I am a big fan of having awkward conversations with your kids. My goal is if they have a question, I am going to answer it honestly. That means we have talked about sex, porn, racism, drugs, curse words and just about anything else you can imagine. My kids know it is safe for them to ask and that I will answer them. This is how we build trust and how I know I am the one giving them the right kind of information on the important topics. Because by this point I’ve had A LOT of practice on having the awkward conversations (9 years of parenting, plus 5 years before that of group home work with mostly teen boys. . . yeah, those were some REALLY awkward conversations), there are some tips I’ve learned for handling them, no matter what the content might be.
Be calm. I know there are questions that just automatically raise your blood pressure. You can be doing the dishes, hands submerged in warm, lavender scented water, humming “Amazing Grace” and then your son asks if it’s illegal to have sex if you aren’t married and all of the sudden your heart rate skyrockets. Take a breath. You’ve got this. It can be tempting to try and assume we know why they’re asking this question or start in on some kind of accusations, but we need to just wait a minute before we get rolling. Don’t let your own uncomfortable feelings dictate how the conversation goes. If you don’t feel calm, stall for a minute until you do. The more amped up you are, the more likely you are to give bad information or give even good information in a way that is harmful. Sometimes I say, “That is a really good question, but I’m not sure I have a really good answer yet. Can I have a minute to think about it?”
Admit what you don’t know. There are times my kids have asked me questions I didn’t know the answer to. One time a neighbor kid made a gesture I knew was obscene, so I said we weren’t going to be doing that. Of course, the kids wanted to know what it meant and I felt super awkward about the fact that I knew it was obscene, but I didn’t know why. This is a great time to role model humility for your child. We can’t be expected to know everything about everything. Our kids need to know that sometimes things will make you feel uncomfortable and you don’t know why. It’s okay to say “no” to those things until you can figure out why they make you uncomfortable. We can model for our kids how to err on the side of caution or avoid the appearance of evil by not doing something until we have more information. We can tell them that we don’t know the answer to their question, but we are going to look for the answer together.
Research together. The other day one of my kids asked me if “turnt” was a bad word. I honestly had no clue. So I did some googling and we looked at the results together, which ultimately culminated in watching this Lecrae video that opened up the door for lots more good conversations about party culture. This is not the first time this has happened. They often ask me questions I’m not sure about (Is this song okay to listen to? Is this video game appropriate? What does that word mean?) and I have to do some digging. My kids know if I don’t know the answer, I will find out and I will give them the truth and we’ll talk about it. That’s my agreement with them. We regularly google song lyrics and talk through them. I have a couple times had to look at lyrics before showing them to the kids and then just given a general overview because of how raunchy they were (“I’m not going to have you look at those lyrics because they are very disrespectful of women and use a lot of bad language. That’s why we won’t be listening to that song. You don’t need that in your brain and I’m bummed that now it’s in mine.”). If it isn’t quite to that level, then I’m happy for us to sit down and look them over together. I want to give my kids the tools for making those decisions on their own someday without having to go through me.
Come back to things if you need to. There are times I’ve answered a question and later been pretty sure I missed something important I should have said, or forgot to ask them an application question, or had my mom/friend/husband remind me of an aspect I should have considered. There is no shame in circling back around. “Did you have any more questions about what we talked about earlier?” or “You know when we were talking about our friend from church that you saw smoking? I forgot to mention that. . .” If you know you can come back to things, then it takes some of the pressure off feeling like you have to get every difficult conversation right the first time.
Make sure your kids know your awkwardness is not directed at them. Sometimes you’re sure you’ve got a great parenting answer for anything your kid could wonder and then at a family gathering your 8-year-old loudly asks if “ass” is a curse word, why is it in some church songs (Thanks, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”) and you instantly blush and your mind goes blank. It’s okay in that moment to admit that sometimes these questions make you feel weird, but that isn’t your child’s fault. Sometimes I focus on asking them a clarifying question (“Which song were you thinking of? Is it something we sang at church recently?”) or affirming their curiosity (“Wow! Good question! You’ve been really observant during the singing time recently.”) to buy a minute to sort out my own weirdness so they don’t feel shameful about asking. You don’t want your awkwardness to discourage them from asking important questions in the future.
My promise to my kids is that I will answer any question they ask. I will answer it honestly and age-appropriately. While this means my kids know some things their peers don’t know, I have never regretted this philosophy. I think it has done two important things: protect my kids from potential abuse and grown the trust in our relationship. My kids can’t be taken advantage of in the same ways kids who don’t have access to information about drugs, alcohol or sex can be taken advantage of. My kids know they have a mom they can trust to tell them the truth. This is something I need for them to be confident of when they hear misinformation from peers or the media and culture around them. I want to have a strong foundation established of accurate information and trust and confidence in our relationship to help us handle the storms to come. That kind of relationship starts now. And it starts with a lot of awkward conversations.