On Motherhood & Sanity

Monday, July 26, 2010

Help! my son just discovered his new best friend…

My two year old (boy) has finally discovered his new best friend, and it’s NOT his sister, but something that was there all along.

As a trained psychologist I haven’t always seen eye to eye with Freud, but if there is one thing I always agreed with was on the sexuality of children. Not in the (sick) sense some pedophiles try to use it, but rather the fact that children soon in their lives, some sooner than others, discover that their bodies can give them pleasure. I think this is normal and I think this is healthy, and that it is up to us –the adults- to make sure that they feel this way about their bodies and their sexuality too.

But it’s not that simple.

Initially I gave everyone instructions to act casual and let him be, while telling his sister that it was his toy, one that they could not share. (I also had to instruct her not to pull it or throw things at it…) Us adults, filled with all our preconceptions and prejudices, would just have to deal with the awkwardness and bear it with a smile.

Then one day my little mongrel was all cuddly, lying on my lap while drinking his milk bottle, much like a kitten. I was chatting away with my father and my mother in law. The sun was setting on the horizon and the water under the boats was turning from blue to green before the inevitable farewell pink. Then he pulled it out and began his works, right in the middle of our conversation, stretched out over me, sunny side up.

It made me realize that it was time to start putting some boundaries. So I tried to explain to him that it is ok, it is fun, but it is private; which means you can only do it at home, and NOT at the table, and lastly, the most delicate part for me, that only he can play with it.

The reasons the last one is the most delicate is because he still uses diapers at the night, and sometimes has accidents during the day, and generally speaking, he is two years old and me, his father, the grandparents, the nanny, and a whole bunch of adults clean him and bathe him on a regular basis. So how do I explain in a healthy, positive manner that we can, but others cannot touch this area? (especially as he is about to start preschool, which means another bunch of strangers will have legitimate access to his wee wee).

Of course, it is not the fact that he needs to be bathed or cleaned that I am trying to protect him from, it is the possibility of abuse, that dark shadow that hangs over parent’s head, especially as most statistics indicate that when it happens, it is usually someone close to the family that does it.

I first encountered this whole issue when my daughter was but a baby. A friend was telling me that she struggled with keeping her three year old dressed in the communal gardens of her residential compound in Cambodia. She hated herself for it because she herself had grown up carefree and naked in exotic countries, and while she wanted her daughter to integrate, she also wanted to protect her.

It shocked me, more so when I was advised to keep my one year old covered when playing in her baby pool in our own back yard. It was frightening to think that I had to protect her in my own home. It was scary that I had to safe guard her sexuality before there even was one. It was sick and absurd.

Then I read Somaly Mam’s memoire “The Road of lost Innocence”, her personal account of being sold into prostitution by her own uncle, where I learned, along with other facts that will forever haunt me, that children as young as three years old are considered fair game in the dark brothels of Cambodia.

My work as an aid worker has exposed me to some of the darkest sides of humanity. So fear set in.

On the other hand, I grew up between post Franco Spain and Pinochet’s Chile, and although both countries have evolved to become open and liberal, as much as the next, I still remember the guilt attached to masturbation. I still remember the issues some of my friends had around sexuality, and it is important to me to protect my children from these negative side effects of religious apprehensions.

Striking the perfect balance, as usual, is the hard part of the job.


Anonymous said...

Funny story, sounds familiar; but unfortunately, children have to learn there are not only good manners regarding their pleasant feelings, but also eventually learn that there are dangers related to sex.
To keep them safe is even more important than keeping then innocent.

Alex@LateEnough said...

this is a hard balence for us as well. i use bathtime and doctor visits to talk about who can and cannot touch my son's penis or bottom.
and we did have to find that line between supporting normal exploration and exploring around too many people...

lydia eve said...

Wow. My son (and first child) just turned 3 months old. That I'll have to deal with this issue in the not-all-that-distant future hadn't occurred to me. When I look back on my own youth, I don't recall my parents ever teaching me what or who was appropriate or inappropriate, but I guess they must have at some point.

Oh, the many things you never think about that you have to deal with as a parent!

Anonymous said...

The way I handled it was not so much to set the boundary as "who can touch" as "no one can touch without your permission."