One summer evening, I piled the kids into the car for a pre-bed ice cream run. As we’re waiting in an impossibly long drive thru line, my 4 year old pipes up from the backseat, “Mommy, turn this music down. I need to talk about things.”
I cooperate and turn the radio off, asking what she wants to talk about.
“Let’s talk about babies.”
“How do the babies get out of their mommy’s belly?”
“Well, remember we talked about this before? The baby grows in the mama’s belly, and when it’s ready to be born the mama pushes with her tummy.”
“And then she goes to a hospital?”
“Sometimes sweetie. But sometimes, like when your brother was born, the mommy decides to stay at home.”
“Oh.” She pauses for a minute to think. “But how does the mommy push the baby out?”
“Um, she uses her tummy muscles. Kind of like when you go potty.”
“But where does she push?”
“Um, well….she pushes with her tummy (here, I take a rolled up tube of fabric I have in my car and place it in my palms, then web my fingers together around one side of it) and the baby moves. Pretend this (gesturing to fabric tube) is the baby and my hands are the tummy muscles. They tighten and push and the baby moves down (I mimic this with my hands and the fabric). See?”
“Yeah, it is pretty cool.”
“So then the baby comes out through her tummy?”
I interrupt this story to explain how we feel about having these kinds of conversations with kids. My husband and I decided long ago that we would always tell the truth about these types of issues, but that we would try not to over-explain (see Parenting 101: Don’t Overthink It). In other words, the last time Luca and I had this conversation, I was able to avoid directly explaining the anatomy and physiology of giving birth and making babies because she wasn’t really asking about that. She was happy with a vague explanation that matched the reality of images she’s seen of birth. If she’s not asking the question, I don’t need to try to answer it just yet.
But when she does ask the question? I owe it to her and I’m only being true to myself and my husband and how we choose to raise our kids, if I answer her in an honest but age-appropriate way.
“Actually, the baby doesn’t come out through the mommy’s tummy, Luca. It lives there while she’s pregnant but when it’s ready to be born she pushes it and it comes out her vagina.”
And then, from both of us, a moment of silence. I turn the radio back on.
“Mama? Turn the radio down again. How does the baby get in the mommy’s tummy? I wanna know the WHOLE story mama. Don’t skip any parts.”
The way I figure if we talk about it all along she not only will feel more comfortable talking and asking questions as she gets older, but we’ll also have time to ease into being comfortable with these conversations.
For a second I considered not really answering. I mean… the girl is FOUR. Does she really need to have that much information? But then I thought about it a different way. She doesn’t need to know it all at four, but I also don’t want to be having this conversation when she’s 11 or 13 and wishing we’d been talking about it all along. The way I figure if we talk about it all along she not only will feel more comfortable talking and asking questions as she gets older, but we’ll also have time to ease into being comfortable with these conversations. Plus, at four she has no idea that her questions might make people uncomfortable — and I’d rather she get the answer from me than ask others who might not know the right way to answer.
“The daddy’s body makes something called sperm and the mommy’s body makes little eggs. When they want to make a baby, the daddy puts some sperm in the mommy and it meets the egg and then grows into a baby.”
“Oh. That’s really neat, mama. I want to see how that happens someday.”
“I hope you will, sweetie,” I answer, silently saying to myself “When you are at least 25.”
I know it’s not the most eloquent explanation, and it definitely glosses over the finer details. But she was satisfied with the answer to that one as well. I really never knew a kid her age could be so observant of her world and so inquisitive. I love it, especially how she warns us not to bullshit her and to be sure to give her “the whole story.” Here’s hoping our approach doesn’t mess her up forever!