Parents Talk: How Do You Teach Your Kids About the 'Birds and Bees'?

Moms Talk becomes Parents Talk this week, and the first topic is what your parents taught you about parenting, in the most fundamental of contexts.

The , the readers have spoken, and Moms Talk segues to Parents Talk this week. Welcome dads, and step moms and foster parents and grandparents and anyone else with a stake in the parenting game.

I'm not sure I have an answer to the question posed in the headline—"How Do You Teach Your Kids About the Birds and Bees?"—but I am curious what the response will be.

Everyone's experience is different, from the offspring's point of view as well as the parent's. For what it's worth, here's mine.

I didn't realize it so much growing up, but I come from a family of stoics. We went about the business of life pretty darned happily but I don't recall a single time either parent sat me down to pass along sagely advice from generation to generation. Believe it or not, there weren't many sentences that started, "Always remember and never forget ... " or "Why, when I was your age ... "

I didn't even get "the talk," as most of my friends did.

When they started teaching the sperm-and-egg-cell stuff in sixth grade, I remember asking my folks at the dinner table one night how the heck Item A got in touch with Item B—since the teacher wouldn't answer that question for me when I raised my hand in school.

"That's something you'll have to ask your parents," the teacher said, once the tittering died down.

My parents' response at the dinner was forthright and straightforward. "If you ever want to talk about about that," they said, "don't hesitate to ask us."

"I thought I just did?" I said to myself, and headed to School Street to play some football under the street lamp.

I learned about the birds and the bees the same way I imagine most kids did: from Kevin Chesley.

Kevin was three years older than the rest of our neighborhood group, so before or after the pickup baseball game, basketball game or football game du jour, he'd share some of the jokes he'd heard at school. As you'd expect, some of them had to do with (gasp) sex.

The conversation would go something like this. "Hey, I've got a joke for you guys. Do you know what XYZ is?"

We didn't. Or at least, I didn't.

So he'd patiently explain to us what XYZ was so that he could tell us the joke.

Masters and Johnson he wasn't, maybe, but I'm certain I retained more life lessons from the School of Chesley than most institutions of higher learning I've attended. (No offense, GHS or U of I.)

I promised myself, as probably most people do, that when I was a parent, I would be different. I would be honest and direct and proactive and completely open and "cool," like the other kids' parents must have been when they gave "the talk" to my friends and classmates.

Flash forward about 35 or 40 years, and Paula and I have two beautiful daughters. For the record, I have tried, sincerely over the years, to be that cool and open parent, to be the one to give advice or to listen, but I'm reminded of the swordfight scene in The Princess Bride.

My girls would have none of it.

I was "shackled, thwarted, muzzled ... beaten." Thank goodness, Paula had already covered that territory—the Cliffs of Insanity, to use The Princess Bride analogy—and the kids told me kindly to talk no more.


So, last week, we're sitting at the dinner table—Paula and I and our two lovely girls—and Paula says, "Boy, I really like that sweater on you."

It is, of course, the sweater she and the kids bought me for Christmas. And I thank her and add, with a smile at Paula and in a voice I consider barely audible, "Didn't get me anywhere last time I wore it, though."

"EEEEEEEEWWWWW!" both our girls say at the same time. And that's when I knew for sure.

Mission accomplished.



Martha Hanna January 27, 2012 at 04:38 PM
You wait until they ask about it, and they will. Then you can read a book together or you can explain things in a simple manner. The most important thing is to talk to your kids when they get older. If your daughter or son has a steady, act quick cause chances are they are doing "it"
Melissa Pazen January 27, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Brilliant in its simplicity, Martha! Age of child has a lot to do with which book you read together. I'll be checking with children's librarians at both Batavia & Geneva in the coming days to see what they may have in their collections. I have one for pre-schoolers from the "Open Family" series (out of print, but used copies are still available). I'm sure there are many others! And yes, if you tween or teen has a 'steady' YOU may want to find a way into the subject!
Ruth M Boone January 27, 2012 at 04:50 PM
A friend's 7-year-old daughter asked her where do babies come from at the dinner table this week. My friend gave very careful answers, but her daughter kept insisting on more specific information. My friend finally said, when you're older, we'll talk about it! That said, there is also a place very early on when you talk about what is appropriate touch, and when and where you never let a person touch you. That is appropriate talk for very young children.
Melissa Pazen January 27, 2012 at 05:03 PM
So true, Ruth! Thanks for raising the point about acceptable and unacceptable touching!
Martha Hanna January 27, 2012 at 05:16 PM
My very young daughter also got very specific when talking about "how do you get a baby" That is when I found an appropriate book on the subject. Don't know what book I used. It was around the same time I was expecting my second bundle of joy. That was in 1986. And yes I had the appropriate and not appropriate touch talk with both of my kids when they were young....very important!!!!!!!!!!!!


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