Reader Naked With Toddlers writes:
I have two sons aged 3 years and 18 months. I get dressed for work in front of them, I put on my pajamas at night in front of them. They are my audience when I pee and poo. My son has even asked about my sanitary pad. Sometimes the only way for me to take a shower is to bring them both in there with me. They play with toys and I get to shave my legs. My husband has made me feel guilty about this and is now demanding I use the bathroom to change my clothes, and lock the door when I pee and shower. He said my kids are going to be the boys that get in trouble in school for touching a girl the wrong way, basically saying I am messing them up. What do you think?
Well, experts don't even agree about this, so it's unlikely you and your husband will. Basically, a good rule of thumb is, if it makes you or the kids feel uncomfortable, or if they start touching your private parts and asking about them, you should stop. This usually happens around preschool age. So, for example, if your son keeps asking about and touching your breasts, it is time to say, "Those are mommy's breasts, they are private, and people don't touch each other's private parts." As he gets older, you can add, "People can touch each other in those places if they are older, and they both agree, like when they are married." As I discuss here and here, I try not to lie to kids- saying nobody touches anyone's else private parts is not true. (Except of course for couples that have two toddlers around, unfortunately for the husbands of the world. But I digress.)
Whether or not your sons have been asking about and touching your body, your husband is made uncomfortable by the situation, so it would be ideal to respect his position and take it into consideration. But before switching your whole routine and resenting him for the difficulty of doing so, have you had a deeper discussion about this topic? How did he grow up thinking about sex and bodies, and how did you? Did he ever see his mom in the shower or was that a definite no no in his home? How do you each feel about sex and how and when do you plan speak to your boys about sex? It could help you each empathize with the other's perspective to learn more about how you were each raised and how this shapes your current behavior in the home.
I try to be a sex positive parent, which means teaching children that sex and their bodies are natural and not shameful. It also means educating them at an age appropriate level about sexuality. Below is a really helpful tip sheet from thesexpositiveparent.com.
So, for example, it is normal (whether or not you bathe with your kids) for them to start asking questions about your body, such as inquiring about your sanitary pad. You can give answers in a calm and educational way, like "Mommies bleed once a month if they are not going to have a baby. When I had you in my belly, I didn't bleed for the whole time. It doesn't hurt Mommy." That would be something age appropriate and he will probably move on. If you say, "Yucky, don't ask about that" and make him feel shamed, then he will learn that asking questions about bodies is wrong. One result of this is that he may be less likely to approach you with sex questions later on, and less likely to tell you if anyone touched him in a sexual way.
Your son, like many children, will probably be curious about sex at some point in his life, and many children touch one another and "play doctor." It is completely normal, and if you come upon it later on, a good way to handle is is to calmly explain not to touch other kids' private areas, and redirect them to another behavior. If you act shocked or disapproving, the child learns that sexuality is shameful. I do not in any way believe that seeing your body will make your sons more or less curious about women. If anything, I would imagine they might be less curious than boys who have no idea what is under women's clothes. If your boys had a sister, the point would be moot because they would already have seen her privates in the bath and so forth.
Anyway, another important issue from my perspective is your husband's intent on shaming you without providing a solution to your problem. There is no way to lock yourself away when you're watching two kids this age. Note picture:
Does your husband offer to watch the kids while you shower and change? I know no mother in her right mind who would deny this offer, so I doubt it is on the table. If your husband continues to believe that you are "messing up" the boys, then he needs to come forward with a range of possible solutions for you. Personally, I think judicious use of TV time may be called for, particularly when you need to use the bathroom. Between TV and your husband coming forward to watch the boys more often, you may be able to be naked less often in front of the boys and thereby compromise with your husband (and compromising rather than arguing in your marriage will lead to you being naked more often in front of your husband, incidentally).
Moving forward, since your boys will still inevitably see you without your clothes sometimes, and also continue as they mature to have more and more questions about men, women, bodies, and sex, this is an ideal time to sit down with your husband and discuss how you each envision discussing these issues with your kids. There is a difference between shame and privacy. You can certainly teach your sons which parts of the body are private, but that is different than verbally and nonverbally communicating that these parts are bad, need to be locked away, and are inappropriate to ask about. Hopefully, you would like your sons to be able to ask you anything about anything, and I think this is a good goal to keep in mind about the topic of sexuality as well.
Till next time, I remain The Blogapist Who Thinks That, Other Issues Notwithstanding, Showering With Two Kids Is Actually Pretty Impressive, From a Contortionist Perspective.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.