Have you had that talk about the facts of life with your oldest child yet? Maybe your kids aren’t old enough yet… or maybe you know the time is fast approaching but you feel a little awkward bringing up such a delicate subject? Carolyn Smith, mom of ten, has written an excellent book on the topic, Growing Up in God’s Image: A New Approach to the Facts of Life Talk. This is the second part of an extended interview with her, conducted by MercatorNet contributor Mary Cooney.
This week we continue our interview with
Mary Cooney: Are there any signs of readiness we should be looking for before teaching them details about the marital act?
Carolyn Smith: This is a difficult question to answer because I don’t know that there are many real tangible signs as there are for the talk about puberty. I briefly addressed this in last week’s question about readiness, but maybe I can offer some further considerations.
I think you must consider your child’s personality and level of maturity. Is your child a boy or a girl? How curious is your child? How overwhelming was the talk about changes in the body? Did questions arise during that discussion? How open and accepting was your child to that information? Consider your child’s peers and the types of discussions your child is exposed to with those peers, including those in the classroom who may not even be your child’s friends. Consider your child’s environment. Even though you all live in the same house, each child’s environment is different to some extent.
The unfortunate fact is you may have to tell your child before he/she is ready. In my book, I offer an explanation that I believe is perfect for this type of situation. The way I convey it is simple, holy, and complete but very much at a child’s level of understanding and innocence. It is an explanation of how this love images Christ’s love for us in the Eucharist. Again, the words are provided relieving parents of the consternation of what to say. I provide an adult explanation first to better prepare parents to sit with their child. People of all faiths have told me this is their favorite part of the book.
What would you say to parents who feel queasy or uncomfortable about teaching their children about the facts of life, and specifically sexual intercourse?
I’d say, “Get the book, and give it a try!” You are the best one to convey this information. You teach your children about love every day of their lives. Don’t leave this to someone else. Someone else will teach the biology, but chances are they won’t teach God’s design. I am a volunteer counselor in a crisis pregnancy center. When I ask a client if she ever thought about what that act means, I always get a blank stare in response. No one has ever explained this as a God-given gift of total self-giving love. They know the biology, but they don’t understand what it means. Our world is crying out for the real deal! Self-sacrificing and self-giving love needs to be taught at home by both word and example.
Of course we want to present the marital act as a beautiful and precious gift from God. However, it seems to me that we also need to teach our children about the dangers and damage caused by premarital sex and contraception. Otherwise they may get wrong information from peers or unreliable sources. When and how would you present this information?
I have briefly addressed premarital sex in last week’s post, but haven’t yet addressed contraception. One thing has always puzzled me about contraception. There is no part of our body that we would ever consider breaking if it is working exactly the way it should. I find it mind boggling that we don’t think twice about doing it to our reproductive organs. We break something that is working exactly the way it is supposed to work. It is all under our control. But it’s not!
There is no reliable form of contraception. For the unmarried, it promotes promiscuity and a false sense of security. “I can make certain choices without suffering the normal consequences.” It’s a lie. There is no such thing as “safe sex” outside of marriage. There is nothing safe about single motherhood, STDs, and the hurt that results from losing yourself to multiple partners. Birth control won’t protect you from any of it.
For married couples, it puts all the responsibility on the wife. No conversation about intimacy ever needs to take place. For some, it means my spouse is available whenever I want. Contraception says there is a part of you/us I’m not willing to accept or give. Other considerations from chemical contraceptives include present and future side effects as well as the fact that these act as abortifacients when they fail to prevent conception.
With NFP, both spouses are involved in decisions about intimacy. It is a mutual decision and gift. There are also no side effects when you honor the body’s natural cycles of fertility and infertility. NFP seems to lend itself much better to mutual self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Studies show it is reliable when wanting to either postpone or achieve pregnancy. Studies also show it promotes stronger marriages.
How can we protect our children and help them to be modest and chaste in a culture that promotes promiscuity and casually regards premarital sex as normal behavior?
Isn’t this the million-dollar question? Fashion, music, TV, movies, etc. How do we battle them? Don’t be afraid to say, “No” to your kids! It seems to me that many parents are afraid of that word. Kids need to hear it, and believe it or not, they want to hear it. They want clear boundaries. They want clear expectations. God made them to someday share eternity with Him. Encourage them to become the person God created them to be and to help others in that journey as well.
Any final advice for parents of young children? Teens?
When your children are little you are physically tired, but for the most part their problems are little, too. Enjoy that time when they are so small and so completely dependent. Enjoy their simplicity when they are so little.
When I first became a Mom, I have to say I was nervous about the teen years. I thought my husband would be good with that age level but really doubted that I would be. Well, I was pleasantly surprised with how much joy those years brought. So often, I felt like I was watching ‘first steps’ all over again as they developed their gifts and talents. They are wonderful years, and yes, full of challenges that will keep you more mentally than physically tired.
A complete stranger stopped me on the street years and years ago when my children were still very young. We were on our way into the grocery store. She told me that someday they would hate me and to remember that’s ok. The day came when I was glad for that advice. Now let me reiterate, the teen years are wonderful, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. As I said earlier, they are years of watching first steps all over again.
But, I won’t underestimate the challenges either. They can be rebellious years. Remember it’s ok if they don’t like you. However, when and if they shut you out, don’t let them. Somehow let them know they can shut you out all they want, but your love is always there for them. When and if you think they are not listening, tell them anyway — whatever it is. They are listening. Whether they admit it or not by word or action, they want to hear from you. They want to know you care. Sometimes, I would get the response, “Ok Mom, we know.” I always thought that’s ok. They know my thoughts well. They know where I stand, and they know my expectations. They know I love them.
Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your wisdom and experience! What a much-needed help for families of today!