Jottin’ my way through January!
One day, I held up a size 8 girls’ outfit to my newborn daughter – and it was longer than her entire bassinette (which she wasn’t yet close to filling). I couldn’t believe that she would ever grow to a size where she would fit into such an enormous piece of clothing.
That was ten and a half years ago, and that tiny little girl passed size 8 a while back. She’s robust and curvy and on her way to becoming a teenager. Her older brother, at a few months past his thirteenth birthday, has a man’s voice, is dealing with acne, and is taller than me.
Man, that went fast!
When our kids are young, it can be all but impossible to see them as sexual beings, and the time when we need to think of them them that way seems far off, as unimaginable as my newborn and that huge article of clothing.
But children grow, and, in what might seem the blink of an eye, babies become young people on the cusp of entering into their sexual awakenings.
And that leads to the question – who owns their sexuality?
There’s a persistent attitude in American culture that suggests that we, as parents, do. That we’re in charge of whom and how our children date, when and how or if they have sex, that it’s up to us to control these things. Control is a huge thing, in mainstream American parenting theory. We’re all intended, it seems, to control our kids. And teenagers are notorious for being “out of control”.
But the truth, whether the ‘parenting experts’ want to admit to it or not, is that there is only one person whose behavior each of us can control – ourselves.
I can’t control my own children. My teenager and my preteen are -gasp! – out of control (or mine and my Accomplice’s, anyway).
The thing is, though, that we’re not trying to control them.
Does that mean that we’re just throwing up our hands, and letting nature take its course?
Well, not exactly.
We’ve talked with them about sex since they were toddlers. Those early talks were very basic – the proper names for sexual anatomy; how babies are conceived and born, nursing, and the like.
As they’ve grown, the conversation has expanded- not as The Talk that’s infamous to both parents and kids for its awkwardness and general lack of information kids actually need – but as part of life, a sentence or two here, a few questions answered there, a wandering exploration somewhere else. It’s all been pretty organic, arising out of life – looking at the prices in the baby department, that experimentation with condoms and zucchinis, making sure they have access to reliable information they can access with a parent or independently, and chatting.
We’re open, and we trust them, their instincts, and their judgment. Are we foolish, expecting too much of our children, and trusting them too much and too blindly?
Not so many generations ago, a thirteen year old would be considered nearly a man. Fourteen and fifteen year olds might be married and beginning their own families, perhaps far away from all their own relatives. So it’s clearly not biologically necessary for teenagers to be controlled, to restrain them from expressing their sexual maturity, to attempt to control whether or how they have sex, with whom, and where.
The truth is, and it’s been borne up time and again, that parents can’t control these things, no matter how hard they try, or punish. They might destroy their relationships with their teens – but they can’t control them forever. Eventually, kids do grow up, and become legally responsible for themselves, and, at that point, it’s usually too late for the parents. Too late to give useful and important information, and maybe too late to repair the damage done to their relationships, so that the young adults won’t come to parents when they need advice.
But long before they’re adults, kids are big enough and strong enough to choose whether they’ll allow their parents to control them. I have a thirteen year old who’s already taller than me – and he’s not about to stop growing anytime soon. If I try to force him, he can resist. By concentrating on building a relationship where he can come to me for advice, because he values my opinion, and knows that I won’t try to rob him of his autonomy, I retain the ability to offer him support as he grows older.
Who owns their sexuality? Whatever parents choose to think or feel about it, the kids themselves do. Accepting this allows us to focus our energy on preparing them with the knowledge and empowerment that they need to navigate the obstacles, challenges, and pleasures of the years to come.