Recently, late on a Friday night, when he is usually fast asleep, my son called me from his room. It was 10 pm and so I was surprised to find him sitting up and fully awake.
He recounted what amounted to none other than a shaming story from school. He had said something innocent and honest about how babies are born, but was misunderstood to be engaging with the other boys in “potty talk” and was sent to the bathroom. He used the word “private” not vagina (a word he still doesn’t know). As he recounted the story, he asked me, “Did I say what was wrong, Mommy?”
I felt myself rise up with mama bear anger. I realized that even though I’m following my conscience and what I see to be honoring to God and his Word in communicating age appropriate sex education to my son, many in the world and in the church will not agree. They will want to silence him or send him to the bathroom.
I and my husband both had some good conversations with our five-year old that evening. We explained that what he said was not wrong. Rather, it was accurate, good truth about how babies are born. That night I called the school to leave a message for his teacher to give me a call. Then, more conversations that following Monday with his teachers on what had happened from their perspective. I requested an apology from the teachers who shamed him to be made to my son, so he could be restored to believe his words were not in fact inappropriate or dirty, that he was not wrong, or a potty mouth (at least not this time).
It was an ordeal for me to delve into my own shame to rescue him from his shame. It meant going public with our parenting philosophy. And it took time and energy, getting angry, getting calm, trying to fix the damage, explaining why we talk like that in our family, and what it means. I received an apology from one teacher and felt deeply respected while I explained our perspective. My son also received an apology. Overall a good experience for us.
But, it reminded me how shame begins always in these young years. It reminded me how shame in our parenting stems from our own discomfort with our sexuality and earliest experiences. How we feel about our own privates is a good indicator of how our children will feel about theirs. It reminded me how shame stays with us for years, which is why I’m re-introducing a Christian sex therapist I admire, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers, and her definitions of shame and guilt.
In this quick, 4 minute clip, you’ll find out why shame can easily be confused with guilt and how you can tell the difference as you parent your children, and re-parent yourself.
For those who want more about why I believe answering your children’s questions direction and simply about sex ed, I recommend Stan and Brenna Jones’ book How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character .
It may also help to consider the words of Psalm 139: 13-14 in the New Living Translation,
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
This verse has, unfortunately, been so swiftly memorized in our youth (perhaps) that we don’t realize that even the facts of life are wonderful and marvelous. From our sexual organs, to our ear lobes, to our finger tips, God made us well, this even includes our thoughts and feelings, hopes and desires, beliefs and choices. God made us for goodness, and he will keep leading us out of our own pits of self-hatred and disgust.