An anonymous post on a Facebook parenting group – a local moms group in my area – recently involved sex education, even if the anonymous poster may not have seen it that way.
To summarize, this mom was upset because a YouTube commercial had mentioned a certain type of deodorant designed to eliminate certain odors, including odors from bacterial vaginosis. (Their family had been listening to YouTube music together, so everyone heard the commercial.)
Her husband had then started to “joke” about women and their sexual organs in the presence of their two daughters, both of whom were under the age of 6.
In posting, the mom wanted to know if she had overreacted by immediately arguing with her husband over his comments because she was offended by his joking, especially in front of their daughters who she knew were listening.
Her post made me think more deeply about the importance of parenting and how it affects sex education … or even co-parenting, if your nuclear family doesn’t include a married couple.
1. If you’re married, think of your family as a blending of 2 separate civilizations.
I got this image from the book “Your Spouse Isn’t the Person You Married: Keeping Love Strong Through Life’s Changes” by Paul and Teri Reisser. If you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it!
In their book, Paul and Teri explain how a marriage involves a union from two previously separate civilizations and cultures. Both husband and wife are bringing together a mass of expectations, histories, and life experiences that have never been joined before.
As a result, there will be inevitable differences that can lead to great conflicts – especially as it relates to sexual education!
2. If you’re not married, think of the other parent as their own separate civilization (but you each have a vested interest in your child).
Throughout history we see clashes between civilizations where they both view the same land, or territory, as their own.
It doesn’t even have to be about land. For example, New Zealand and Australia have a friendly rivalry where both countries claim to have invented the pavlova dessert. Nevertheless, the world is made better just by the mere existence of pavlova – yum – and I don’t ultimately care who made it, just that it was made. (I know because I was born in New Zealand!)
Wherever possible, for the sake of your child, your two separate civilizations should still try to find as much common ground as possible when it comes to parenting. The obvious exceptions to these would include situations of domestic abuse and/or child abandonment.
However, barring these exceptions and assuming that the other parent is still someone of goodwill, it’s best to see what agreements and arrangements you can both live with, especially in cases of shared custody.
3. Discuss a potential game plan before situations arise.
Just like professional sports teams prepare their winning strategies and game plans beforehand, you should consider having a “game plan” for sex ed. Additionally, you should plan some margin for “timeouts” on the field for unusual and unplanned situations that just come up, as they inevitably do!
For married couples who have children, it helps to have an ongoing conversation between yourselves about what sex education looked like for each of you in childhood, and what you imagine (or expect) sex education to look like for your children.
- Discuss both the positives and the negatives of the sex education that you experienced in childhood. For example, I was recently chatting with a homeschool mom who got her sex education mostly from her older cousin, who told her that men peed into women’s vaginas, and that’s what caused babies to be made. We both agreed that such a description was not the best introduction to sex at any age!
- Compare and contrast your expectations based on the age and maturity of your child, or children. For example, when do you both expect to talk freely to your children about things such as sexual intercourse? Puberty? What are your convictions and beliefs regarding sex and guy-girl relationships?
- Decide what things you want to keep (if any) and what things you want to throw away or avoid from your own experience (if any). Ideally, these should take place for both husband and wife – it shouldn’t be weighted toward one person or the other.
If at all possible, try to host these discussions without the complicating presence of your children, who are uncannily aware of ways to pit one parent against the other (it’s in their vested interests to do so, if it means getting whatever they want!). These should take place when the children are away or asleep, if at all possible.
If problematic situations do pop up without previous planning (like the YouTube commercial example), it’s very helpful not to make the other person feel threatened or defensive at the time.
Instead, try to make a mental (or written) note to address this later. I know this is a lot easier said than done, but it really helps in the long term since you can both identify common ground more easily without a blame game of “you just fought with me in front of the kids” still to be resolved.
4. Consider the place and time for these discussions.
At times you may need to set up a “heart-to-heart” with your spouse about something that could have been troubling you for a long time. If that is the case, I encourage you to consider the examples of Abigail (1 Samuel 25) and Esther (Esther 5-7) from the Bible.
Both women were incredibly wise and discreet in less-than-ideal circumstances. Abigail was married to a horrible fool who deserved to be killed – at least, in God’s eyes! On the other hand, Esther was married to a pagan king who had been coerced by the evil Haman to allow a mass genocide of Esther’s chosen people, the Jewish race. However, because of the culture of their day, each of these women had no choice but to appeal to men for help.
Abigail, in a great display of courage and eloquence, rode out to appeal to David directly even as he was thundering along on his way to kill everyone in her household.
Esther, after two days of praying and fasting, appealed to her husband, King Xerxes, with a coy invitation to dinner – an extremely private, exclusive dinner away from the rest of the royal court, with Haman as the only other guest.
Even today I’m still fascinated and captivated by these two women and why God chose to include their stories in the Bible. Against overwhelming odds, they obviously planned for the time and place for each of these crucial conversations as best as they could, with the highest regard and compassion for the other parties involved (e.g. David in Abigail’s case, Xerxes in Esther’s case).
Esther could have stormed at Xerxes for his foolishness in allowing Haman to manipulate him so easily – and to wipe out an entire race of people too! (At least, that would probably have been my first reaction.) Likewise, Abigail could have stormed at David for such a petty reaction to his injured pride. (Since when is it acceptable to kill people just because a stupid fool insulted you?)
Both women chose, however, to speak the truth in love. And they both ultimately got what they wanted. As you think about and meditate on their example, pray that God can show you possible tips and strategies in planning difficult discussions with your spouse, or child’s parent.
5. Remember that you ultimately cannot change your spouse (or child’s parent); only God can.
In the worst-case scenario when your spouse or child’s parent refuses to view elements of your child’s sex education the same way that you do, there are a number of options open to Christian and Bible-believing parents:
- Keep in mind that God always has the final word. I love the real-life example of Timothy in the New Testament, where the apostle Paul praises the Christian heritage of his family line: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5, NIV). It sounds like Timothy’s dad (and possibly even granddad) may never have been Christians or had much involvement in his life. However, just like the godly example of his grandmother and mother, Timothy’s faith in Christ remained sincere. As long as you’ve explained your views to your child and/or to your spouse or child’s parent, the ball is now in their court whether to believe you or agree with your decision.
- Make peace a priority. As the Bible says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NIV). Sometimes you may need to just agree to disagree for a time, but you can still experience a peace that comes with knowing that you’ve done everything you can in this situation.
- Keep praying. People’s viewpoints on many topics can change, given enough time and real-life experience. We never know if something that we say today can plant seeds for a change of heart tomorrow, or 10 years from now.