Having the Tough Talks
I will never forget the tension and anxiety that permeated my house and family as I crossed the bridge from ignorance to knowledge regarding the fundamentals of sex. Let me take you on a quick trip back to this poignant memory in my life.
I was in the fifth grade at a private Christian school. Our school’s approach to sex education was to set aside one afternoon each year for the fifth and sixth grade guys and the fifth and sixth grade girls to meet together with a teacher of their own gender to watch a cartoon about the basic purposes, biology, mechanics, and functions of human sex and to spend time in Q & A / discussion about it. In order to participate in the video viewing and discussion, students had to get their parents to sign a consent form and return it to the school. No big deal, right? Well, depends on your personality and your family dynamics.
I sensed immediately this was something that would be unpleasant at best, and should probably be avoided at all costs. Somehow I had gotten the clear message that issues of sexuality were taboo in our household. And I complied with all my might! I brought that consent form home and silently laid it on the kitchen counter, hoping and praying my parents would sign it and leave it for me to return without having to face the terrifying awkwardness of this unknown conversational territory with them. Well, my folks signed it an left it there for me without comment or question. AFTER LEAVING IT SITTING SILENTLY ON THAT KITCHEN COUNTER FOR A WHOLE WEEK! I think simple breathing was difficult that week. The only two things that changed the next year were I spent more time in anticipatory worry and my parents signed the paper the first night.
I don’t know for sure how or when I will face this issue with my son. And I’m sure I won’t get it all right. But I’m sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I won’t do it the way my folks did. Oh yeah, there was also that time in the third or fourth grade when I asked my Dad out in our country backyard why the roosters were always attacking the hens, and he replied, “They’re making love, Son.” Okay, Dad – check!
My point is not to vilify my parents or rake them over the coals. My Mom may very well end up reading this post, and I wrestled with whether or not to share it. I decided to share it with you because I think it typifies the kind of anxiety that so often keeps parents from having The Tough Talks with their kids in a purposeful, effective, and helpful manner. After you finish laughing at me and my family (don’t be too hard on us – we all have our goofy stuff), you may find your self still unsure about how to have The Tough Talks with your own kids. If so, I won’t laugh at you, but I will offer the following for your consideration and implementation.
- Being uncomfortable talking to your kids about sex, alcohol, drugs, morals, divorce, etc is perfectly okay. As long as you are willing to take a breath, say a prayer, and have the Tough Talks anyway. Be a Nike parent. JUST DO IT!
- Remember how much is at stake for your child. Consider their chances of successfully navigating these waters without an experienced someone courageously showing them the way. Consider where they may get their direction, if not from you. Keep it in perspective.
- Practice saying the really hard stuff before you actually talk with your child. Practice saying the really important stuff before you actually talk with your child. Practice it with your spouse. Practice it with a friend. The more you practice saying the really hard/important stuff, the more you can get comfortable with the words and the greater your chances of getting them out at least halfway right with your kids. Practice makes possible.
- Prep your child for The Tough Talk by having her/him read an assigned book, article, or manual before the conversation. Equip your child for The Tough Talk. (By the way, my parents did get me a copy of “Preparing for Adolescents” by James Dobson at some point in there.)
- Prep your self, and maybe your child as well, with a movie that leads into the topic or inspires you to step up and lead courageously. Movies and TV shows can provide some rich life-material ripe for thoughtful and meaningful conversation, if you will take the time to notice it, select it, and seize the moment. Use entertainment media to your advantage.
- Start by discussing the level of discomfort in your self, and invite your child to do the same. Once you have acknowledged the elephant in the living room, you will be more comfortable to go ahead with the guts of The Tough Talk. Laugh at your discomfort!
- For crying out loud, don’t try to do this all alone or reinvent the wheel! Ask your friends or trusted family members how they crossed this particular bridge (or similar ones). Whether the stories you hear supply you with How-To or How-Not-To, you will be better equipped and less anxious when you step out on that bridge to lead your child across previously uncharted waters. Ask friends for their stories.
I sincerely hope this is helpful in your quest to courageously, lovingly, and effectively lead your child through the challenging waters of life as you share The Tough Talks together. I will be posting follow-up articles with specific tips for specific topics in the coming weeks and months, as I continue presenting my series of Having The Tough Talks on my Parenting 101 interview segment on WAFB at 6:15ish am the last Tuesday of the month.