by Noel Bouché
And when your children ask you…
— Exodus 12:26
A recent dinner conversation with my young daughters unexpectedly veered off into discussions about playground crushes, kissing, bullying, sex, anatomy… and condoms.
Amazingly, nobody lost their appetite (and I’ll explain the condom discussion in a minute).
As parents, we seem to be hard-wired to believe certain conversations should be avoided, or, when they can no longer be put off, that they should be delayed until the perfect time has come, the perfect environment has been curated, and the perfect script prepared.
Both of those hard-wired beliefs are untrue, however; in fact, those seemingly safe and reasonable approaches are rooted in fear, with its attendant attributes of control and perfectionism.
Because what is true is that our children want to hear from us about important topics, especially sex, relationships, and marriage. And they don’t want carefully produced performances; they desire open, ongoing dialogue in the places that real life happens. Kitchen tables. Car rides. Bedtime routines. Froyo dates.
And stories! Tell them stories. Principles and values are best understood, remembered, contextualized, absorbed through stories. It is why our Lord spoke in parables. It is why Scripture is largely stories of real people. It’s why research is showing that children who hear family stories are more resilient and self-confident.
Which is how condoms entered our dinner discussion. As a brief report on which boys liked which girls on the fourth-grade playground at school morphed into a conversation about relationships and boundaries, I shared a story about how—in fourth grade—friends were pressuring me to kiss a girl after school, during which non-event a kid yelled “Get the rubber!” It was my first introduction to that word, to that concept, and if I heard it at age ten thirty years ago, I knew my daughter had heard similar and far-more-explicit on her playground. And the fact that my kids now know that their dad experienced things similar to them and can share a principle or two about them over grilled chicken… priceless.
“But shouldn’t you avoid those words and topics lest you plant ideas in their minds?” No way. (Remember this post?)
Ignorance does not preserve innocence.
And if my girls don’t think they can ask me about words or situations that are new or confusing, they’re going to ask Google. Need I say more?
Do you lose a little bit of control when telling honest stories versus sitting your kids down for a pre-designed, quasi-classroom lecture at your selected time and place? Yes. But you gain immeasurable intimacy and trust. And, like improv, you usually discover some humor along the way, which will probably generate even more memorable stories that will be handed down as part of family lore!
So tell stories (long or short)…open up, share memories, remember things out loud, hard things as well as good things. Soon, you might just see your oh-so-very-human stories pointing to the divine narrative. And that’s a tale worth telling!