My firstborn, Rob, asked about the facts of life pretty early. He is sort of child we describe as “having an inquiring mind” (we save “OMG, he just BEATS ME DOWN with questions until I can’t stand it another SECOND and have to pretend I need to pee so I can hide in the bathroom for a few minutes!” for later, when he’s asleep) and so I did have to decide what he was ready to hear, but I didn’t have to decide when to bring it up.
My secondborn, Will, is less inquisitive. He is going into second grade next year, and it occurs to me that we haven’t had any kind of Talk yet. Rob knew the basic scoop by now, because of the asking and asking and ASKING, but I suspect Will would just as soon not discuss it. That makes two of us.
I’m working from scratch here: I need to decide when to tell Will, and I need to decide HOW. For Rob, as I said, I started by answering his questions, a method which can be tricky: it involves trying to figure out what they’re REALLY asking. Is “the baby starts to grow in a special kind of tummy” a sufficient answer, or is he really asking HOW-how? Is “in a special kind of tummy” sufficient, or is it time to bring out the word uterus? And so on. It’s a topic that doesn’t have one single correct answer for every family, or even necessarily for every child within a family.
When I felt Rob was ready for what I think of as The Basics (bringing out the real words and explaining some mechanics), I used the same book my mom used to explain it to me: Where Did I Come From?, by Peter Mayle.
One thing I like about this book is that it allows me to let my mind drift as my mouth reads on auto-pilot what I’m kind of shy about saying. The illustrations are cute and non-threatening: plump friendly cartoons who know what real love is. There are month-by-month pictures of the baby growing in the uterus, and there’s a brief discussion of childbirth. The book really is about where babies come from, not just about SEX.
But it really is the basics: it doesn’t even mention c-sections or bottle-feeding. An older child needs more, and for that I like It’s So Amazing!, by Robie H. Harris.
Much of it is in comic-book format. Two characters, a bird child and a bee child, offer commentary from a child’s point of view: the bird is eager to know more on the subject, the bee would rather not hear about it at all, and both points of view are presented as normal. This is the kind of book you could hand to an elementary-school-aged child and let him read it himself, or you could read it with him. I read it out loud to Rob a few times, and then put it somewhere he could easily find it if he wanted to re-read.
Basic reproductive facts are covered, but at an older-child level of understanding. More sophisticated elements such as c-sections, adoption, birth control, genes, sexually-transmitted diseases, premature birth, and “not okay touches” are introduced. I appreciated the matter-of-fact, relaxed tone of the discussions: it made ME feel more relaxed discussing it.
If you’d prefer not to discuss certain subjects even lightly, I discovered another Robie H. Harris book called It’s Not the Stork!, which I see in the description is like the Lite version of It’s So Amazing!: it leaves out, according to the description, “…images of unclothed adults or references to masturbation, abortion, and birth control.”
If I owned that one, I think that would be the right choice for Will’s age and interest level. But since I don’t own it, I suppose I will start him with It’s So Amazing! (he likes comics, and I think he will identify with the reluctant bee character), and see how it goes.
But I am relatively new to this, and looking for tips and advice from other people’s experience: How do you decide when to discuss The Facts with your kids, and how do you broach the topic? Or do you only talk about it if they ask you first—and in that case, what if they never ask? And has anyone had any luck with getting your husband to tell your sons? I don’t know if I’d want Paul to handle that one, considering how toilet seat training is going.