How to Have Uncomfortable Conversations with Your Children

by Cate on October 13, 2011

Madeline and I have the best conversations early in the morning, on the ride to drop her off at school.  And by “best,” I mean the type of conversations that are impossibly uncomfortable and have me searching for the nearest distraction exit.

The kids were definitely hit hard by Eli dying in August, and he is a topic that comes up often.  And, unfortunately, death comes right along with it.

“Mommy, when I die, I can go see Eli in heaven, right?”

Yes, you can, but unfortunately it will be a very long time before that happens.

“If you die, Daddy will need to take care of me and Nick because we’re not tall enough to cook dinner.”  Then she paused for a minute.  “Or take baths by ourselves.”  Yes, my daughter is all about the practical aspects of death.  Forget, you know, the fact that she might love or miss me.  It’s all about who is going to cook dinner.  “And Daddy doesn’t know where my school is.  Or what time I wake up.  So you’ll have to tell him.”

Um, ok, but I wasn’t planning on dying any time soon, ok?

“Ok.  When I die, I can go see Eli and tell him all about Maxwell, right?”

Yes, honey, you can.

And then there was this morning… Big props to Z100 radio for giving me topics to talk about with my daughter.  I owe a debt of gratitude.

“Mommy, what is s-e-x?”

Um, well, it’s what people do when they love each other.  They kiss, they hug, they do stuff that you can do when you’re a grown-up and married.  (Thank goodness her brother wasn’t in the car, because I knew this explanation wouldn’t fly.  But of course my answer prompted this reply from her…)

“Oh, so you and Mystic (no, she doesn’t call him that) do s-e-x.”

Well, honey, we’re not married.

“Yes, you are.  You kiss him…”

Yes, I do, but that’s not quite the same thing.

She then looked out the window at the cemetery we were passing (perfect timing, I know), and got lost in her thoughts.  Goodness knows what she was thinking, or now what stories she’s telling her “homies” at school now.

* * * * *

Last year, when Rihanna’s song S & M was popular, Nick caught some of the lyrics and asked me what s-e-x was.

“Well, it’s something that two people do when they really love and care for each other, and they’re married.”

Like kissing?

“Um, no, not really.”

Then what is it?

“It’s a way to show affection and love for someone.”


“And, Nick, I promise to answer whatever questions you have in as much detail as I can, but I’m not really comfortable talking about this at your age.”

Luckily for me he accepted that.  It prompted a conversation on Facebook later that day amongst my friends, and who has explained what how.  One friend said she told her son that Rihanna was really saying “scents,” not “s-e-x.”  He bought that.  I was surprised she got away with it, because the lyrics are pretty clear.  Another friend responded that she doesn’t let her son listen to “those types” of songs.  It’s a New York pop station.  It was a popular song.  If he doesn’t hear the song, he’s not going to hear the word or topic anywhere else?  I don’t operate by the whole keep-them-in-a-bubble approach.

While Nick (and definitely Madeline) are way too young for these topics (and I’m not quite ready this early to be answering the questions!), I don’t want to be purposely vague, or confuse them, or make them think that they can’t ask me anything and get a straight answer.   My ongoing goal is to have them think they can always ask me anything and get an answer.  That conversation is always possible.  But somewhere in between all that, there has to be some boundaries on what they need to know at this age too.  ‘Tis a fine line we’re walking on these tightropes.

At 41, I’m still waiting for my own birds-and-bees talk.  I, ahem, think I have since figured it all out on my own.  In the meantime, I totally wasn’t ready to be in the hot seat by my 3- and 9-year-olds.  Especially the three-year-old.  Those pesky grey hairs I was dying on my head last month?  I think I blame her.

October 13, 2011 – Bonus Photo
Nick's New Favorite Cookie
Sneak peek on a cookie recipe coming here next week. Nick’s new favorite.

Will be back here tomorrow with a Friday version of Awkward and Awesome.  See you then.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire October 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Oh, I love those cookies! They are the BEST…and so addictive!

I can imagine that there will be some difficult things to discuss with kiddos.


Joanne October 14, 2011 at 9:57 am

I’m pretty sure I first learned about sex when I was in school…probably fifth grade health class. And honestly…they made it sound super technical and not appealing AT ALL. It was definitely the media and my peers where I got the real details from. But yeah…nine and three is a bit gray hair-inducing. I may have sprouted a few for you from just reading this!


Patsy October 14, 2011 at 11:06 am

wow… I think our kids are on the same page with those questions! My 4th grader is already wondering about “the movie” that they will see at school later this year… sooooo not ready to discuss it!


Kate October 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

My cousin’s daughter got a very technical and basic answer, thought it over, and announced that she was NEVER going to sex some boy. She
suggested they plan on getting some puppies, because if that’s how you get babies they were NOT getting any. LOL


karen October 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm

My son turned 9 in July and it was a couple of months before that that I had to explain to him in detail exactly where babies come from and how do they get in there any how. He always knew that they were in the mom’s uterus but he was no longer satisfied with my vague explanations. He used to be satisfied with me saying that you needed a special part from both the mom and dad but he kept insisting I tell him so after a few months I finally did. When I finished explaining (with the help of a book) I asked if he had questions and he said no and hasn’t mentioned it since other than to say it seemed weird.

My daugher was 7 and in grade 2 when she decided she needed a much more detailed explanation. For some reason I found it easier to tell her. I don’t know if it is because she is a girl or older but it was much harder to tell my son.


Paula Ann October 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I really resent the fact the the decision of “when” our children learn about this has been taken away from the parents. I’ve always been very careful about television programs, movies, and internet usage by my son, who is now 12 years old. Even the so-called family hours on t.v. aren’t safe! We listen to the pop stations on the radio. In fact, my son’t favorite group for awhile was Green Day, who use some inappropriate language in some of their songs. We just talked about how we don’t use those words in our house and that seems to have worked for him. The sexual suggestiveness in everything is what bothers me the most. Children are young and innocent for such a short time. Why would we want that taken away from them any sooner than we have to? Nothing is more precious than seeing the world through a child’s eyes. While I know we can’t shelter and protect them forever, I’m not happy that I have to explain what sexual disfunction is because there are ads for it on t.v. and radio all hours of the day. I wish our society could take a step back and keep all of this a little more discrete. Make the evening sitcoms a little less raunchy and the comedy a little smarter. I’d like to think there are a lot of parents out there who feel this way as well.


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