Parenting Sexuality Transparency

Awkward Questions, Honest Answers

Teen sexuality is one of those subjects that inherently becomes the bane of a parent’s life. For some reason, talking about sex and sexuality is embarrassing for many, particularly when it comes to talking to their kids. Just like kids/teens can’t imagine their parents “doing it,” neither can we (parents) imagine our babies “doing it” either.

I’ve written before about the need for transparency in parenting, but those blogs were focused more on our sordid pasts, our own experiential behaviors with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately what led us to our recovery. I feel the same way about teens and sexuality. They are, by nature, sexual beings. Mixed with the inherent risk-taking behavior found in adolescence, the need for autonomy, and the biological reality that they are not cognitively developed enough to make rational decisions, what we have is a cauldron of disaster waiting to happen. We need to be able to talk about it—openly. The reality is, most teens are having sex and most parents would rather eschew reality.

Until recently, my thoughts on this were rather esoteric in the sense that I had no direct experience. Just opinions. But then my son came to me (he’s 10) and said, “Mom, why do penises enlargen?” I’m not going to lie: I had a moment of internal panic, but then I realized this was one of those opportunities to put my thoughts, beliefs and words into action. So I answered him: truthfully. Yes, Pandora’s Box was blasted wide open, but at the same time, it made space for honesty and trust. I am honored that at 10, my son feels emotionally safe enough to broach the tough questions with me, his mom, and not leave the gathering of this information up to schoolyard antics. Granted, it’s only the beginning, but it’s something.  I soon discovered this open attitude of mine wasn’t particularly common. In fact, it was met with some shock and adamant admissions of embarrassment. This was disheartening to me. Honestly, if we want our kids to behave responsibly, it’s best we arm them with accurate information, and provide them with the tools necessary to make positive choices.

So, when the time comes, and your kids start the incessant line of awkward questioning, here are a couple of useful tips that have worked for me:

  1. Don’t shame your child/teen for asking these questions.
  2. Stay age appropriate. Just because the question seems advanced doesn’t mean the one asking is ready to hear the nitty gritty. Answer honestly, but appropriate to the cognitive development of your child.
  3. Get a book! There are some good ones out there that will  provide answers to most of these questions and open a space for discussion.
  4. Teach media literacy.

Certainly, answering honestly in the early years is ideal, but if we set a standard with our kids and allow them to see that we will tell them the truth and create a safe space for them to be themselves, we are ahead of the game.

This is an ongoing conversation, one that will evolve and change as time goes on. Remember: every moment is a teachable moment.

Interesting reads:

Parents, Adolescents, and the Subject of Sex

Your Teen is Having Sex, Don’t Panic (necessarily)

The Horror Whose Name Can’t Be Spoken — Teen Sex

The Upside to Boy-Girl Friendships

Parenting Recovery Transparency

Tell It Like It Is

One thing is clear, there isn’t a definitive handbook for child-rearing. And while we

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parents try our darndest to “do the right thing,” we often fall flat on our faces as a result of being mired by our own childhood stories. I think I can safely say that most of us didn’t grow up in some idealized version of Leave it to Beaver, which is not to say that all of us suffered hellish childhoods either. Still, we have to be careful that we don’t project our own experiences and expectations onto our children. If anything, parenting provides us the opportunity to do things differently. For those of us in recovery, that may also mean facing very real fears that our kids will follow in our sullied footsteps: drinking and using much like we once did.

Adolescence is all about pushing boundaries, experimentation, breaking rules, rebellion, and other assorted behaviors us parents typically loathe. And somewhere in the midst of diaper changes, spit up, and pre-adolescence, many of us simply forget what it was like to grow up. So, if we come across our very own “little Bobby” hung over or high, we are tend to fly off the handle. The truth is, that’s the last thing we should be doing. Our indignation and outrage automatically puts our kids on the defensive, making us the bad guys and the enemy, preventing them from opening up to us. They’re already exerting their independence, distancing themselves from us as much as possible, so being reactive parents will just push them further away. Precisely what we don’t want to do during adolescence. Face it, our teens will rebel. It’s in their nature. But it’s our responsibility to learn to respond to that rebellion skillfully. Even if it means confronting suspected or known drug and alcohol use.

If you suspect drugs or alcohol abuse or already know your child is using, these are some tips from The Partnership for a Drug Free America:

  • Talk to your partner or spouse and get in alignment with one another. You need to have a united front.
  • Expect denial and even anger.
  • Let your teen know you are coming from a place of love and concern.
  • Prepare to be called a hypocrite.
    • If you are in recovery, show some transparency. Your experience and its outcome is a teaching tool.
    • If you smoke or drink, you will more than likely be called out on it by your teen.
    • Have some evidence. Denial is a key component during these sorts of confrontation.
    • Work toward a desirable and realistic outcome: don’t expect full disclosure.
    • Formulate rules and consequences with your partner/spouse beforehand. The last thing you want to do is make snap decisions.
      • Don’t set rules you can’t enforce.
      • If you have addiction within the family, discuss your child’s pre-disposition toward addiction.
      • Be transparent. Talking about your past in a general way is helpful. If we aren’t honest with our kids, how can we expect them to be honest with us?

On occasion, our young ones will ask us questions we may feel are inappropriate or too revealing to answer truthfully, but as puberty hits, and curiosity burgeons, it’s really the time to answer these things as best we can. Our fears and issues need to be set aside, because it’s in those teachable moments where we can affect change. It’s in those moments of honesty and openheartedness where we can provide outlines for healthy perspectives on alcohol, drugs, sexuality, media use, et cetera. Our kids, whether they admit it or not, rely on us to be steady and forthright. If they can’t lean on us, or depend on us, who can they lean on? Who can they trust if we stumble and trip over our own lies while we encourage them to tell the truth? It’s time to be transparent with our teens; they need us to.

Mental Health Parenting Recovery Self-Care Transparency

Father’s Day

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We’re coming up on Father’s Day, and for some, this is a wonderful opportunity to recognize their first hero, their first confidante, or their primary example of “the good guy.” For others, it might mean having to face someone whose trust was lost because of addiction. And for others, it may mean reconciling with the repercussions of not having such an important figure their lives.
I have the pleasure of watching my son and his evolving relationships with his dad and step-dad. I am fortunate to bear witness to their triumphs and struggles, wins and losses, laughter and tears. I understand the inherent value of a healthy, positive father-son relationship, and do all I can do encourage it. 
I was intrigued by this interesting article posted by the Georgia Psychological Association, where Dr. Williams writes about the varying stages of father-son relationships. He says boys often idolize their dads as children, “experience a period of discord” in their teens, begin to evolve as young adults, move into acceptance in their 30s-40s, and eventually “become a legacy of their father’s influence for better and worse” when they reach their 50s and beyond. Seeing my son step onto the path to maturation, I am keenly aware of the need to develop positive habits, some of which need to learned from his father(s). In his case, I am hopeful for a virtuous legacy.
The dynamic between dads and daughters is compelling: Some say girls grow up to marry a version of their dads, while others might carry the nomenclature of “Daddy’s Little Girl” well into their adulthood. There are those, too, who take on the mother figure when mom is absent and dad is left to raise the family on his own. Lastly, there are those whose fathers bailed out, leaving their daughters bereft of a solid, male figurehead. Clearly, things can get complicated. How we manage the complications and find ways to make them palatable is where our recovery work comes in.  As a woman whose relationship with my father is tenuous at best, the tools of my recovery have become invaluable. Learning to let go, learning not to take things personally, learning to remove the ego from the pain of abandonment, and learning to accept that I am sufficient, have become essential. Without these factors, I risk drowning in emotion, a perilous position for any alcoholic/addict.
So, regardless of your relationship with your dad, be it adoring or nebulous, being in recovery gives us the opportunity to develop some kindness and compassion and teaches us how to put it all to good use. (This may actually mean setting a boundary and showing compassion to yourself in some cases!). As we work the steps, we are given the opportunity to change our unskillful behaviors through taking action. After inventories, which require inward reflections, we begin to change our viewpoint and begin taking the appropriate actions toward making positive changes in our relationships with others. It’s the beginning of a lifelong process that teaches us to lesson our expectations, which ultimately increases our ability to accept things as they are.
May this this Father’s Day bring some healing to your hearts and lives. And may you celebrate with an open heart and a compassionate mind,  one breath at a time.