Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am a stepmom and also a professional sex educator. Oh, and I’m pregnant! My 5- and 8-year-old stepkids know nothing about reproduction or even the real words for their genitals; they’ve been taught to say ridiculous things like ding-dong and hoo-ha.
I am anticipating questions once we tell them I’m expecting. I feel strongly that all children need age-appropriate, accurate information about bodies and sex, so butting out doesn’t feel like an option. But I also don’t want to overstep their parents’ roles.
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Should I push their parents to talk more frankly about their bodies and where babies come from? I’ve expressed concern before over the hoo-ha thing with my husband and he sort of sheepishly defers to his ex-wife, who came up with the idea. Answer their questions myself? Buy them a book and sneak it onto their nightstands? (Kidding.)
— Sexy Step
DEAR SEXY STEP: Put a book on your husband’s nightstand, a good one about teaching kids about sex.
You no doubt have a book or books you prefer on this topic, but for the benefit of others reading this, I’ll say that I find Deborah Roffman’s work the be accessible and persuasive. Your husband’s sheepish retreat on something so important is bad parenting and doesn’t deserve a pass from you. The least he can do is make an informed decision, versus a default one, and using a book keeps it from becoming all about you.
RE: THE HOO-HA THING: Would it also be acceptable for Sexy Step to say to her husband, “If they ask me anything about the pregnancy (etc.), I’m going to tell them an age-appropriate version of the truth, and I’m going to use the correct words”?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: I think so, yes, though their having the truth is not as important as the stability of the relationships among their parents. Thanks.
RE: THE HOO-HA THING: As a doctor, the correct anatomical term I use with my 3-year-old is who-who. She goes to a (loosely) church-associated school and would say the Virginia word all day long if I taught it to her.
— Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: We all do what we think is right. That’s our prerogative and imperative as parents.
Mine: All my kids went to three religious day cares/preschools (one Episcopal and two Jewish, one conservative), and all their questions were answered using correct anatomical terms, and all of them took great pleasure in using new words of all kinds with compulsive frequency.
I’d be concerned about any school that was concerned about a child showing age-appropriate curiosity and language.
RE: VIRGINIA WORD: The school hasn’t said anything. I guess it’s just that: 1. At work I never let embarrassment keep me from doing anything: I suppose I should apply this more rigorously at home; 2. I just got her into a new school we really like and she is showing her “high spiritedness”; 3. Mommy and Daddy occasionally let bad words slip and boy does she pick up on them.
— Anonymous 2 again
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2 AGAIN: That nevereverever happens in my house.
But — since when is vagina a “bad word”? Case in point for why the right words are the right words to use. The alternative introduces shame where none belongs.