“So how exactly do babies get inside your tummy?”. Now there’s a question. It’s been asked by my 7-year-old now on three occasions. Conversations tend to start with him wondering whether he’ll ‘get another brother or sister’, then, after various two-ings and fro-ings, culminate with the killer question. How to answer it has left me a bit stumped, because tales of ‘storks’ are ridiculous (especially given his suspicions about Father Christmas when he was only three), but I’m also not really up for a biology class – he’s only 7. I also don’t want him regaling his mates in the playground with his own interpretation of the facts of life and opening Pandora’s box for all…
I think I’d always assumed that with two boys, my husband would take care of those conversations. However, it turns out I’m in the firing line and my initial attempts at answering leave a lot to be desired – a load of waffle about flowers, eggs and seeds.
When my son first asked me about why boys and girls look different, I steered clear from anatomical labels, preferring softer-edged terms because of the likelihood of him repeating my words. I knew others who were of the ‘tell it how it is’ school-of-thought and someone who even explained the facts of life (in full detail) to her then three-year-old. There’s stuff on the internet which is a bit biological, whereas I must admit, I was slightly relieved to be able to point to my cesarean scar when they asked me how babies came out of their mummy’s tummies. But now that the question is how did they get there in the first place, I am regretting not having explained more when he was younger, given that it’d mean less of a ‘reveal’ now.
A couple of years later, the sight of ‘Sex and Relationships’ on the Reception class curriculum raised a few eyebrows amongst my fellow mums. At that age, even the word ‘knickers’ has them in hysterics – so we feared we’d never hear the end of it (it’s all I can do to quell the toilet humour as it is…). However, the reality of learning about the life-cycle of a frog, butterfly and a bit on flowers was tamer than we feared.
Clearly he’s now after for a bit more by way of explanation. Yet tales from those who’ve gone before me don’t fill me with optimism. A few years ago, a friend of a friend’s daughter didn’t look her in the eye for a week after hearing the ‘disgusting thing’ (in her words) that her parents had done. Apparently, it was only made worse when shortly afterwards, Kate Middleton announced her pregnancy. To her, that only meant one thing: they had done it too.
Although the full-facts feel a bit full-on, I’ve found being vague about stuff doesn’t work either. Keen to jump on the bandwagon of a recent NSPCC visit to school, I gamely showed my kids the ‘Pantasourus’ video from the NSPCC that evening in the name of reinforcement. It didn’t go quite how I expected, as my eldest said “that went right over my head” and my youngest asked “why is he talking about washing his pants?”. ‘Rock and a hard place’ springs to mind…
In a bid to gently side-step (but not totally cop-out), I tried to find an age-appropriate educational video on the internet, but most of the information seems to be for mums of girls, whereas advice for boy-chat seems pretty vague. Although I didn’t come up trumps, I came across some useful advice advising “that the trick to navigating these kinds of potentially land-your-kid-in-therapy-for-life conversations was to respond as if you are a prisoner of war. Provide only the information requested and nothing more”, and to be straight-up about limiting information to what feels suitable by explaining that you’ll explain more when they’re older. Whilst the analogy to being a prisoner of war made me LOL, I’m not sure how that would work with my son. I guess the main gist is that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, but can instead be eked-out in stages.