Deep breaths, parents: it's time for 'that' chat with your kids...
“How are babies made?” Four words that every parent prays they won’t hear any time soon. It’s one of those hard parenting moments like forcing your kid to play sport or going back to work in Singapore after maternity leave. And depending on how early it happens, the birds and the bees question may catch you off-guard and leave you woefully unprepared. In my case, it cropped up after we announced a new baby would be joining our ranks. Gleeful squeals and all-important questions like whether the baby can sleep in their bed were followed by an ominous calm. I’m kicking myself for not seeing it coming, and my husband for his resolute silence. How much information is too much information? What would other parents think if my second-grader gave a biology lesson in the schoolyard? Would it be okay if I just shrivelled up into a tiny, horrified ball and played dead? Sadly, no. Here’s how I had The Sex Talk with my seven-year-old…
How to explain sex to children
The “making a baby” explanation – be brave, rip it off like a band-aid
It’s happening. Selective hearing won’t cut it. Inspiration struck. Keep it VERY general and about love. I say, “Well, when two people love each other they have a big cuddle and all the love makes a baby.” Ha – yep, I totally aced it!
Miss Seven shoots straight back, “Okay, but how does that make a baby?” I take a deep breath. All is not lost, I can still go for the scientific approach. “Well, the sperm and the egg meet and create an embryo in mummy’s tummy. It then grows bigger and bigger over nine months until a whole baby is formed.” I’m expecting a calm reflection on the beauty of creation. Miss Seven rolls her eyes in exasperation. “Yeeeees, but how does it actually get IN there Mum?” she says as she points a finger upwards in an uncannily accurate manner. Inquisitiveness is one thing – this kid’s got a future as a spy for the CIA.
I’m beaten, broken and realise that there’s no alternative but to plunge right in, “Dad has a penis and mum has a vagina. When the penis goes, ahem, inside the vagina, the sperm swims up to the egg like a little tadpole.” If the tiny terrorists notice my face is flushing an uncomfortable shade of beetroot, they don’t let on. A short tittering is all I hear.
The painful delivery
Miss Five, who has until this moment sat in stunned silence pipes up, “How does the baby come out? Does a flap in your head open and the baby pops out the top?” My initial choked-back laughter turns to dismay. Could this conversation get any more cringe-worthy? Yes, apparently it can. I say point blank, “Well, it comes out of your vagina.” I wish I had a hidden camera to capture their wide-eyed, slack-jawed faces. Miss Seven’s voice quivers with abject horror as she clutches her privates: “But it’s too SMALL mummy!” Me, feeling childbirth is easier than this conversation, “Yes, that’s why it hurts so much!” Silence. Finally, blessed silence. Then, from Miss Five: “Can I wash and blow-dry my American Girl doll’s hair now?” Clearly, someone’s moved on… I yelp, “Yes of course sweetheart… and let’s have cookies!” We all cheer loudly, me louder than them. Who cares if dinner’s in five minutes – the grilling is over!
Drugs, drugs and more drugs
And that was all I heard on the topic until a few weeks later. An iPhone ad on TV featured a dad working remotely who FaceTimed the delivery of his baby. Miss Seven and Miss Five both burst into tears because they felt sorry for me that I had to go through labour. I reassured them, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, the doctor has REALLY GOOD MEDICINE to take the pain away.” Very good medicine indeed. In fact, I need some now just thinking about it.
Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina
Unlike Mr. Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from Kindergarten Cop, maybe I’m to blame for being subjected to the Spanish inquisition. His standard operating procedure was a flat denial. When asked by a toddler to go to the toilet, he responded: “THERE IS NO BATHROOM”. Respect. I, on the other hand, insisted on teaching my kids the correct anatomical names for their body parts from a young age. No “bot-bot” or “wee-wee” in my house. I’d rather educate them by telling the truth than go down the stork-delivering-baby path. To protect my kids (touch wood) from any harm, my first step was to give them the vocabulary to tell me if something bad happens to them. I want them to be empowered and NEVER embarrassed about their bodies.
So at bath time one night, I raised nonchalantly “That is your vagina and no-one can touch it apart from you, in private.” Miss (then) Four replied, her brow creased with confusion, “My pyjamas?” And I responded somehow keeping a straight face, “Well, it’s what’s inside your pyjamas honey, but no-one can touch them either. Okay?” But seriously though, aside from a little giggle, the kids accepted my explanation at face value and without further question. I’m sure my groundwork made the sex talk that little bit easier.
Prepping for round two: puberty
People tell me I’m crazy for having a fourth baby. This whole awkward experience makes me think maybe they’re right. It’s. Just. Not. Worth. It. And the sad thing is, being pregnant, I couldn’t even lick my wounds with a stiff gin and tonic. Luckily chocolate also works. I figure I’ve got at least a few years before they come and ask me what a “boner” is. There are small mercies. I’m hand-balling that one to my husband; he’s the expert.
Age-appropriate books about reproduction
If reading my sorry tale drives you to seek expert advice, I don’t blame you. Here are a few excellent books to
hand to read with your kids.
It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris is the perfect introduction to the facts of life for little ones. It’s simple, factual and covers the key topics with no fuss.
For kids aged six and up
I vividly remember going to the library with my friends and pouring over Where Did I Come From by Peter Mayle. The cartoon style still holds its appeal for the questioning primary school kid.
For slightly older kids
It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris is a longer, more detailed tome including the body, love, reproduction, pregnancy and more complex topics like masturbation and same-sex relationships.
Good luck; may the force be with you…
This post was first published in 2017.