Today was a New moon in Gemini. That fact and the fact that I am planning and facilitating Moon and Body, a mama-daughter event about the phases of our body as women, makes me think of the first time I got my period. Do you remember your first day? What did you do? How about the first time hair grew under your arms and on your privates? Were these happenings expected? Welcomed? Celebrated?
My memory is broken up into bits and pieces of feelings and pictures. With my period I remember feeling self-absorbed, discouraged (cuz there was no way I could change what was happening), a bit embarrassed, reserved, preoccupied and weary. I did not tell my mother or anyone else I have two older sisters, so I just started using the pads under the sink. I still don’t know how my mom figured it out, but she knew before I told her, mothers always know.
My first memory of talking to my mom about my period was before my 8th grade dance, she told me to take an extra pad because moving around sometimes makes you bleed more. I was grateful for the information but embarrassed to talk to her about it. I was uncomfortable talking about my body, pubescent changes, sex and intimate relationships with my parents and family until I became a mother. Part of the reason was my personality but part of it was definitely self-preservation from seeing how my parents handles these issues with my siblings. There were family meetings to announce with disappointment and shaming when one sibling started being sexually active. Another family meeting where another sibling’s personal safe box was exhibit A and the code for the combination lock was demanded to reveal pornographic magazines. I developed a personality that repelled that kind of parenting behavior lol… They didn’t know what to think of me and my oddness. I didn’t realize it then but building a wall to keep them out my business meant hiding parts of myself from myself and limiting my ability to form intimate, trust filled relationships. I am happy to say I feel free as a jaybird (hey, it makes more sense than “naked as a jaybird” so roll with it). I talk and write openly about my body, menses and sensuality.
So how do parents create space for children to grow comfortable with their body, sensuality and sexuality? SHOULD parents create space for children to talk to them about their body, sensuality and sexuality???
My personal experience as a child, mother and friend leads me to I think it is important for children of all ages to have someone in their life who listens, shares information and gives advice from consideration rather than judgement or control because learning stops where judgement and control start. There is no formula to learning body positive empowerment in sensuality and sexuality, it is a unique, dynamic and ongoing experience and but I think practicing these six concepts will open doors for healthy conversations.
- Real talk: Children ask questions, a lot of questions, some we don’t know how to answer but when we do answer we should do so as honestly as we can. One of the first questions children ask is where babies come from, real talk is telling them about pregnancy and birth not storks!
- Observe and “teach what you see”: Don’t approach the subject with a set agenda based on fears or thoughts on what needs to be known. Wait and observe, let them come to you with questions or you ask them questions based on what you observe. Let conversations arise organically and they will be more insightful for all.
- Freedom: Allow them the freedom to move, touch and explore their own bodies the way they want, dress themselves etc… If something is bothering you talk to them about it without shaming them. fun fact about me: I taught a friend how to masturbate when I was 10yrs old… (I did not know the word masturbate at the time)
- Control and empowerment: Freedom will give them sense of agency and empowerment, talk to them about what may be in and out of their control, again it is always good to start with what they think or want to know. An example is a conversation I had with my girl about wanting to be a mother. We talked about how getting pregnant is not completely in our control as women, we can choose whether or not to follow through with a pregnancy and we can choose to try to get pregnant, but actually becoming pregnant is not in our control, getting pregnant is not as simple as a choice… and that of course led to many other conversations about womb health, spirituality etc.
- Opinions and facts: It is always good to talk about the difference between opinions and facts, as unschoolers this is one thing we learned early because family and friends had a lot of opinions about what happens to children who don’t go to school. People have opinions about underarm hair too, but fact is hair grows under your arm, why? Because my family is from a different culture, I did not see adults in my life shaving arms, legs etc. So I didn’t know that was the “norm”… I was rudely alerted in high school by a boy who gasped disgustingly and claimed “Ew!” when I raised my hand in class… Em.Ba.Rass.Ment. If I knew what my daughter knows now about people’s opinions and cultural norms… an eye roll (and possible smart response) would have been the end of that.
- Be present and open: Work on yourself so that you are not full of nerves, fear and judgment. Know your boundaries, decide how much you want to share about your own experiences, meditate, reflect on what and how you learned from your own experiences, trust them and their individual path. If the conversation gets too heated, remember it is o.k. to end the conversation and revisit it after reflecting and getting more clarity on how to communicate your thoughts effectively. You got time.