The year was 1990 and my oldest son, Ray, was eight years old. Because of some of the questions he had been asking about where babies came from, it was decided that dear old dad, me, needed to give the “sex” talk. My only problem was I had never given the sex talk and was not exactly sure how it needed to be told to an eight year old boy.
I waited until he had finished little league practice and eaten supper at the end of a long day. I walked into his bedroom and shut the door. I told him that I thought he was old enough to learn some things he didn’t know about how babies were made. My opening was weak but I plowed ahead. I used medical terms when I thought it most appropriate. About half way through my 15 minute talk I remember thinking, “I am knocking this out of the park. This just might be the best presentation of what sex is to a child that has ever been given.”
Dramatically, I finished the story explaining how a little baby finally is born into the world. Then I asked my son what he thought about how babies were made. I’ve never forgotten his answer. He said, “Dad, that is the grossest thing I have ever heard. Good Night.”
And that was it. My son thought sex was gross. I obviously had screwed up. This parenting thing was hard. 🙂
Being a good parent is one of the most challenging assignments on the planet. After raising my children, here’s five things I have realized that seemed to matter most.
Remember you are your child’s parent before you are their friend. Now obviously I love my kids. When they were growing up, we had fun. We laughed and wrestled and played together. But, I was first their parent. There was never a doubt about who was in charge. Now that they are adults, they are my absolute best friends. When they were children and teenagers they needed a dad, not a pal.
Don’t talk ugly about the other parent to your children. I went through a divorce when my kids were young. It is less than ideal but it happens. Their mother and I made a decision to not use the kids as accessories to our disagreements. We also decided we would not trash each other to our kids. That allowed my children to grow up thinking highly about both parents. Why a man or woman would think it healthy to talk negatively about the other parent to their kids is a mystery to me. If the other parent is a jerk or doesn’t pull their weight, the child will figure it out as they get older.
When you blow it, own it, and tell your child you are sorry. I remember times I responded wrongly to a situation involving the kids. Maybe I disciplined too fast before I knew the whole story. Maybe I was madder than I should have been. Things like that happen. And, when it did, I tried to go back to my sons and say, “I blew it. I made a big mistake tonight and I want you to know I am aware of it and I am sorry.” I think those moments are key for maintaining love and authenticity in your home.
Don’t let your child think the world revolves around them. Please understand I believed in doing a lot of coaching that built my sons’ self esteem. They believed they could go after and achieve anything they put their minds to achieving. But, I believed it was equally important for them to recognize others who were less fortunate and did not have the same opportunities they had. I also believed it was key for them to give back to the world in some sort of selfless service. So, we went to homeless shelters. We took humanitarian aid trips to Eastern Europe. They cut the grass and cleaned the gutters for the elderly. They basically grew up with a heart to help those who were in need. Now they are in their thirties and that lifestyle is a part of how they are raising their families. They take clothes to the homeless living under bridges. They feed the poor. They care for people who have been marginalized. And, I could not be more proud.
Give them cross cultural experiences every opportunity you can. When I was an 11 year old boy my family, because of my father’s job, moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. We lived there for about six months. When we left there to move back home, my dad took us on a fabulous three week trip where we saw many of the great cities of the world. That travel experience changed my life. It gave me a larger view of the world. It helped me appreciate all types of people and I saw the beauty of cultures outside of my own. I owe all of that to my dad who stepped out of his comfort zone to make that a part of our lives. When I became a parent, that became important for me as well. I can honestly say my sons are the most open-minded, globally focussed, inclusive people I know. And, I think it’s because of them stepping into different cultures as boys.
There is so much more about parenting that could be said. It is definitely an art and not an exact science. And…. how did my son Ray do after my “gross sex talk”? I guess ok. He is the proud father of four kids living in beautiful Mission Viejo, CA. I think he got over the gross part of it all.
When my son Ethan was eight, I thought I would try it again. “Ethan, I think it is time we have the sex talk.” His response, “OK dad, what do you want to know.” 🙂 Thank God for kids…..