When do we begin talking to our kids about the birds and the bees?
Recently I sat down to coffee with a good friend of mine. It had been months since we’d spent quality time together, which has become quite foreign for us. We began our motherhood journey around the same time, and weekly playdates brimming with nursing babies and toddlers and snacks and conversation in the middle of the chaos helped us survive those long, sleep-deprived days. Now that our kids are getting older, we often struggle to find time to meet and touch base.
As we chatted about all the things filling up our days, I mentioned a Theology of the Body series I was teaching along with our seminarian to the 8th-grade class at St. Louis School. She responded half-jokingly that she thought it would be a great idea to get all the kids from our great big group of friends together and for me to give the same session. We ended up having a great conversation about some of the ways to form our kids in this beautiful and important teaching from Pope Saint John Paul II. This teaching, taken from the 129 catechetical addresses he gave between 1979 and 1984, has revolutionized the way many theologians now teach about love, sexuality, and marriage.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen the beauty of these teachings unfold not only in my own marriage but in many of the lives of the teens I have taught throughout my decade-long role as High School Confirmation Coordinator here at St. Louis. Recently though, I began to understand that often by the time I begin to teach teenagers about the beauty of God’s plan for marriage, relationships, and love--they have already suffered through so much heartache and brokenness, that the bits and pieces I share cannot do much to reverse the damage already done by the false notion of love and sex that the world has offered them.
The teaching, I am beginning to believe--must be introduced early and often. Parents, who are always the first and best teachers of the faith, can do so much more within the loving walls of their homes for their own child’s understanding of self than I could ever do during a class, book study, or retreat. From a very young age, parents can slowly but surely reveal the truth to kids about the beautiful design God has for love. If heard often enough, we have a fighting chance to at least lessen the allure of the messages kids are inundated with every single day. I am by no means an expert on raising kids who completely understand the beauty of real love versus the false message of “do what makes you feel good,” but my husband and I have tried to be intentional about bringing JP2’s teachings into our home as much as possible. Below I’ve listed a few things we incorporate. This list is not extensive, but can serve as a jumping off point:
Using proper terminology when discussing parts of the human body
Frequently explaining that real love often involves sacrifice
Pointing out not only physical loveliness of each child but also inner loveliness
Having honest conversations about images they see while out in the world, without shaming the people depicted in those images
Having conversations about human dignity with our children
Having in-depth conversations with our oldest child about why feelings of attraction are good and how to train them for goodness
Routinely having conversations with our pre-teen (now teen) about a vast array of topics including everything from physical development, to the beauty of sex, to vocation, to possible pitfalls of upholding his own dignity and that of his peers.
I am finding that the two most important aspects of communicating the Theology of the Body to our children is to 1) Be knowledgeable about the basics of the teaching and 2) Encourage open communication so our children always feel as though we will gladly help them maneuver through the intricate but critical topics of self, love, sex, dignity, body image, desire, and virtue. We understand more and more each day that in the same way we are diligent about the way we prepare our kids to know how to eat right, study hard, pray and serve God--we must be intentional about instructing them in the ways of love, or our world will attempt to do it for us. We want at least a chance to give them the good news of God’s loving plan for them.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of having a parent class on the Theology of the Body. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if this is something you’d be interested in.