The messages we send our children about the healthy affects of a strong marriage can instill in them the courage to be loving and "fiercely loyal", as President Gordon B. Hinckley has said we should be. It will give them the chance to observe and hear for themselves what they can attain- what is available- in a world of divorce and sexual misrepresentation. To discuss sexual intimacy with them is critical. If we as parents do not have these conversations- it is inevitable they will learn inaccurate facts from someone or somewhere else.
Jill C. Manning, a marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado- featured on Real Families- Real Answers (BYU) said, "We as parents need to make a critical decision about who's voice is going to get to them (our children) first, and who's voice is going to win out." In an earlier post, I mentioned the safety I had in my home growing up with dialogue about sex. It was empowering to me later in life as I faced the world that encouraged acceptance of things I knew in my heart to be inappropriate and offensive. This open dialogue proved to be a haven that led me in a direction that is now open on this blog and in our home. My husband didn't have open discussion growing up, and there have been lasting effects because of it. To teach our children these concepts and principles has always been our plan.
Mr.Napes and I had talked about the right timing of these conversations. We felt strongly about two things: 1. We would have these discussions with each child TOGETHER as it is a common misconception that fathers need only talk to the son and mothers need only talk to the daughter. Sharing these conversations together shows the child unity in the marriage. It gives them more than one resource for understanding. It offers answers to questions from both perspectives, and it prepares them for future relationships, with knowledge of the opposite sex.
2. We would address this sensitive and amazing topic when they were around the age of 8- the age of accountability. In our home, this is the year they are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. With the Holy Ghost they can receive all truth. In Moroni chapter 10 verse 5 it says, "And by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things." Our children are able, with help from the teacher of truth, to receive knowledge...even about sex, and to accept this information with a pure and simple heart.
Some people may say this is too young. In a world with sexual messages EVERYWHERE, I recommend seeking the advice of the apostles and prophet. When reading what they have to say about teaching this subject to our children, it is evident we should prepare them at early ages. We are told that just as a parent wouldn't send their child into a winter storm with out proper protection (shoes, coat, hat) we also shouldn't send them into the world without the protective knowledge that will save them from harsh disasters to come.
We felt peace about this age and were preparing ourselves for this discussion. I realize that every child is different and every household is different. I offer the conversation we had with the hope that even one person may take something from it. If anything I share is helpful, my purpose is met. If nothing is helpful, it's alright- as it doesn't change the remarkable and enlightening evening we had with our daughter, Rain. Thanks to my journal, all of the dialogue has been preserved for a moment like this.
Mr. Napes was away at a meeting one evening and I had put our two younger children to bed. I was in Rain's room on her bed as we chatted about her day. She and I were content and happy with this "talk time", as we discussed school, friends, and life. As she was sharing, I was completely taken aback by a strong feeling that I needed to ask about her understanding of this topic. This wasn't our design- I thought. My husband wasn't home and she was only 7! She was in the second grade. She was too young.
I fought this impression for a while, internally telling myself this wasn't the right timing, but feeling again and again I should ask her some detailed questions. After the nagging in my heart was more than I could bear, I finally opened the conversation with this question: "Hey Rain, you know that aunt D. is pregnant right?" "Yeah, mom, I know." "Well, how did that happen? How did that baby get inside of her belly- what do you think?"
It was in this moment that her face turned bright red and she dropped her head to avoid eye contact with me. She slowly fiddled with her fingers. My heart sank! This body language spoke volumes. Not knowing my daughter, you may think it was expected, but nothing in conversation in the seven years I have known her, had ever made her noticeably uncomfortable. It was obvious to me that she was struck by my question, and I instinctively felt I needed to find out why.
"Um, I don't really know how mom, but all I know is what Emily told me." Emily was another second grader in her class at school. They rode the bus together, played at recess together, and sat next to each other in class. I now knew why I had been inspired. How long had she been curiously wondering about this new information? How long had she been burdened with confusion? "When did she share things with you? What did she say?" I asked. "Four days ago."
4 days. This was a tender mercy. It wasn't weeks or even months. I had surely been inspired. "Well, she said a lot of things but the big thing she said is that a man's "private" and a woman's "private" had to touch. Can you believe that?!"
I had the chance to gently clarify truth, and our conversation was very open and very honest. I will add the details with a soft warning that our conversation was frank in many ways. Healthy and clean, but frank. I said, "Well, Emily is right honey." "She IS?" she asked, shocked. "Yep, they do have to touch but there is a little more to it than that. The man's private has to actually go inside of the woman." I didn't flinch, I didn't stammer. I explained things just as I would have explained how to pour flour into cookie dough. This proved important in her safety to share. She knew I was comfortable with her asking and telling me things.
I also want to mention that the accuracy in my teaching had to be suited for her age and understanding. Some explanations wouldn't have made sense to her 7 year old mind, and so I explained some things in elementary terms as opposed to medical terms that adults receive. A reminder once again that I am no expert. She knows the technical terms for body parts- which is important, but I followed her lead as she asked me why the man's private entered the woman's. Up to this point, my husband and I had already explained that a man's sperm and a woman's egg came together to create a baby. This was when my 3 year old son asked the year before. That was all we shared back then of course, so they would be familiar with those terms, and the conversation was done. He ran off to play and was satisfied.
"Well, it's actually pretty awesome. Remember we told you about the egg and the sperm?" "Yeah." "The woman's eggs are inside of her body and the sperm goes inside the body to find the egg. It's the only way to make it work. But it's normal. It's the way animals make babies too." "Really?" "Yep- horses, cats, dogs. It's pretty amazing. A real miracle. And just so you know... you can ask me anything you want sis." "I can? Ok...well...um...does it hurt?" "You know Rain- it did a little bit. That's because my body had never tried to make a baby before. It took some getting used to while we were trying to figure it all out. After that though it didn't hurt at all. It was beautiful!" During this conversation, I never introduced the idea to her that this process took place for reasons other than having a baby.
"You know Rain, it doesn't always work the first time either." "How come." "Well, the eggs and the sperm are so small and it's dark in there. To find each other is tricky. Mom's and dad's sometimes have to try often." This made sense to her. "Well," she asked, "Do you know if it works right away?" "No it takes two weeks or so and then you take a special pregnancy test." "Oh yeah...isn't there something about putting a stick in water?" (Hmm...also didn't know she knew that.) "Yes but it isn't water- it's urine. Because something from inside has to come out to show you that it worked (so to speak :) There are two lines that show if it worked and one line if it didn't." "Did two lines show up with ME?!"
"Yes! I was soooo excited. Daddy and I had been trying for a month or two. Some people try for a long, long time. I was jumping up and down because I finally had you in my tummy." Rain's face was full of excitement and joy. "Tell me more." she said. "Well, I was happy that after daddy and I "made love" it had finally worked." I chose this wording with pure intent. "Made love?" she asked. "Yes, that's what we call it when we are married and we share that experience of making a baby. You love your baby brother River, right." "Oh yes mom! I LOVE River." "Well that's what River is...he is such love, and this is the way we made him." "Mom, that makes so much sense," she said.
"You know Rain, it's important to remember that this is only to happen the right way. When a husband and a wife are married. Only when we have been married can this be an exciting and happy thing." (I realize there are happy people who don't follow this pattern. This was my teaching opportunity for my daughter with principles we choose to live, and I believe this to be true.) "Can it happen if you aren't married?" "It can honey, but it's not as happy of an experience then. It's sin if you aren't married and it can be a sad and painful mistake. It takes a long repentance process to make it right, though it CAN be made right. Even though it can be fixed- only when we have been married, and in the temple, does it become the greatest experience ever! That's Heavenly Father's plan."
"Mom....do you know anyone who did that when they weren't married?" "Yes, I do. I have a few friends and relatives who had a baby first. One cousin said that it was sad and very hard, but after a lot of work she and her boyfriend got married. They repented, and were sealed in the temple. They are happy now, but there was a lot of time wasted. She said looking back, she wished they would have done it differently. She said it could have been an easier and more joyful time. It's not ok when you aren't married...no matter what anyone says."
"Man, why would Satan do that?! Why would he want someone to fall down, mom? Like he trips them. That would be like my friend Sean putting his foot out and tripping me on purpose. That's so mean." "I like the way you put that sis. It's true and we can all fall down from time to time. We must be very careful in our choices. We must stay close to the Holy Ghost and follow the prophet to make sure we don't fall down. But if we do, we get back up and repent. Our Savior loves all people, though he wants us to make the right choices the first time if we understand it."
"Mom, how come I've never seen you and daddy do this- make love, I mean." "Well, that question is good and important. It's because making love is the most special and sacred thing that can happen between a husband and a wife. Do you remember what sacred means?" "Yes, something special but with the spirit." "Yep. And this is special with the spirit for a mom and dad. No one gets to see it but us." "NO one?" "Yes- NO one honey. It's too special to share with people. It's very private and everyone needs to remember that. It's like the most special place on earth. Do you know what that is?" "YES! The temple." "Yep, and can anyone go into the temple?" "No, not anyone. You need a recommend to go in there." "Yes Rain, it's so sacred and special, it's between God and the person going through. Making love is so special also- it's between God and a husband and a wife to see. No one else. This means if you ever see someone sharing this love, it's not ok. Not on t.v., or in the movies, or magazines. Not anywhere! You'll know that if someone is letting people see...it's sin. And please tell daddy and I if there is a situation like this going on."
"Mmm. I won't forget. But mom, how does it happen? I mean where? Where am I when you and daddy are together?" "Well, mostly in our room. We share the same bed and so it's ok for us to share this love." "Do you stay that way all night to make sure it works?" (I realized it may seem odd to be "stuck" like that all night in a 7 year old mind.) "Well, we come together to try, and afterward we brush our teeth and say our prayers and we hug and sleep." (Which is all she needs to know for now.) "Mom, that seems so normal and it makes sense. And it doesn't make me nervous. I'm so glad we had this talk." This inspired my mind to cover something else important. "Has it been good?" I asked. "So good!" "I wanted to tell you one more thing. As wonderful as this was, we need to make sure that we let all of your friends have the same great conversation with their moms. We can't take that away by telling them all of these awesome things. It will be their moment for their moms to explain."
"Got it mom. My lips are sealed!" she said as she slid her fingers across her mouth. "It wouldn't be right for me to mess that up. It's just between us...not even for Clay."-her other brother. She understood. (I was so glad this would not be playground information. A mother's nightmare.) I asked her if she had anymore questions and as I did, her dad walked in. "Hey guys...questions about what?" The moment of truth... "Hey Rain, why don't you tell daddy what we've been talking about." Yes, this was fun for me to watch the ball drop and see her dad's face, but I also wanted her to restate what she'd heard so I could recognize any loop holes and flaws in my explanations. "We were talking about how babies are made."
The look on the man's face was worth a million bucks. "Um...what did she say?," were the words he stammered as he turned to me. "Yeah Rain, why don't you tell him what Emily taught you at school...." "Oooooh. Hmm..." he said. "Ok, let's have it." He took off his suit coat, knelt beside her bed, and the conversation went as before. She was able to ask him questions- which happened to fall more into the animal side of conception. (Daddy have you see a cow try this?)...Yes he got the better end of the deal :) but she was able to strengthen her relationship with him through this topic.
In the end, we all went to bed that night with humble and happy hearts. I had truly been inspired in my words. We have followed up with her a time or two since then to see if her little mind has formulated more questions or concerns, and truly she is at peace. This conversation has since led to the explanation of menstrual cycles and, she is equipped. It is empowering to send her to school, or anywhere knowing that the spirit has confirmed truth to her tiny, tender heart. It was one of the greatest conversations we have shared. One I look forward to in the future with her siblings.
Rick Shatz- President and CEO of the National coalition for the protection of children and families said this in reference to teaching our kids about sex, "Decide what the right age is- subtract three years- and you're only one year late, and that isn't a joke. This is the reality of where we are in the world today." If the "right age" seems to be 12, 13, or 14... then his statement and the next statement as well, rings true: John R. Sealy, Md.- assistant clinical professor of psychology- UCLA said, "It is important to have dialogue about sex with your children. Much younger than teen, certainly by 8 or 9."
Everyone will have a different experience as it is unique to each child. Arming them with powerful information and peace is the ultimate goal to fight the temptations that come in life. Namely promiscuity, pornography, infidelity, self abuse, and others. I am grateful to have Miss Rain's permission to share our great day to any bloggers who choose to read or want to learn. She hopes all of your kids "feel happy too."
I send my best to every parent - everywhere. Do all you can.