My nine-year-old was looking at our wedding photos the other day and noticed she isn’t in them. When she asked why she’s not in the photos I explained that she had not been born yet. Then she asked me, “Do you have to be married to have a baby?” I didn’t know how to answer so I said, “Yes!” Now she has more questions and I don’t know what to tell her. How do I answer her question without talking about sex? Please help.
Signed, In Over My Head
Dear In Over My Head,
Well, IMHO I don’t think you can answer this question without acknowledging the existence of s.e.x.. But don’t worry about going into too much detail about the birds and the bees. First, praise your child for her question and ask her what she thinks the answer is. This may bring up examples from your own lives that you can discuss. It will also teach her that it’s OK to ask you these types of questions and give you a more clear idea of what she really wants to know.
It may be tempting to go into the many different issues involved with deciding to have a baby and you may suddenly find yourself talking about things that go way beyond what your child asked about. Try to stay focused on the question she asked and follow her lead.
This is a perfect opportunity to talk with your child about your own family’s views on sex and relationships. Deciding when to have a baby is a very personal decision and definitions of “family” are always changing. You might share with her your own story of how you decided it was time to have a baby.
Different cultures have different views on marriage and family. Some unmarried parents may feel stigmatized and their children can experience discrimination within their own family and community. However, much of that is changing as more and more people decide to have babies without getting married or are forming non-traditional family units.
In some families, there is a strong expectation that young people wait to have sex until after marriage. If this is the case in your family/culture/church, explain why these values are important to you and invite your child to ask questions.
In other families, it is understood that young people are curious about sex and will probably begin exploring their sexuality prior to marriage. If this is your view, you might talk about the importance of being educated about ways to stay healthy and safe in sexual relationships.
Some pregnancies are planned and some are unplanned. Either way, the most important thing for children is stability. Whether that is provided by a married couple, a single or co-parenting person, a troupe of supportive aunties or a loving grandparent is less important than ensuring the child is loved and provided for regardless of the family structure.
Cecilia Ortiz, LCSW is a clinical social worker and a mom. She has nearly 20 years of experience including working with kids, teens and adults in the areas of sex education, abuse, trauma and prevention. Email your questions Cici to firstname.lastname@example.org.