How do you handle awkward questions from your growing children?
My first rule has been never to avoid the questions. No matter what I have been asked, I have always replied. There have been times when I have desperately wanted to duck behind a you’ll know when you are older excuse. But my conscientiousness wouldn’t allow me to do that.
There have also been times when I have been terribly embarrassed (conditioning, conditioning alas!). I have had to make a conscious effort to appear nonchalant about human bodies and their functions. I have NO idea whether my kids were convinced of my nonchalance or my cursed turning red with embarrassment shyness stuck out a mile from my blessed ears. The former, I am hoping.
In any case, there’s not much I can do about it, a thought I find very comforting.
I have taught myself not to feel compelled to answer instantly. We aren’t playing rapid fire word association games, I’ve told myself sternly. At times I have looked the child in the eye and told her that the question she has asked involved a great deal of detail. Because of this, I have said, I must take a few minutes to simplify the answer. To simplify my answer, I have taken inspiration from a story a former student related to me.
My student was a married lady in her mid- thirties. She had already walked the mysterious paths of procreation and had a son.
She was teaching third grade students at a co-ed school the time of this incident. One day, while teaching her class about various functions of the human body, a boy asked her a question that brought her up short. The boy asked, “God sends babies to live in their mother’s stomach, but how do the babies come out from there?”
While my unprepared student stood twiddling her thumbs wishing the earth would swallow her, a girl student raised her hand and asked for permission to answer the question. She said that her mother had explained the process to her very clearly. So desperate was my student that though she knew the situation was fraught with potential gruesomeness, she nodded weakly. The girl’s reply was a work of art.
Turning to the boy she succinctly said, “ Just as mothers have an opening to eat food with (pointing to her open mouth) and another one to breathe with (pointing to her nose), so also they have an opening in their body for the baby to come out. That’s how the babies come out.”
The boy was satisfied, and my student was jubilantly astounded by the amazing answer. She made it a point to profusely thank the mother of the girl at the next Parent- Teacher Meeting.
The girl’s mother must obviously have talked to her daughter about the issue without making a song and dance about it. The natural ease with which the girl volunteered to answer the question is a testimony to the mother’s handling of the issue. The mother had obviously answered the question with honesty and forthrightness- sans embarrassment, which is a feat.
While her explanation was scrupulous truthful, she had wisely left out the gory- and at that point,unnecessary- details. After all, what could be more natural than for a mother to have an opening for the baby to come out just as she had openings for eating and breathing? Only reasonable, isn’t it?
When my children have asked me awkward questions, or I have decided to give them an installment of the good old birds and bees lecture, I have tweaked my words until they were simple enough to give sufficient detail- without being gross. There have been times when my kids haven’t accepted these simple though truthful explanations. Then, and only then, I have offered detailed explanations as casually as I could manage. And that worked out perfectly for us all- upto now.
It can be made as simple as that really.