Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kicking Freud out of the tub

We were playing in the bath, Graham and I, when he very deliberately pointed at my breast.

Whassat?

I hesitated for only a second. That’s mommy’s nipple, I said. I pointed to his chest. And look, there’s Graham’s nipple.

He nodded, satisfied.

A few minutes later he lay on his stomach and pushed himself through the water towards me as is his habit when we bathe in our large, overfilled tub. His mouth was open.

He has a funny look on his face, I thought idly, just as he chomped firmly onto his intended target.

Oh dear God.

No Graham. I gently pushed him away. You drank milk from mommy when you were a baby. You’re a big boy now. You drink your milk from a cup.

I have not nursed Graham since he was seven months old: apparently he has a hell of a memory.

He glided up to me again, mouth agape.

I gently redirected.

Baby milk mama, he implored.

No sweetie. You drink big boy milk now. From a cup.

He sighed. Okay Mama.

I had no idea it would start this early. And by it, I mean my own questions about how and when to start establishing limits and boundaries when it comes to nakedness and privacy between Graham and me.

He’s 27 months old. My gut feeling is that we North Americans worry entirely too much about this type of thing, that we project our own fears and insecurities about sexuality and the human body onto our children at far too young an age.

I have a baby book at home which recommends that parents curb nakedness around their children by the age of three at the oldest. The reason? Because some experts now believe that children may subconsciously become sexually aroused by their parents’ nakedness and as a result suffer confusion and embarrassment over those feelings.

I not only disagree with that assessment, I am angered by it. I also find it sad, because it seems to me a theory that is so obviously a reaction to the times we live in and our own worst fears as opposed to the reality of our children's mindset and what is best for them.

We spend so much time bemoaning how society sexualizes our children at far too young an age, but are we not doing it ourselves if we are covering up, keeping our bodies private and advising them to do the same at an age when they are still years and years away from the onset of puberty and sexual maturation?

Because isn’t fear and paranoia about sexuality – ours and theirs – really the only reason to suddenly start denying them the casual intimacy that they have taken for granted the whole span of their short and tender lives? Think about it. It’s not for hygienic or health reasons that we start to turn away when we slip off our clothes or shake our heads no when they try and pull us into the bath.

I say that it is fear and paranoia about sexuality that causes us to put up walls between us and our children, but that’s harsh, of course. I should say that it is concern and I should clarify that I have concerns too. We all do – it’s impossible not to.

It’s impossible not to hear stories about child predators and then look at your child and think, How? and Why? and That’s the sickest thing ever! and finally, perhaps subconsciously, I need to protect them. I need to cover them up. I should cover us both up. Now.

But I won’t do that, not yet. Because I enjoy our baths together and Graham enjoys our baths together. And Graham obviously remembers nursing and remembers it fondly. And that’s all there is to it. At this stage I firmly believe that any discomfort I feel is my problem: I refuse to make it his.

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57 comments:

Brittany said...

Adam is 27 months, too! We take baths together, still, as well. He however noticed the differences between the two of us... ohh... about 6 months ago. He now likes to go around and say "I have a Peeeenusss," and he knows that girls have "boobies" and boys do not, etc. I figure, why keep them from knowing the real words? I hate it when people call them "privates". It's silly. God gave us these parts, so let's just make them that and not these big, disgusting, unmentionables.

Laura said...

WOW...I have never really sat down to think about this...my kids (4,3,1) see me naked everyday...hmmm...not sure where I stand.

I can relate to your boobie-diving toddler...my 3 year old at times questions why the baby girl gets mommy-milk and he cannot.

thanks for sharing.

ewe are here said...

I'm with you. It's only a big deal if *we* make it a big deal.

Dawn said...

Graham has a great memory! I agree with you here, and I try not to make a big deal about this kind of thing.

Life As I Know It said...

I think it's fine until you or your child start to feel uncomfortable. Three I think is still pretty little.
I have an almost 3 year old and a 6 year old and I rarely get to go to the bathroom with the door closed!

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Whether or not the discomfort is your problem - if he senses it, it will become his problem. And he will sense it. Also, it may be motherly instinct and not repression or fear that makes you feel uncomfortable. Go with your gut instincts, even if they tell you to cover up. There's nothing wrong with teaching him boundaries.

krissy said...

Amen sista!

We shouldn't be ashamed of our bodies in front of our children if we don't want them to be embarrassed of their bodies when it comes time to talk to them about the changes that occur durning the teenage years! I totally disagree with the experts too!!!

Ms. Porter said...

My girls are nearly 5 and almost nearly 3...can't accept these two new numbers sorry...and I don't hide my body from them at all. They ask questions and look and I answer and pretend not to notice when they look. They bath with me sometimes as well, and used to always bath with me...until they decided I take up too much room and kicked me out. They know that their bodies are their own, and they are private, Im careful to make sure they realize they hold the power and that there is nothing wrong with telling others that their bodies are private (they love to make their dad or myself look away when they are changing because 'my butt is private' meanwhile the skip around the house butt naked all day long! I have caught them looking at themselves and pretend not to notice or simply comment 'looking at yourself huh?' so they don't find shame or embarrassment. Nothing to be ashamed of.
Now their Daddy has a bit of a problem and tends to be a little more modest...I disagree but he has to find his own comfort and if covering up is what he wants then that's fine too...but the girls tease him and tell him that he's hiding his privates!

Corey~living and loving said...

You always have the best posts.
I agree with you....if we hide our bodies....we are spreading the fear and shame.
Sugar bathes with me...oh and she still nurses...yes, you can think I'm wierd if you want to, I'm okay with that. :)
We are all about talk openly about our bodies. :)

KATE said...

Hey, thanks for the chicken tip you left on my blog! I'm in desperate need! You rock!!

Jen said...

We've never made a big deal out of it. DS used to watch babies being born on the discovery channel with me, he was just over three. My MIL was appalled. I have never made a big deal about closing doors or freaked out if he saw me or DH naked, but its not as if we are nudists or anything. He's six now, and about a year ago he started being modest of his own accord. If he walks into the room and DH or I are getting dressed, he apologizes and leaves or averts his eyes.

DD is getting really interested in my breasts, her Barbie's breasts etc. I figure its normal, and when she asks about it I give honest answers.

I do not think children are sexually attracted to their parents. I do think children are sexual beings and that they need to be respected as such. Being too secretive or too overt is inappropriate. There is a happy medium which is comfort and naturalness!

wheelsonthebus said...

I don't bathe with my kids and never have because heaven knows I don't have the energy to get us all out and dried afterwards. However, I will say that if I had to curb nudity around my 3.5 year old, I would never get a shower. Today? He came in to POOP while I was showering. Nothing says the end of a shower like wiping someone else's tushy.

Family Adventure said...

As an immigrant who only moved here as an adult, I do find Canada to have a little bit of a problem 'oversexualizing' young children. That book you mention is a perfect example.
I agree with your assessment and frustration.

Of course we want to protect our children from predators, and also teach them appropriate behaviour in public, but at the same time, we have to preserve their ease and comfort with their own body, and their natural curiosity about other bodies. We cannot do this by taking the subject off the table at home.

Heidi

Lisa said...

I still take occasional baths with the girls. Goosey was so comfortable with the female anatomy when Lulu was little that she often "nursed" the babies in the church nursery. The teacher in the room commented to me about her behavior, somewhat insinuating that it was innapropriate. I just smiled proudly and reminded them that a) that's what she sees her Mommy do with her baby sister and there is no better form of flatery than imitation and b) Hello?!?! That's why we have breasts!!!
Anyway - so agree with you on the over-sexualization of our little ones. Even trying to get an appropriate swim suit for my three year old is difficult! But I refuse to succomb!

OHmommy said...

THANKS for writing this. I agre with you.

I really LOVE my body (most of the time) and totally want my kids to love theirs. We talk about privacy and keeping hands to yourself.

And. We bathe together once a week. In my huge master bath, I get in there with my 5, 3 and 1 year old and clean them. We love it.

They ask questions. I answer. We love it. Thanks for the great post!

Magpie said...

Yes, good post.

I've never hidden myself from my child. She asks questions and sometimes she still wants to hold my breast. And it's so not about sexuality, but rather human comfort.

Zoe said...

i completely agree with you. we have never made nudity a big issue at our house so it has never become an issue.

painted maypole said...

i've read that when your child becomes uncomfortable with it, then cover up, but otherwise, don't worry about it. At age 5 MQ still sees her mommy and daddy naked rather regularly, and nobody worries about it at all.

imbeingheldhostage said...

wow, this is a great, thought-provoking post (yikes, my brain is working). And the timing is uncanny because Miss Ky began a fascination with my nipple just today and I was thinking how important it is not to try to cover like I'm embarrassed. I'm glad I came by!

caramama said...

This was such a great post! So well said! I love your insight and how well you express it. And I agree with you completely.

mamafabulosity said...

That title is so funny. It takes me back to my psychology class in college. I stopped changing in front of Princess recently after she told me I had big boobs. It was a nice compliment and all but I just felt a little uncomfy after that. :)

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

This is a terrific post! And something that I have given a lot of thought. I never ever saw either of my parents naked. I don't think I even saw them in their underwear unless I accidentally walked into their room while they were changing and then I was yelled at. My parents were very uncomfortable discussing or acknowledging sexuality. I have worked very hard to be different in my family. I do not want my kids to feel shame about their bodies and sexuality like I was taught.
I think we all have our own comfort levels and we need to respect our children's and teach them to respect ours. Most kids reach a point where they start to desire a level of privacy and that makes a perfect time to start being a bit more modest to show them respect. When we allow them to choose those boundaries and respect them, then they know that they can require anyone to respect their boundaries.
Again, I love your take on this issue and how you address these things so honestly.

Christine said...

Good for you. Definitely the right attitude!

Anne said...

I agree... especially with little kids, there is a huge difference between nakedness and sexuality. I think society sometimes confuses the two.

Teachin' this mommy new tricks! said...

My husband and I were just talking about this. We were wondering about what time do we stop letting her see us naked or in underwear. My husband is more nervous that I am, but his attitude is that if the kid can make eye-contact with "anything" then maybe it is time to start covering up. His reasoning does make me chuckle!

Reluctant Housewife said...

I agree with you. I don't think that small children are shamed or embarrassed by nudity.

My son, who is 3, likes to list who has what body part. He does this just about every time he uses the potty, "I have a penis. Boys have penises. Daddy has a penis. Mommy no has a penis. Mommy has bumps (that's what he calls my breasts), I have chest. Boys have chests. Girls have bumps. Mommy a girl." And on and on. He's learning. I'm laughing. It's all good.

Nan Patience said...

It's a long while since Big Daddy and I have tromped nakedy around the house or, Good Lord, bathed with our two children, 10 and 8 yrs old now. It's probably this sort of sharing that began to put an end to it. Certainly no one wants to impose my prudish, modest--ok, REPRESSED--tendencies on the little darlings, but I simply cannot be pointing at and explaining my private parts to them either.

kay said...

i totally agree with you!! my 4 year old will pat mine fondly and say i used to get milk from those right mommy? and really, hello! what are they for anyway? :)

Kathryn said...

I think most of the time when an older child or toddler wants to nurse it is the closeness they want. It has nothing to do with sexuality. I agree with you. I really don't think it starts this young.
Great post!

Leanne said...

I'm not sure I completely agree, BUT every Mommy and child is different and has to do what is right for them. I respect your choice.

tricki_nicki said...

I agree - every culture is totally different. Ours just happens to be one that isn't comfortable with nakedness and body parts.

I think it's great that you're evaluating your own comfort level and not relying on someone else's. Your son will learn to decide what's right for him by your example.

Valarie said...

I am just gonna say that I totally and completely agree with everything you said here. Well put.

LunaNik said...

What a great post! I can't believe I haven't been here before! And I've seen you all over the blogosphere...why haven't I ever stopped by to say hello before????

Anyways...great post...oh shit, I already said that...I couldn't agree more with what you said here. Really. So well said.

You'll see me again =)

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Could not agree more. Besides, I'm lazy. If I couldn't shower with my kid I'd have to actually bathe her. Too much work for someone else's hangups.

shay said...

I have never really thought about this. I guess we're all pretty open with the naked thing.

I think when they're ready they'll naturally look for more privacy, until then....

(good post btw)

Maria said...

I totally agree with you on this subject. Thanks for bringing the subject up.

Jessica said...

Amen sista!

My little one still asks to nurse when she sees my breasts.

Amy said...

When ever my 32 month old hears the shower running, she strips down and insists on joining. I love it!

Tot's Mom said...

I guess each person has his/her own comfort level. Some do not mind being naked in front of their kids while others prefer more privacy. Just follow our own instincts and I think we would be fine.

Rebekah said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Interesting post. I would have to say I agree some but not entirely. But very interesting topic though

LaskiGal said...

Excellent post. Isn't it a shame when something so wonderful and so natural can be turned into something it is not?

I can't wait to pull little J in the tub with me . . . right now he'd slip right out of my hands, but pretty soon we'll be having some bubbly fun!!!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I really love your writing. I'm glad you discovered me, so I could discover you!

When my Social Butterfly was just 3she went to visit our neighbors, who were an amazing couple in their fifties with no kids. She didn't let a little thing like an unanswered door stop her. She walked right in. In fact, she kept walking until she discovered them in the shower together. They were totally calm, and told her to wait in the living room, they'd be right out.

Of course we laughed about it like crazy, but I remember my friend saying, "We were so impressed that she did not get freaked out by seeing naked people."

You'll know when it's time to cover up; he'll let you know.

(Just so you don't call CPS, we live in a small cul-de-sac, and her siblings were outside with her!).

nomotherearth said...

That's funny, I was just wondering about this myself. I don't have time to read all the many comments, so I may be repeating here but I do think that we make a big deal out of nakedness for no real reason. It shouldn't be shameful, should it?

E said...

My kids are 22, 18 and 12. With the oldest two around 12 or so we curbed being naked a bit as they had modest phases. My current twelve year old, who has been here with the big kids who are very at ease in their skin, and run through in towels, or pee when the someone else happens to be in the shower etc...only says things like Mom Timmy is here, so if you are taking a bath take some clothes in...
I took baths with our oldest boy til he was about 5 and we just couldn't fit anymore. Our daughter wanted a bath "all by myself" when she was just three. I think we can take our cues from them.
I loved this post...

MommyK said...

My son is 3 1/2. Our house is small. The only way I would get a shower without him seeing me naked would be to lock the door and if I did that, he'd probably set something on fire. We have talked some about things being private and what other people are not allowed to touch, but I don't want to give him the idea that the human body is shameful.

Stacy said...

Nice post -- I found you via BlogHer. I agree with e that we can take our cues from our children.

Also, your post made me think of a book I read my son was around 15 months old (he's four and a half now) -- it was called "The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact With Your Baby Leads To Happier, Healthier Development". It really illustrates how our North American cultures oversexualize close contact (a la the baby book you cite).

It was a lovely book that inspired me to keep close contact with my children (while setting boundaries as needed).

Heather said...

I'm pretty open about my body with my kids, my husband is not. We figure when anyone becomes uncomfortable with the situation, it's time to stop. But as long as we don't feel uncomfortable I don't care if my kids see me naked.

tommie said...

I blogged about the very topic recently. My kids are 3 and 4...my son is older. I still bathe them together. If we use my mongo tub, I will even get in with them. My son was the one asking all the questions. We address each one and move on. Sadly enough we are starting to talk about inappropriate touch....who can and can't touch them, etc.

MommyTime said...

Yes, at 4 and 2, my kids still see both of us naked all the time. Son (4) loves to shower with me. He and his little sister bathe together. No one ever gets to use the potty alone...he needs help wiping, she needs help even just sitting there, and Husband and I simply must be asked approximately 1000 questions while we are in that little room. I imagine this will change as they begin to feel more of a need for privacy, but as to when that will happen? Hard to say. They think bathrooms are public places anyway b/c their daycare has potties without stalls, so who knows.

I totally agree that we over-sexualize and overdo the modesty thing. At some point there will be boundaries, but since Son still seems to be convinced I have a penis (he refers to it sometimes, though he's clearly never seen it!), I'm guessing we're a bit away from those days yet.

Thanks, as always, for being so thought provoking.

MBA Mommy said...

My boys are 7 and almost 5. They see me naked weekly - getting in or out of the shower after them, getting dressed in the morning, whatever. I just don't see it as a big deal. We've covered all the breast / nipple discussions and why don't you have a penis.

They are comfortable with thier bodies and I am comfortable with mine. I suspect there will be a time when we'll both choose to have more privacy...but we haven't hit that point yet.

MamaCole said...

Wow. Now I feel REAlly uptight. I do still shower with my 7-year-old daughter. But she spends a lot of time looking and commenting. It makes me uncomfortable, mostly because I'm already uncomfortable with my body.

How do you get so many comments??

b*babbler said...

A terrific, and thought-provoking post.

we used to bathe as a family, and recently we haven't. Peanut is only 16-months old, but I think, already, Mr Babbler is starting to feel that invisible wall going up.

It's sad, really.

Leah said...

I've spent my entire life self-conscious of my body, and never felt like it would be okay in my family to ask questions about my body, or sex or anything of the like. I knew as soon as our first child was born, I didn't want her worrying about her body, and I wanted her to feel comfortable coming and talking to me/us about ANYTHING. We therefore made the decision that we weren't going to worry about being modest around our children, and they've all three been in the shower with one or the other of us, and they've asked plenty of questions about their bodies and ours, and they know all the appropriate names for teh body parts and we never make it an issue. They ask a question, we answer it simply, but to the point, and move on. No giggling, no avoiding the questions. My children are comfortable in their own skin (and I hope it stays that way), and I'm learning how to be comfortable in mine. I think what you're doing is perfectly fine, and kudos to you for putting your child ahead of your own uncomfortableness (is that a word??) LOL There doesn't have to be anything sexual about nudity and like you, I refuse to force my children into grown up attitudes about it, at such young ages. Of course, there are limits, and we certainly don't let them run around nude when company is over or we're out in public, but in the privacy of our own home, in the company of our intermediate loving family, I have no issues with it.

Thank you for this post! It's nice to see my family is not alone

kittenpie said...

Misterpie and I trade back and forth bedtime duties, and it usually means him taking the bath with her. He still usually gets in with her, but we have none of those silly tub shots of her in the bath, because while we think it's okay, he is worried what someone else mgiht think, if they saw that he was in there with her - someone who doesn't know him and might think it strange. At nearly fourm, though, we are starting to let her have baths without either of us in there some of the time, partly because we know that time will come when it won't be so appropriate, and partly because, well, she is taking up more of the tub these days! On tired nights, though, she likes to sit cuddled on a knee while getting clean. I think it's okay for a short while longer, maybe about a year?

Victoria said...

This was a great post!! I struggle with this too...and my oldest is seven. Ack.

Trudie said...

You seem to be a mother with a good head on your shoulders - use common sense! My son was about 2 years old when he pulled up my t-shirt on a bus and yelled "Whatcha got here!" - This was in the early 80's and I think the lady behind me had a coronary - while I laughed it off for what it was.
The less uptight and anal we as grown-ups are, the less of a big deal nakedness will be for our children. Like someone already pointed out - even with children in the lower grades it's almost impossible to go to the bathroom behind a closed door.

JCK said...

You are incredibly wise and I agree with you 100%. It always bugs me when Americans (and I am one, but grew up overseas)freak out over a little girl not wearing a top at the beach. Come on people, what is she...3?