Explaining to a Child How Babies Are Made
Where Do Babies Come From?
It's the moment many parents dread ... THAT question about how babies are made. My daughter started to become significantly curious at age 8. Before the misinformation that she was gleaning at school from her peers scarred her for life, I thought it was time to sit down for a mother and daughter chat about the facts of life. This is the story of how I broke the news to her.
My Parenting Style
Before I go on with the details, I think maybe a bit of background on my parenting style would be appropriate, as we all parent differently.
In our household, when it comes to taking on the children's endless questions, I've always believed in honesty within the range of understanding. In other words, I tell my children the truth but only give as much information as I feel is necessary to answer the question simply and directly. I feel that if I tell fibs now, I won't be trusted later, so I try to be as truthful as possible. The challenge is to tell the truth in a way that is understood by young minds.
When things get too tough, there are three magic words which, when used together, can get parents out of many tricky situations. They are "I", "don't" and "know". Obviously don't overuse these, or your kids will think you're an idiot, but never be afraid to feign ignorance in order to escape a tirade of difficult questions.
The Birds & the Bees Conversation
So there I am, sitting down with my wide eyed eight year old, about to explain all about the birds and the bees. Stories of storks delivering babies and newborns being left in cabbage patches are far from my mind. It's time to tell her the truth.
"You know how some of the kids at school have been talking about how babies are made?" I ask, tentatively.
She regards me with an expression filled with curiosity, tinged with embarrassment and an underlying sense of humour.
I go on, "Well, I thought you were old enough and sensible enough now to know the truth. It's very important, though, that you understand that this is something special that parents tell their children. It's not something that you talk about yet with your friends until they know. It's like the tooth fairy. Remember how you kept that a secret so you didn't spoil it for the other kids? That was wonderful. This is like that. Do you think you are mature enough to know without telling the other children?"
Of course she is. Otherwise I wouldn't be telling her.
Starting With What She Knows
My first tactic is to start with information she already knows and understands.
"You know when we buy eggs from the supermarket, there are no baby chicks inside. Do you remember why?"
"Yes," she replies. "It's because the eggs we buy from the supermarket aren't fertilised."
"That's right ... and who fertilises the eggs that do have chicks?"
"That's right ... and do you know how he does that?"
There is a huge, pregnant (if you'll forgive the term) pause.
"... No ..."
The Birds and the Birds
I then very gently explain to her the specifics of what the rooster does to the hen to fertilise the eggs. (If you're looking for information here, sorry, but you are going to have to ask your own parents.)
The response from my daughter is a bit of shy giggling and a quizzical look as if I've gone a bit crazy.
I go on to tell her that all birds do that, and, in fact, she has seen pigeons in the park in the very act. She remembers, resulting in more giggling.
"But what if an ostrich wants to do that with a sparrow?", she explodes, and we both laugh out loud at the mental image. I explain that birds will only mate with their own kind.
Then I carefully go on to reveal that many animals also do the same thing ... birds, dogs, cats ... people ...
Did You Do That With Daddy?
It is the universal question as soon as the truth is revealed ...
"Did you do that with Daddy?" "Did you do that with Mummy?"
She asks it immediately.
"Did you do that with Daddy?"
Huge pause, screwed up face, more laughter, "Yuck!!!!"
"It's not too bad," I smile.
Lots of questions, lots of giggling from both of us, a mutual appreciation of quality mother and daughter time creating a lifelong memory. This information is something special to share. Educating my daughter is a time of bonding and almost primitive ritual. It's fun and the moments are filled with love.
Finally, on a more serious note, I explain to my daughter the responsibility that comes with this new knowledge.
I tell her that this is something you only do when you have grown up into an adult. Even then, you would only do it with someone with whom who you were prepared to raise a child. It is something that adults do when, and only when, they are ready to have children. I stress this to her, simply and directly.
The time to discuss birth control, ethics, values and so on will come, but not just now. Right now, with the information available, what I have said is the truth.
It has been some time now since I first introduced my daughter to the facts of life.
I'm delighted and proud to say that not only did she keep the facts to herself at home, but even pretended not to know anything when the subject was being discussed at school.
I had been nervous and a little concerned about how the moments would play out when the time came to tell her, but now I realise that this was a wonderful, special time between us.
When your children are ready, I recommend approaching the subject with confidence and humour. If the questions get too hard, remember those three magic words to get you out of any difficult situation ...
"I don't know."
Share Your Stories
If you have "been there and done that" (so to speak), how did you tell your children about the facts of life?
Please share your experience in the comments below to help other parents who might be wondering how to approach this very delicate subject.
I, and thousands of red faced, stammering parents, say thank you!