Someone posted on a forum recently about alcohol and substance abuse. On another forum, there are periodically posts about sex. These posts generally revolve around one question: When and how to teach kids about these potentially disturbing and life-altering topics?
I'll be honest. I've never understood why it's so hard to talk about sex or drugs with kids. I've always told myself that I'll talk to the kids about how babies are made or why you shouldn't binge drink whenever they were ready for that particular info. Thus far, I've made good on that promise. M1 and I had the 'birds & bees' talk when he was 7, and I recently gave him a book on puberty in boys that delves even further into the subject (though without graphic details). He's asked various questions, and I've answered them. More will come with time. We discussed drugs when the subject came up when he was rattling off the lyrics to a Nickelback song and wanted to know what a "drug dealer on speed dial" was. Alcohol is a topic that we touch on when Oz or I have a drink or the kids see a drunken character in a movie. So we talk about it. M2 and I have hit a few basics here and there, but she's still 6. We have time, and I'm sure that eventually those subjects will come up in more depth with her. I'm okay with that, and after M1, I'm as ready as I can be to deal with child #2. Both of them don't know everything yet, but they know what they need to know and what they can handle for their ages, and as far as I'm concerned, that's enough. For now, it's my job to protect them from anything they can't handle.
And those topics are the ones I consider relatively easy to teach about. The hard ones - the ones I shudder to even broach with the kids - are the ugly ones.
How does a mom explain why another mother would drown her own children?
How does she explain that parents sometimes abuse their own children - or let others abuse them - in unspeakable ways?
How does she explain binge eating or the idea of starving oneself to the point of death?
What about suicide? Abandonment? Prostitution? Cutting?
What about the international stuff like genocide, female circumcision, child warriors...? The list goes on. And on.
It's enough to make a mom cry just thinking about it.
There are so many truly ugly things that happen in the world, and as a parent, it's hard to draw the line between what a child needs to know and can handle and what he or she will learn with time. Each time I read one of those threads about drugs, sex, and the choices parents make when talking about those subjects with their children, I remember just how fragile parenting can seem. It's easy to talk about those subjects with one another, so even though we feel like these are nearly impossible to discuss with our kids, they really are the easy ones. The problems come when we feel judged for how we teach our kids. Will everyone else think we're teaching them too early or too late? Are we teaching them too much or too little? Should we teach abstinence or birth control? These seem like big issues, and in a way, they are... but they aren't THE big issues.
And if it's hard enough to teach about sex and drugs and feel like an acceptable parent, it's no wonder why we avoid all the other topics.
I'm not saying that I'm going to wander into the kitchen tomorrow and start telling my son stories about anorexic movie-star wannabes whose body images are so warped that they feel the need to sleep with every man in sight just to feel loved. I won't be telling my daughter stories about teens whose arms are sliced to ribbons and who accidentally cut a vein and die in agony while waiting for someone to notice how depressed they are. They aren't ready for those topics yet.
Because before I can deal with all the ugliness that lurks in the dark corners of our society, I have to teach them about beauty first. They need to understand that every single person on earth, without exception, is worthy of love and devotion and acceptance. They need to know that THEY are worthy of self-respect. They need to have a positive self-image. They need to have the courage to speak up when somebody isn't treating them appropriately. They need to learn things like compassion, trust, faith, hope, peace, and just plain kindness. They need to understand genetics and the side effects of psychological illness (something that, unfortunately, they will both deal with throughout their entire lives). Most of all, they need to understand that Oz and I and their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family will always, always love them no matter what.
And once they learn those things, then, and only then, they'll be ready. Because it isn't quite fair to yank the rug out from under their feet before they have a firm footing, now is it?