Men, assuming you’re planning on reading this all the way through, you’re involving yourself in an area that many of our dads would not have taken the time to read, let alone process or carry out. It can be awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and we certainly have other skills in life that we feel much more competent in than being sex mentors for our kids. There are a few, but I don’t think there are many topics more important for us as dads today. How we address this can make a lasting impact on, literally, generations to come. Thank you for looking at such an important responsibility!
It’s tough to give away something that you didn’t get yourself. Many of us didn’t receive much mentoring from our dads on sexual matters. Many times, if we did, it was awkward or it wasn’t healthy mentoring at all.
As fathers, how do we develop an atmosphere which encourages our kids to come to us and, hopefully, feel comfortable discussing sexual matters in a healthy way?
Think back to what you learned about sex from your dad.
My dad was a pretty quiet guy; in a number of areas he had great wisdom, but he was what I would call “initiatively-challenged.” I could talk to him about things, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting for Dad to bring up a subject.
I was probably 11 or 12 when Dad came to me to have the “birds and bees” conversation. To this day, what I remember the most about it was the disconnection between the sexual information and the emotional “how-to’s” of sex; I had some grasp of what he was describing from a physical standpoint, but not the emotional connection piece. Some of that was because my parents had tried to communicate moral standards about sexuality, but I think I might have missed some of the positive messages about a loving God who created sex for procreation, pleasure, connection, and spiritual insight.
It’s hard for me to image my grandfather approaching my dad regarding sexual matters. Not only was that a time when sexual matters were often left undiscussed, but my grandfather, kind though he was, would not have been particularly keen on initiating conversation on sexual matters either.
One of my sons is now in his early 20’s, the other has just reached puberty. Although I appreciate the fact that my dad did take some initiative with me, I’m trying to take it a step or two further with my boys.
It reminds me of the adage regarding marital sexuality- “If you ain’t cooking in the kitchen, you ain’t beans in the bedroom.” It’s often not simply about the specific behavior in question; if I’ve been selfish, critical, or irritable throughout the day, do I think my wife is going to respond well when I approach her for sex that evening? What takes place in the rest of my relationship with her that day or week will set the emotional and physical stage for sexual intimacy.
In the same way, my parenting regarding sexual matters will depend on my overall interaction as a father, not simply a well-timed, informed presentation on sexuality. My willingness to wash dishes together and my loving embrace with my wife in the kitchen, yes, with kids watching, will do more to convey healthy sexuality to my children than any perfectly stated response on sexual matters.
If I use sacrifice or tenderness toward my wife with ulterior motives of “getting” sex, it will most likely backfire. It needs to be real and authentic.
Kids can often see the difference between manipulation and authenticity in their parents. If my kids hear one thing in our discussions about sexuality, but see another attitude at work in my heart, I think they’ll get the heart message more than the words.
In a similar way, if I’m not willing to play Ping-Pong with my kids or talk about my own challenges in life with them in a reasonable fashion, do I really think they will approach me about questions they have including ones relating to sexual matters? I don’t think so.
I want my sons and my daughter to feel comfortable enough to come to me with any question they might have on sexual matters or any topic. If I don’t take initiative in going to them, I doubt they will feel comfortable enough to approach me. If I don’t take initiative, but presume they will approach me, they will probably conclude that sexuality isn’t a topic that we should discuss together. I need to take the lead in both sharing and raising discussion. If I’m focused only on “the” talk, it probably won’t go very well.
“Why do you think God gave us desires and then gave us parameters?” “What do you think the messages coming out of today’s youth culture are saying about sexuality?” ”What changes in your body do you find most confusing?” “Why do you think God created sex?” These are some of the type of questions that can encourage a child to open up and can let him/her know that dialogue, questions, comments, and concerns are fair game.
Here are some principles I try to keep in mind with my kids:
I need to make the issue of sexuality an ongoing discussion, not a one-time event.
A question here, a comment there can set the stage for a more lengthy conversation.
It’s important that I voice the positive about sex.
God created our sexuality and he did a wonderful job with it. When we experience sex within his design few things can compare!
I want to acknowledge that tension exists between sexual desire and God’s call to purity.
There are some good results that come out of that tension, like self-control, delayed gratification, and a true sense of sacrificial love. If we deny the pull that it has, we’re living in denial.
I can invite openness and honesty by being reasonably transparent with my kids about my life at their age.
Few interactions between a parent and child are as meaningful as when a dad shares his own story.
Communicating affection to my kids with hugs and kisses in a healthy way can send a powerful message about their bodies.
There was a time when my dad shared with me that it might not be appropriate to give a good night kiss anymore. Later on in life, thankfully, he reversed that attitude and gave affection freely. I don’t think his initial declaration was meant to do harm; at least I didn’t take it as rejection. But I try to show affection with my sons and daughter in a manner they are comfortable with and appreciate.
Just the other day, I asked my 13 year old son about our communication regarding sexual matters. He appreciates some of the materials available today such as The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sexthat we’ve been able to read through together. With resources like that available, I certainly don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
Glenn Lutjens is a licensed marriage and family therapist and part of the counseling team with Focus on the Family. He and his wife have three children, Ricki, age 22, Chad, age 21, Ryker, age 13, and a foster son.