In our school district, fifth-graders may participate in something called the Changing Program, a series of classes during which students from the university's Nursing Department come to the elementary school to teach the students about the changes they will experience as they mature (physical, mental, and emotional changes associated with the onset of puberty).
Our daughters already know a lot about the topic because, when each of them is ten, she receives from us a copy of The Girls' Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You. Not only is it a terrific source of straightforward information, but it's also a good conversation starter. Many times Suzanna or Abigail, while reading her book, has stopped me to say, "Dad, did you know that . . . " and tell me some fact about puberty's effects on the female body, or to ask, "Dad, what does this mean?" and challenge me to expand on this or that detail from the book. On some questions I must defer to Susan; but I have had many conversations with the girls that, when I first became the dad to daughters, I never would have predicted someday having!
We have always used the actual terms (not euphemistic words) for parts of the body and bodily functions, so the girls don't think twice about referring to their body parts accurately or asking us questions when they have them. We want them to talk to us and come to us for information and know the facts about their development from girls into young women so that we can maintain open and honest communication throughout their teen years when they're dating and struggling to make wise decisions regarding young men and other teenage temptations. So far, things have been going pretty well in that regard.
Still, I wasn't quite ready for the conversation that I had with the girls this evening. Before the Changing Program begins, parents are invited to the school one night for an informational meeting, and Susan attended that meeting last year for Suzanna and again this year for Abigail. While Susan was at that meeting tonight, I stayed home with the girls while we all finished our supper. As we ate, I asked Abigail if she had any questions for Suzanna about what the Changing Program would entail, and she did; Abigail had heard from classmates this or that bit of misinformation, so Suzanna set her straight and told her what would actually be covered during the sessions.
Well, in the spirit of getting the facts and clearing up misconceptions, Suzanna turned to me and asked about a term that she had heard some of her classmates using. Abigail and Hillary had also heard this term used and echoed Suzanna's question. When I asked them to share how their friends had used the term, they told me and then asked what it had to do with making babies.
I looked at their curious, honest faces with attentive eyes blinking patiently at me, and I knew that this was it. Susan, the mother of three daughters, by virtue of her volunteering to attend a parent meeting tonight on teaching our kids about the facts of life, had gotten out of having "the talk" with said daughters about the facts of life! Yes, it had fallen to the dad!!
Heavy sigh. In the past whenever we have gotten questions from the girls along the lines of "Where do babies come from?" we have been honest but sparing with the details, figuring that we would tell them only what they wanted to know and only in doses according to what seemed to satisfy their curiosities at the time. But by now, they have heard enough from other kids at school--and noticed enough from the world around them--that they were actually confused about a few things, most notably, "Dad, you have told us that we have to be married to have children, so how is it that some girls in high school can be pregnant if they're not married?"
So tonight, because my daughters were ready to know, I had "the talk" with them about the basic mechanics (using correct clinical terminology) of reproduction in mammals. It was pleasantly uneventful, actually. They already knew all the body parts and their functions, so they just had to make sense of how the body parts work together to accomplish the creation of new life. Once they shook out of their brains the realization that people whom they personally know had used that method to create people whom they personally know (including themselves!), they started to connect other mental dots and make sense of other things they have heard on the playground or seen on magazine covers in the grocery store.
And, on their own, they offered the conclusion that, although teenagers physically can create babies before they're married, they really should not because of the difficulty of raising a baby while trying to be a student, raising a baby alone should the father not be committed to a long-term relationship, giving up a baby for adoption and later wishing you could have raised it yourself, etc. They are thinkers, those daughters of ours. I pray that our openness with them and their willingness to confide in us will reap benefits as we work to guide them safely through the rocky teenage years ahead.
Still, the dad had "the talk" with the daughters? Susan found that an amusing turn of events when she returned home from the meeting. I guess it went pretty well, considering the fact that it was an impromptu conversation; it was probably just as well that I didn't have time to plan or rehearse or worry in advance. But I can't help but think that it would have been much easier had the girls grown up on a farm, where watching the animals themselves is exactly the educational experience a kid needs to understand reproduction--and usually takes the place of even having "the talk" at all!