It’s a common enough belief among people that when you have kids you give them little talks to fill them in on your particular family values. Yet I tend to believe as Mahatma Gandhi once said: “My life is my message.” Children pick up family values from the life lived in the family – and yes, this is for good or ill (kids also pick up values outside the family; you cannot force your children into your own worldviews). The need to be conscious about my life-as-lived is is why, in general, I don’t tend to give my kids lectures about this or that. But every now and then I initiate a direct conversation – I just try to avoid any ‘splaining about the whole business. When I choose these discussions I’ve often found asking my children how they feel and what they believe works better than telling them what they should feel or believe.
So here’s word for word what happened in the truck the other day as Sophie and I drove to pick up groceries.
Me: “Sophie, what age do you think it would be okay for you to have sex?”
Sophie: “After I get a boyfriend.”
Me: “When is that?”
Sophie: “Maybe… thirteen or fifteen.” She thinks another beat then says, “Maybe I’d wait a little longer.”
Me: “Oh so you mean, you’d start dating as a teenager, but wait to have sex?”
Me: “You know, that’s what I did. I mean I had boyfriends and girlfriends for a while before I started having sex with any of them.”
Sophie: “Girlfriends? You’re kidding!” She looks at me in surprise.
Me: “Yes, I mean a few. I kissed them and had sex with some of them and all that. But you know, first I dated for a while before that kind of thing.”
Sophie: “Oh!” The light in her eyes and voice is just priceless. Something “fits” for her, although I’m not sure what it is.
We pull into the parking lot. My daughter unbuckles her seatbelt, leans over and puts her arms around me, strokes my hair. “Thanks for always telling us the truth, Mama,” she says softly, and kisses me so gently.
So really, there’s that.