Friday, May 11, 2007

The birds and the bees with an 8 year old

There are many things about being a parent that haven’t gone according to plan. Each time I cradled my boys in my arms, I made promises to do good by them, especially in ways that had lodged themselves unfavorably in my own childhood memories. I’ll never get impatient and yell at my boys. I’ll never threaten to send them to a boarding school to straighten them out. I won’t tell them about starving kids in India and how lucky they were. Unhappily I have gone back on every one of these. I realize I can be a bad father. But there are two things I’ve been consistent with my kids about in ways I had always envisioned. I’ve never smacked them and I’ve always dispensed information about gender, sexuality and equality appropriately and consistently.

Early signs or readiness
Lately we had been getting signals from our 8 year old that he was ready for the birds and bees conversation. This manifested itself in many ways. He would make goofy jokes around the words penis and vagina. He would open up the dictionary and look the words up. He would proudly show them to his friends when they came over.

Was it too early, we wondered? My wife, my saner half, said he was absolutely ready. I harked back on the incident in Chicago a few years ago where an 11 year old girl was discovered performing oral sex on a boy in a school bus. Wouldn’t learning about sex help him make good choices?

So last week we decided to have the big conversation with him. We wondered if he would be shell shocked. Would he run into his room and not emerge for hours afterwards? Would he forevermore look askance at his parents when we were closely ensconced on the couch?

To help us do this we enlisted the help of a book, because in our house everyone reads – even, I suspect, the rats (how else would they know so much about our plumbing?) The book we used is called Where Did I Come From? and is written in the format of a children’s picture book by Peter Mayle.

Before we did this we told our son that we would be sharing the secret of exactly how he was conceived and born over the weekend. Twice before the week was over he came by to ask if it was time for him to learn the secret. When the time came he sat next to me with anticipation (farthest from his somewhat amused mom). I read.

Our helper – the book
The book is wonderful in that it introduces the reader to physical sex differences by introducing private parts and talks about sex as an important, pleasurable act before explaining the process of pregnancy and birth. It is all done very matter-of-factly and with anatomically correct cartoons.

All of this went down really well. About the time we explained the actual act of intercourse my son’s eyes bulged a little and he said “Whoa!” quietly. That was probably his most overt reaction. We gave him time for questions but he wanted me to keep reading. We summarized by telling him how difficult childbirth was for his mom but how happy were to have him. It was important he understood what a woman goes through because his identification with his Dad is organic and strong. But his appreciation of his mom needs to be built brick by brick.

Post lesson rules
After we finished we laid down two rules. One, he could read the book whenever he wanted but he needed to either keep it under his pillow or on the bookshelf in the office. Two, he was not to break this new information to his younger brother (5 and not yet ready) and instead let his parents do it at the right time. That book now lies under his pillow. He periodically refers to it. There is no overt awkwardness we can detect. When I asked him about his thoughts on the lesson a few days later he said “I have no questions Dad. I feel like I know everything about sex and how babies are born”.

Son, you have no idea!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am single mother and my son is 12 year old with no siblings. I think, he too is ready to know and is shy asking me "how" questions.

How should I deal with it? Please suggest.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, indeed! Pretty amazing --- both as a piece on parenting and in terms of MotorSandal's reaction. Aspi, you'll have to keep us updated on Youngling's reaction when his turn is up. I was also delighted to see that the Drift Memsaab is your SH - saner half :P

Anonymous said...

** contains explicit at your own discretion**

well i always knew where babies came from because my mom is a doctor and she has her books and one day my older brother saw pictures of babies being born ya know coming out of the va jay jay and he told me

but the whole conception was what confused me, at one point i thought you get pregnant once you finish with wedding and eat karah parshad.. or once you say i do if you're a xian...

then as i got slightly older i thought you got pregnant if you sleep in the same bed with another man (at that point i didn't think being married was necessary.. since i understood there were some unwed moms).. i thought sperm was like this mysterious invisible thing that is like a spirit and that can fly through your clothes and straight into an unsuspecting female.. like you couldn't sit on the same chair as another man because you never know what might be lurking there LOL

i think imma stop, i sound like a freak

Unknown said...

Hozena! When I was a kid I thought touching a women's breasts would do it. When I asked my mom for confirmation I remember her laughing, then becoming very serious and saying "no son, thats not it". Then she went back to correcting papers.

NatC said...

That was a interesting read aspi....:) It is funny how kids now a days by the age of 8-9 know how babies are born... I remember I thik I was in grade 6 , I thought we purchased babies from the hospital.... :)
I will keep this article in mind when my son startes inquiring about birda and bees