“Mama, will your bottom just keep getting bigger and bigger until the baby gets here?”
Asked in innocence and intimate honesty, this question from my 8-year-old was simple curiosity. Is this how a body works when a baby is coming along?
I’ve had a good laugh about this inquiry from my daughter, but in the moment I answered her in kind, “We’ll have to see, won’t we? It’ll be nice to have a soft place to sit while my belly gets bigger.”
This has been a big year for learning about bodies in our house. As I write, I’m weeks away from the expected arrival of our third child. As you read, I surely hope that event has already come to pass. The prospect of New Baby brought to the forefront the lingering questions from other conversations we’ve had about how and why our bodies do things.
It’s one of those tender arenas for a parent to navigate with growing children. What is my child ready to know more about? How likely (and how accurately) is the older sibling to share new-found knowledge with a younger sibling, or with classmates? I loved adding another layer to my oldest child’s understanding this summer, but I did time it to happen after she returned from a week at camp. I don’t know what the parents of her cabin mates were ready for their kids to know.
There’s not just one conversation to be had. “The Talk” is dozens of ongoing conversations about the sacredness of bodies (our own and others’), respect, hygiene, intimacy, protection, ability, health, consent, desire, biology, identity, care, change, giving and receiving loving touch…and the array of feelings that may accompany any of these things.
All of this is on my mind as I reflect on the Confession of Saint Peter. In Matthew’s account, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answer that some people say John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus presses.
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter blurts out the truth about Jesus, perhaps not even fully aware of what it means. Jesus blesses him, saying it was God in heaven who revealed this to Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his church.
When Jesus goes on to talk about the suffering he will undergo, Peter tries to talk him out of it. That’s the well-known “Get behind me, Satan!” moment. But let’s not rush ahead.
Peter speaks with honesty to Jesus about who he believes him to be. It’s not a truth that he can explain, and we know that Peter will miss later opportunities to stand by this truth (see Peter’s denials in Matthew 26). But God will use his raw, unpolished confession for many good things down the road. It is enough. Peter’s confession bears some innocence and honesty, and is spoken in the intimacy of trust among friends.
There are lots of good resources for talking to children about how bodies work and what they are for. I’ve enjoyed the collection of health and wellness books collated at A Mighty Girl, and read several thoughtful posts on opportunities to teach children about consent at UnsilencedWoman (her everyday reflections on Facebook are worth sticking around for).
The nativity stories that we’ve just spent time with over the Christmas season is a beautiful place to start a conversation about how intimately God knows and cares for human nature. Psalm 139 or many of the gospels’ healing stories could be a springboard for exploring with little ones how dearly God cares about these bodies of ours. The Song of Songs puts lovers’ passion and God’s desire for us into beautiful poetry. What about Elizabeth’s baby leaping in her womb when she greets newly-expectant Mary? The story of Jesus’s suffering and death certainly places before us ideas of the limits of our bodies in the face of cruelty and pain.
And opportunities will arise naturally. If your kids are as besotted as mine are with potty humor and all things digestive, you won’t lack for fodder.
I’m expecting many more conversations about biology, development, and sexuality with my children over the years, and I want the door to be open for whatever confessions or questions need to be blurted out. I want to be ready with blessing, with shared laughter, with new layers of understanding. Wisdom seems ambitious, but I can make it my intention to be present and take seriously the wondering brought before me, however it is packaged.
As our children discover us to be trustworthy on matters of bodies and biology—a foundation built over those countless small exchanges—perhaps they will find us trustworthy when we want to share big truths about who we believe Jesus to be.
I’m glad to have a soft place to sit as I ponder all these things.
[Image credit: photo taken by Allison Sandlin Liles at the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth]