It’s not easy to talk to our kids about sex and chastity. It takes courage just to start the conversation at all. So what do we do when our children don’t respond to our attempts at conversations about their sexuality? And how do we respond when they start to ask surprising questions?My husband and I still have more questions than answers about raising godly children in an over sexualized culture. But here are some points that help us feel more equipped to face this part of our parenting journey:
St. John Paul II’s writings on the Theology of the Body have helped us to see the beauty in God’s design for us–something we try to pass on to our children from the earliest ages. This means lots of cuddles, nursing, and baby wearing when they’re infants, helping our toddlers feel good about the little chores their bodies can do, and initiating plenty of hugs and pats on the back with our pre-teens and teenager. These are all things that help our children internalize that their bodies are good and worthy of respect, just the way God made them.
Answer Their Questions Openly and Honestly
If your children ask you a sensitive question, ask them “What do you know about it?” or “What do you think that is?” This might give you an idea of what a younger child is really trying to ask, so you don’t risk giving them more information than they’re ready to hear. But if they clearly want a specific answer to what might be an uncomfortable question, start by thanking them for asking you–then say a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit and answer their question directly, openly, and honestly. Establish that you are the reliable and trusted resource to come to with these types of questions.
Balance Your “Talks” With Relationship Building
Sometimes being alone with our child is a perfect opportunity to discuss chastity. But other times, it’s best just to discuss what’s close to your child’s heart. I don’t want my oldest son to be afraid that every moment alone with him means that I’ll start lecturing him on chastity. By listening to what he has to say–even if it’s about a video game I don’t fully understand–our relationship is strengthened and the doors of communication stay open.
Place Your Children in Environments Favorable to Chastity
As parents, we are not alone in our efforts to raise holy and chaste children. By encouraging my children to attend youth events at our church, Catholic summer camps and diocesan sponsored chastity retreats, they are realizing that the message of chastity is being preached by someone other than their parents–and they create friendships that will support our moral ideals.
Keep The Conversation Going
“No matter where he is in his life, a chaste person masters his sexual feelings, and knows how to express them at the proper time.” (from chastity.com) This is the continual conversation that we should be having with our kids. As we talk to them about chastity for their state in life, we are training them in self-control, respect for the way God created them, and what true love really looks like. This leads naturally into a conversation about NFP as our children grow older. My husband has talked to our oldest son about the workings of the female body, and a bit about how NFP works. But instilling the moral principles behind NFP can also consist of requesting my son’s help with lifting heavy laundry baskets during my seventh month of pregnancy. Or encouraging my daughter to respect her body (and insist others do the same) by dressing modestly. Or by my husband providing strong examples of how to be a man to my sons, or me showing my daughters how to be a woman by drawing out their feminine qualities.
I want to incorporate the basics of NFP charting into my talks with my 9-year-old daughter over the next few years to promote a good understanding of her body and general health, but NFP is so much more than charts and observations and thermometers.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.” When chastity is a part of who we are from the time of infancy, our hearts understand that our bodies are gifts from God, worthy of honor and glory. And if our children internalize this, then NFP will be the only type of family planning that will make sense to them.
Charisse Tierney lives in Newton, Kansas, with her husband and six children. She is a regular contributor to catholicmom.com and other Catholic blogs. Charisse and her husband, Rob, teach Natural Family Planning for the Couple to Couple League and have experience teaching Theology of the Body for Teens to high school and middle school students through their parish in Kansas.