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Do French Parents Have 'The Talk'?

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Dear Catherine,

My son is in 2nd grade and while he hasn't been overly curious about his body, sex and the like, every now and then he does ask us a question. For example, we answered the "Where do babies come from?" question about a year ago. Coming from a household where my own parents pretended puberty did not exist, I'm kind of clueless about when we start filling in the kiddo about his changing body. How do the French do it? And are they doing it right? They're doing it right, aren't they?


Stumped About Sex

Dear Stumped,

I’d always assumed I was of the liberated, unshakable breed of moms, but the night my daughter first asked me how a baby gets into the mommy's tummy, I turned bright red, mumbled something about brushing teeth, and fled as fast as possible. (The teeth brushing, I should say, was what I wanted them to do, not part of my lesson on storks, babies, etc.) She was about 5 years old at the time, and you would think that, following her inquiry, I would've forged some kind of game plan. Nope—the same thing happened periodically for a couple more years until she finally, tearfully and forcefully demanded a straight answer. I did what any spineless parent would do and I bought her an antiseptic book. Once viewed, this prompted my daughter to plead: "Mom! I know about the sperm and the egg! But how, how, how does it happen? Every time I ask you laugh and then leave. Please tell me!" Finally I did, and it wasn't bad at all.

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With my prior mismanagement in mind, when I began my research on how the French parent differently than we do in the U.S., I was keen to find out how they approach The Talk. The results were mixed, mostly because France has a completely different (read: less puritanical) culture than we do. While we devote endless American airtime and outrage to an accidentally exposed teet here and there, the French showcase the nearly naked body in magazines, on television and on the walls of practically every street corner kiosk. Here, meanwhile, it's easier to find hip-hugging, skinny jeans for my 6-year-old than practically any other style of pants, and "baby stilettos" are so popular that most shops are sold out. No wonder we are so confused! We inadvertently sexualize our kids and at the same time we are terrified of sexuality.

I'm not suggesting that you pick Last Tango in Paris for family movie night, but completely shielding kids from sexuality isn’t good for anyone.

My French-inspired advice, which I am taking to heart myself whenever my youngest asks about Les Oiseaux et Les Abeilles (by the way, I think that this literal translation of "The Birds and The Bees" would confound the French as much as heels marketed to a newborn) is to be straight with your son and emphasize that bodies, with all of their functions, are beautiful things. When the subject is discussed without anxiety or shame, kids take it in stride and are baffled much less than we imagine they will be. I’m not suggesting that you pick Last Tango in Paris for family movie night, but completely shielding kids from sexuality isn't good for anyone.

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As a child watching The Shining on video, I was made to leave the room during one scene only. It wasn’t that of the butchered bodies of twin girls lying in the hallway, or the shot of gallons (and gallons and gallons) of blood washing through the hotel lobby; rather it was the scene with the naked lady in the bathtub. My point is that these tendencies to shield our kids from sexuality are deep-rooted. Don’t beat yourself up for your aversion to discussing puberty with your son, but do be strong. I’m convinced that honest talk, early on, is the best solution for everyone.

Good luck with The Talk. I hope it goes smoothly,


P.S. For the record, The Shining (with or without the bathtub scene) is a terrible choice for family movie night.

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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