. Thought you'd want to know!"
I beamed with pride. I called my husband. I called Reed's parents. I knew there would come a time when he would take over the role of sex educator; I had no idea that time would occur at three and one half years of age.
But in actuality, I suppose it shouldn't have come as a huge surprise. He had babies on the brain. The night before, we told Maverick that he was as going to be a big brother. Though he was slightly upset that he couldn't choose the gender of our fetus (he wanted a boy, he is getting a girl), he was excited at the prospect of "teaching my baby to read and sing and dance."
That next morning, he woke up in the morning energized. About an hour before school started, he was dressed and ready to go. "Mommy, I want to go to school now. I want to tell everyone about my baby." I walked him to school but before he entered the classroom, I told his teachers about his news so that they would be prepared for what he might tell his classmates.
And off he went. A few hours later, I received the note.
While having a conversation about babies is admittedly easy for me, I recognize that it can be paralyzing for many parents. No matter where I go, I meet dozens of men and women who panic when it comes to talking to their younger children about sex, babies, and bodies. But no matter how old a child is, I always offer parents the following guidelines:
1. Find out what it is that your child is asking.
2. Ask your child why he/she wants to know. (Were they talking about it at school? On a playdate? Did they see something on the television?)
3. Ask your child what he/she thinks that the answer is.
4. Answer their question SIMPLY. Give a straight, matter-of-fact response. Don't overdo it. If they need more information they will ask you additional questions.
Personal case in point: Though my husband and I had told Maverick about our pregnancy days earlier, he hadn't asked the one question that we were anticipating. (The "How" Question.) But eventually, over a bowl of oatmeal, Mav finally decided to ask that important follow up question.
"Mommy, how does the baby get into the uterus?"
"Well, Mav. You know how plants need seeds and water and sunshine to grow?" He nodded his head.
"In order for babies to grow, they need sperm from Daddy and an egg from Mommy."
"Like the ones we put in our mouths?" He giggled.
"Nope. Mommies have these eggs in their bodies, near their uterus. (Yes, he knows the word uterus. He knows that babies are inside of the uterus and will correct anyone who says babies grow in stomachs.)"
"Okay." He walked back to the table to finish his oatmeal. Then he turned around.
"You know what, Mommy? I have sperm."
I laughed. "One day you will. I promise."
In light of our hyper-sexualized culture, we often turn to other sources to teach our children about sex. Sometimes we avoid the conversations altogether because we think that our children are too young and can't handle the material. But having information is empowering. Being able to educate your children is not only a privilege, but our fundamental responsibility as parents. Perhaps most importantly, there is nothing "dirty" or illicit about this material. It is natural; it is a part of who we are. I could not be happier that my child feels comfortable asking those important questions and calmly discussing them. For him, "vagina," "uterus," "penis," and "vulva" are just words. They have no power; they have no negative connotations. I wish everyone would speak with the same open-mindedness as my little sex educator.
Meanwhile, it is clear that my son isn't the only one benefiting from parents talking openly with their children. His friend, Reed (the one from the email), was teaching her classmates, too. She was telling her friends about Caesarian sections, as that was how she came into the world. It was what she knew. It was what her parents had told her.
So here's to early sexuality education. And here's to raising healthy children!
Follow Dr. Logan Levkoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LoganLevkoff