A couple of weeks ago I went to a workshop about how to tell your child his or her origin story. It was geared toward parents who had used sperm or egg donors – but I thought it was really helpful no matter what the particular origin story is. Here are some tips I learned:
Tell the origin story as part of the bedtime ritual. Every night. From birth or even before the baby is born. That way they never have a feeling of being deceived – they know their story as long as they remember. And they don’t have a memory of a time where you sat them down and told them a heavy story.
Kids will pick up if you are uncomfortable or awkward with the story. You may want to “clear it out” with a friend or a therapist first. The information about our children’s beginnings isn’t hard. It’s our baggage around it that’s hard.
Give the story a name so your child knows what to ask for when he/she is able to talk. “Sadie’s Super-duper Baby Story!” or “The Magical Mystical Story of How Jose Was Born” are just a couple of examples. 😉 Heck, go all out and even make up a baby sign for the story.
When your baby is old enough – he or she can tell you the story. Won’t that be a fun day? And they can also share the story with others. When kids explain things it is usually pretty disarming and often comic, right? For example a small child asking you if you have a penis or a vagina. Or asking another kid if she came out of her mother’s vagina. Awesome.
Another advantage of telling your baby the origin story early and often? A baby is a captive and non-judgmental audience for you to practice on and get it just right. Practice makes perfect. You can tell the baby your origin story too. Yet another advantage? You can handle the birds and the bees talk at the same time! Done!
Your child needs to hear his origin story from you because he is going to ask someone and that someone might not know as much or be as positive about it as you. So tell him before he asks so you don’t risk passing that moment on to someone less skilled than you. The way you talk about it conveys so much. “There are people who make you and people who take care of you. I love you and take care of you so that’s who is in our family.”
Age appropriate answers. Kids sometimes ask a lot of questions. Remember you answer only has to be age appropriate. For a three year old: two seeds started the baby growing, and then so many others helped the baby keep growing – even now. Don’t get stuck on explaining biology in detail. For example, if a four year old asks: “how did the sperm get out of the penis?” You can say: “through the pee-hole.” That’s really all they want to know at that age.
There is a difference between private and secret. Other people in your life and (even strangers in the grocery store) will be curious, too. For one, people want to connect with you. For another, even adults are fascinated with how babies are made. When you answer, you can be discrete without making it feel like a dark secret. It’s ok if your story is private – just be careful about creating an air of secret around it – that can make the child feel like there is something wrong with it. If you want you can deflect questions and enlighten at the same time. You can say something like: “Identity is so complex isn’t it?” Or “maybe that’s a private question.” Or “It’s powerful to be different.” Or you can tell them the whole story! Up to you.
As your child gets older, If you are concerned about how your child’s teacher/school handles discussions about different types of families (two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, a grandparent, foster parents, mixed heritage, etc) – start by asking how they typically talk about these things. Then ask if you can help and/or bring in resources (like kids books about different types of families).
You can show your gratitude for your child’s origin story – no matter what it was. It gave you your child and your child got you. “I found out I was pregnant with you and I danced around and jumped for joy! And you were born and I danced around and jumped for joy! And you turned one and I danced around and jumped for joy!” How do you explain to a baby he or she was a surprise? “I knew I was going to have you someday but I just didn’t know when. You came at the perfect time.”
A promising thought: polls of kids raised by single moms show that single motherhood had a positive impact on them because of witnessing how hard the moms worked to take care of them and how closely bonded they are. Kids also tend to say: my parent(s) are my parent(s) and it was never confusing to me.
Have any other ideas, tips, stories? Please share them in the comments.