My entrance into puberty was interesting (to say the least) as I was going through it all being predominantly raised by a man. A man who was raised on a farm which tended to keep him a little behind on the social norms and made him very awkward around anything even remotely taboo. But even things like slumber parties always perplexed. Not just that they existed, but how invitations were exchanged and why I always came home basically hung over and unable to function. So something personal and inherently awkward like puberty, was a challenge.
Once I got past the “training bra” stage, Dad would basically just give me a credit card at the mall or at Target and let me buy my own under garments. This was actually kind of fun because I got to buy pretty stuff when some people had Moms buying their bras and therefore stuck to the boring white/beige colors.
When I got my first period, my Dad had a serious girlfriend. The only serious girlfriend he ever had. I started my period on a weekend I was at my Moms house, but my Mom obviously told my Dad. And my Dad told his girlfriend. And she thought we should celebrate, so I found myself eating at Red Lobster with a big group of people, basically celebrating my period which I thought was MORTIFYING. I mean, as an adult? The story is hilarious. Especially the part where we told them it was my birthday so they made me wear a lobster hat and sang to me and the entire time I’m thinking, “I GOT MY PERIOD. STOP SINGING TO ME.”
But as an adult? That story is one of my favorites to tell. There is photographic evidence of this night somewhere but I can’t find one…YOUR LOSS.
In our house now? We talk about puberty constantly. I feel like if we keep open conversations early on, it will never be awkward like it was with my Dad. I never felt comfortable asking for tampons or pads at the store so I would get my friends to bring me some of theirs. I tried to rotate friends so I didn’t put that burden all on one person, but I never asked my Dad. IT WAS TOO WEIRD. Once I was finally old enough to drive, I would get my own which made life MUCH EASIER.
So we openly talk about it all in our house. We talk about periods and erections and bras and pubic hair and I try to keep it as casual as possible. I read something a long time ago that said when you’re kids ask questions that make you uncomfortable, have the conversation in the car. That was never a deliberate decision on my part, but it’s the way it always works. I think my kids are as aware of how much easier those conversations are when we’re not making eye contact, so they always ask the tough questions when we’re driving places. Like, “Mom, can you get pregnant by touching a boy’s penis? So-in-so says you can.”
We had already had the sex talk due to a similar question once before. (I’m sorry to break this to you, but if your kids go to a big school where they interact with older kids, there’s a really good chance they’ll come home long before you’re ready with questions like those.) So, we rehashed it. I don’t flower it up and say, “When a man loves a woman…” I’m just clinical about it. We use words like “penis” and “vagina” and “sperm” and “egg.” When they say, “Gross!” I say, “I promise you won’t think that forever. It will be pretty appealing after you go through puberty and you start thinking about thinks like who you want to kiss.”
But I do my best to never let them know I feel awkward, because I feel like that’s why it was obvious uncomfortable with my Dad. It could not have been more obvious how awkward he felt. He never really even had the “sex talk” with me, although he did buy me an academic book about sex for my 16th birthday. Which, if you knew my Dad, was a perfect reflection of his character.
Hence the open conversations in our house constantly. Recently, one of my kids asked how they would know if they were gay. Funnily, they both have hinted at really wanting to be gay, because the person they love the most in the world is gay and so, you know, they want to be just like him. But we talked about urges, and how when they go through puberty those urges will will help them sort out more who they find attractive. I also joke about how it would be great if they were attracted to boys and girls because then they have twice as many options for romantic relationships. I also openly tell them how if life had gone differently, I could easily see having a wife instead of a husband because I find women just as attractive as I find men. We just keep all of those conversations casual, which is the key. If I don’t act like it makes me uncomfortable? Then hopefully they’ll never feel awkward asking me the tough questions.
But it’s difficult, because most of the time I’m terribly uncomfortable. I’m a prude. I’m modest. I don’t like talking about bodily functions. I don’t like being naked, even around my husband. My terrible reproductive past of ruining clothing by hemorrhaging meant I couldn’t hide that part of my life from my husband, BUT LORD IF I WANTED TO. I didn’t like it being a thing we had to regularly discuss. All of these things make me as uncomfortable as they made my Dad, but I remember how hard it was to go through all of that weird stuff without feeling like I could talk to him, so I’m trying my best to create a comfortable environment for my kids.
Even if it means we have all of those talks in the car so that we don’t have to make eye contact. It’s better than not having the talks at all, right?