The Birds and the Bees: A Parent’s Guide
About the Guest
Sex is God's design. Why then are we so uncomfortable talking to our children about it? Mary Flo Ridley shares an easy, natural approach to teaching your children about sex beginning when they're very young.
Why are we so uncomfortable talking about sex to our children?
The Birds and the Bees: A Parent’s Guide
Bob: Most adults today did not hear about the birds and the bees first from their parents. They heard about it from their peers or from media. What about your kids? Will you be having that conversation with them? Here’s advice from Mary Flo Ridley.
Mary Flo: It’s not about doing it perfectly. It’s about doing it in context of relationship. The goal is to establish a relationship with your child on this subject—and so repeated conversations. Yes, that subject may come up. You may find yourself saying someday: “You know—I have some regrets. There is a reason I’ve been talking to you, since you were three years old, because I carried some burdens. I didn’t understand what sex was all about when I was a teenager. I have such a different perspective now, and I want to share that with you.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We have some thoughts for you today on how you can have effective conversations with your children about sex. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious, “Are you glad that the days of having conversations with young kids about sex are mostly over for you; or do you kind of wish you could do it some more?”
Dennis: Oh, that’s a good question! [Laughter] I really enjoyed it. I mean, was it—did it create clammy hands, and anxiety, and, “What am I going to say next?” Sometimes, I punted and said, “I’ll talk about that later.” But no, I actually kind of miss it because I think it is one of the most mysterious—yet, profoundly intimate and heart-to-heart connections we can ever have with our children.
And we have a guest with us who believes that, as well. Mary Flo Ridley joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Mary Flo: Thank you. I’m glad to be back!
Dennis: She has written a book called God’s Very Good Design. Mary Flo speaks at kindergarten groups, parent groups, and public education groups to equip parents to engage in conversations when children are little—as in three to five—about the matters of the birds and the bees.
Bob: And you’ve spoken in both church-based audiences and in mainstream audiences. Is there a different response, or is there pushback to what you are talking about when you talk to parents who aren’t going to church?
Mary Flo: Not at all. In fact, this has actually been sort of an outreach for some churches. All parents are concerned about how they’re going to handle these conversations. They may come at it from a different point of view. Some parents are more concerned about their child’s health than they are about really shaping their spiritual character around this; but they are still interested and curious.
So, in a public school setting, my talk is mainly about, “What is the message you want them to have and formulate that,” without the assumption that it’s going to be in a biblical sense. Then, when I speak in churches—then, I come with the assumption that the message that I have is the message they also want for their children.
Bob: And you take people to Genesis 1 and 2 in churches; right?
Mary Flo: Yes.
Dennis: And something we talked about, just before we came on air, you pointed out in Genesis, Chapter 2, how God made them male and female; and they were naked and unashamed. Then, Chapter 3 begins with the statement: “Now, the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field.” And your point was?
Mary Flo: After that high moment of the man and the woman were both naked and unashamed, the very next verse is that about the serpent. So, we want to point our children to God’s perfect design; but we want to prepare them for what is out there in the world.
We can’t just live in the Garden—we don’t live in the Garden anymore. So, the brokenness that is in this world has affected our sexuality in a lot of ways; but I like to start out with Genesis 1 and 2. Then, eventually, get to some of the more complicated things that have been devised by that crafty one.
Dennis: Yes. And I think it would do us well, as parents, to realize that the first words of the serpent were this: “Did God actually say”—
Mary Flo: Yes.
Dennis: —“did God actually make them male and female and said it was very good? Really? Do you really believe that, as a parent?” We have to come to grips with that, ourselves, as parents.
Bob: Yes. And I think, as you present God’s very good design to your kids—that’s the title of the book you’ve written—I think they need to understand that God’s design is going to face attack. The first attack is going to come from an enemy, who wants to distort whatever God has called “good”. Then, the culture—that is being influenced by the enemy—is going to try to pull you away from God’s very good design. You take the devil and the culture—there’s really a third force—
Bob: —and that is your own flesh—your own sinful predisposition that is going to be attracted to what the culture and the devil are selling. Kids have got to know, growing up: “This is God’s good design, but guess what? You’re going to face pressure, from inside and from outside, to try to deviate and violate this design.” Aren’t you?
Mary Flo: That’s exactly right. The word, “And they were unashamed”—I don’t know very many people in our world who could say that the subject of sex is a subject of which they are not ashamed. Everyone is broken in some area of this. There’s just a lot of brokenness in the world, and there’s a lot of confusion, and distortion, and misunderstanding. So, I think parents, too, need to realize that they come into this subject with their own brokenness—their own baggage. Some people have been abused. This is not a beautiful topic in their eyes.
And so, they need to deal with some of that on their own level and try not to pass that brokenness onto their children; but to once again, take the time to refresh their own memory and make a confession—talk to the Lord about it—but be able to go to their children, saying: “Let me point you in the direction that God initially wanted us to go in. And let’s go in that direction.”
Dennis: I can hear a mom or a dad, right now, saying—in fact, I’ve heard them say this repeatedly—“I don’t really feel qualified to talk to my son or daughter because, when I was a young person, growing up, I made all kinds of mistakes. I experimented over here. I made some errors in judgment over here. I’m afraid my kids are going to ask me, ‘Dad, did you do that before you were married?’”
I think what the serpent does—is the serpent takes the sword of the Word out of the hand of a mom or a dad by accusing them of their past failures and keeps them silent while the world is chirping, while the serpent is lying, and while the flesh is fermenting—alright; you with me?
Mary Flo: I’m with you.
Dennis: And so, what parents have got to do, regardless of your brokenness—to your point, Mary Flo—regardless of what you did, regardless of your mistakes—you have to engage in this subject. This is not optional! Parents have got to talk to their kids because they need to hear about it from their mom and their dad, within the context of a family and a marriage that’s going the distance.
Mary Flo: I could not agree with you more. Really, that voice in their mind—that is telling them that they are unqualified to do it—they’ve got to step away from that voice and realize they are uniquely qualified for this job and that it is not about doing it perfectly. It’s about doing it in context of relationship. The goal is to establish a relationship with your child on this subject—and so repeated conversations.
Yes, that subject may come up. It’s not going to come up when your children are very young, but it may come up later. And they may question you and your past; and so, prepare for that. Pray about that. Think about that. You may find yourself saying, someday: “You know—I have some regrets. There is a reason I’ve been talking to you, since you were three years old, because I carried some burdens. I went too far, and I didn’t understand what sex was all about when I was a teenager. I have such a different perspective now, and I want to share that with you.” So, I think, as you build a relationship on the topic, you have credibility with your children and you can move through that. It’s not as a scary as it is in your mind.
Dennis: I want to put a double underline under your statement: “You don’t have to do it perfectly.” I’ll never forget when our oldest daughter, Ashley, asked me, “How does the sperm get in there, Daddy?” You know what I did? I punted! [Laughter] I said: “You know, that’s a good question! I’ll have an answer for you later on when we’re getting away on this family vacation.” [Laughter] I didn’t do that perfectly. I didn’t step up and handle it; but the point was I did double back, and I did have that conversation. That’s the point! It’s not a matter of you being the rock star.
Mary Flo: Absolutely.
Dennis: It’s a matter of you being an authentic parent, who is just trying to get in there, and equip, and help, and strengthen your child to have God’s view of sex.
Mary Flo: And I certainly didn’t do it perfectly, either. If my children were here, they would have all kinds of stories for you; but making a stab at it is what you want to do. Having—they need to hear your voice on the subject. And truthfully, on more than one occasion, I would go back and say, “Can I try that again?”—like, “I feel like I didn’t make the main point.”
But sometimes, what’s helpful for parents is to know, “What are the words I can use?” I always tell parents, if they want to present a faith-based message, just use these three words, as you start into your conversation: “By God’s design…”— “By God’s design, a husband and a wife were made to fit together in this perfect way,” or, “By God’s design, there is a place where the baby grows.” You can just start with that. It sort of leads you to take it off something very personal and make it all about what He made and what the purposes of His design are.
Bob: I want to ask you about Ashley’s questions to Dennis—
Mary Flo: Yes?
Bob: —because you laid out for us, earlier, kind of a strategy. You start off, as a mom and a dad, with a unified one sentence: “Here’s what we want to communicate to our kids.” For you and your husband, it was, “Sex is a gift from God designed for marriage.”
Mary Flo: That’s right.
Bob: That was your simple statement. Then, step two was to begin talking about body parts—start developing a vocabulary: “What are the words you are going to use, and how are you going to work that into conversation?” Step three was to talk about how reproduction happens, in terms of how the baby comes out.
Mary Flo: Right.
Bob: So, I guess step four has to be: “How did the baby get in there in the first place?”—Ashley’s question to Dennis. Is that step four?
Mary Flo: That is actually—we’re going to put one more step in between birth and conception.
Bob: Good; alright.
Mary Flo: Yes. We’re going to stall just a little bit. [Laughter] But the step that I like for parents to throw in there is the easiest of all. It’s just pointing out His design of all living things—sort of give a focus on seeds and eggs. You can do that in your backyard. You can do that in your kitchen, as you are opening an apple—point to the seeds. Help them understand that, deep inside of every living thing that God made, there are seeds and eggs. So, those are the things that He uses to create the next thing just like it.
With just that simple step, you now have some of the vocabulary that’s helpful for explaining, “How did that sperm got in there?”—the fact that there is a seed inside the daddy, called a sperm; and then, there is an egg inside of the mommy. It’s a logical next step. So, when they do ask that question, it’s just helpful to have that information.
Bob: And if they ask that question at age four—because some kids do, at age four—
Mary Flo: Of course. Yes.
Bob: —do you answer at age four?
Mary Flo: At age four, I like to introduce the characters of this. If you’re picking up a big book, with the name “sex” on it,—
Mary Flo: —let’s don’t get too far into the book when they are four years old; but you can introduce the characters you want them to know—that are in that book. So, you might say, “Sweetheart, that’s a very good question,”—which was always my lead-in—which was a stalling device.
Bob: A stall.
Mary Flo: Yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Catch a breath.
Mary Flo: Let me just catch my breath—but, “By God’s design, a husband and a wife were made to fit together. In this fitting together, there’s this seed called the sperm, that’s deep inside of the daddy. It meets with the egg, that’s deep inside of the mommy. So, God uses the seed and the egg to start the baby.
With a four year old, I just use a vague term: “They fit together in a perfect way.” It’s just introducing the idea, but I’m introducing it in the context of starting with God and His design. Then, because I want to emphasize marriage, I don’t say it’s a man and a woman. I name those characters as the husband and the wife. Then, it is oneness of flesh that I want them to understand. So, it’s not very anatomically specific.
Bob: Here’s one of the questions that I remember coming up—because we’d have those conversations. Then, at some point, our daughter or son would hear about a young woman, who was pregnant, who was not married—
Mary Flo: Right.
Bob: —and they would come running to us, “How did this happen?” A miracle has occurred because: “You told me it’s a husband and a wife—it’s a mommy and a daddy who come together. What happened?” How do you handle that question?
Mary Flo: Well, of course, that’s going to come up. But somewhere, along the line, you try to say: “This is supposed to be between a husband and a wife,” or, “God intended it to be between a husband and a wife. When we get out of some of His most specific intentions, then, we run into challenges. If that young mother is having a baby because she had sex with someone, who she wasn’t married to, yet—and so, she needs our extra love and compassion. She is in a difficult situation. So, how can we come alongside her, and love and care for her and that baby? But for her whole life, she will be presented challenges.”
Bob: And we do have to present a truth and grace message—
Mary Flo: Yes.
Bob: —as we take this to our kids.
Dennis: Very important. Yes.
Bob: Yes—because you can present a truth message that can leave them condemning and being self-righteous. You can present a grace message that causes them to say, “Oh, well, then, I guess that everything is okay.” It’s got to be a clear statement of: “Here was God’s design, but you know what? We all mess up.”
Mary Flo: That’s right.
Bob: “Somebody messed up here. That doesn’t mean that they are bad. It just means they made a mistake, and we want to help them get back on the right track.”
Mary Flo: Exactly.
Dennis: And let me just put a couple of exclamation points by that. Especially, as they get older—into junior high, and high school, and as young adults. You have to keep bringing that same grace and forgiveness to them because what they need is a combination of a high standard but, also, to know that God does redeem us and He does help us recover from even our worst mistakes.
Mary Flo, you mentioned this earlier. I’ve just been sitting here, kind of smiling, wanting to ask you: “Do you have a most humorous moment, that occurred to you, as you raised your three to adulthood, where it was one of those clammy-hand moments that would just encourage a mom or dad, who is sitting out there, listening to us—and they are going, ‘I still don’t know if I can do this. This is tough stuff!’”?
Mary Flo: Well, I think I would say—I’m not sure if it was humorous, but it was uncomfortable. We had one child who asked all the questions. Then, we had another who never wanted to talk about any of this. So, that was a great challenge for me. I think it’s because of the way I had first approached it with her. I took kind of the blame for that; but she’s just been very challenging to talk to about these things. I think she just has a sense of modesty—at least, with her mom, she does.
Dennis: So, how’d you handle it?
Mary Flo: Well, when we had our little getaway weekend, we invited her best friend and her best friend’s mother so that we would have someone to talk to. [Laughter]
Bob: You were afraid—if it’s just the two of you—
Mary Flo: “If it’s just the two of us, I’m going to be talking through a locked bathroom door.”
Bob: A lot of crickets. [Laughter]
Mary Flo: Yes.
Dennis: So, you’re talking about, like a Passport2Purity® weekend, later on, when they’re about to become an adolescent?
Mary Flo: Right. We were very like-minded in what we were going to be talking to the girls about. I thought, “I just don’t think this is going to go well.” And so, we did it together.
Dennis: You were really using the other daughter?
Mary Flo: Yes, I was. [Laughter]
Dennis: No, no—
Mary Flo: To ask the questions.
Dennis: —I think it is okay.
Bob: It’s a great strategy.
Dennis: I think you have to find a way to get the right biblical knowledge into the hearts of our children, within the context of a healthy marriage—
Mary Flo: Right.
Dennis: —from the mom to a daughter, or father to son, or it can be from the opposite- sex parent.
Bob: Well, and I think our kids have different personalities, like you’ve said. Some are curious communicators, and others are processors and a little uncomfortable with it. But the point is—whatever your child’s personality is—you still have the same assignment. You can’t say: “Well, this child was quiet. So, I just gave up on that one.” No! You’ve got to figure out how you’re going to do this.
Mary Flo: I’m so glad you said that because a lot of parents do not know how to communicate with a child who is not asking the questions. Yet, that child may be just as curious. They just don’t know how to formulate the questions. For that child, I tell parents, “Maybe, go at it a different way.” A phrase that they might want to try is: “Have you ever wondered? Have you ever wondered exactly how that baby gets out of there?”
Since you got to see the kittens born, that answered some questions for you [Laughter]; but I have to tell you that, just in connection with that, our son saw kittens born. He said, “So, is that how babies are born?” I said, “Yes!” He said, “Exactly?” I said, “Pretty much.” So, a few days later, he came to me. He said, “Mommy—is that really how babies are born?” I said, “Well, you seem bothered about this.” He said, “Yes, did you really lick me all over?” [Laughter] I said: “You’re right! It’s not exactly….”
Bob: We skipped that step! [Laughter]
Dennis: But here’s what I want moms and dads—these are great moments!
Mary Flo: Yes.
Dennis: Let innocence be what it is—and let the red face, the flush, the embarrassment—it’s all okay. It really is okay. God designed you to be the parents—to engage in these conversations—and the child is innocent. He’s going to—unfortunately, have that innocence invaded by the culture—by the enemy. We just need to be in there—as you said—providing the right counsel, the right words. Your book, God’s Very Good Design, is going to give them all that and some great coaching along with it.
I just want to say, “Thanks for caring about moms and dads and helping them, maybe, over one of the highest hurdles,” Bob, “that we have, as parents, and one of our most challenging assignments—which is talking to our kids about the birds and the bees.”
Bob: Well, and we have already mentioned, this week, some books that help parents do that—books by Stan and Brenna Jones called God’s Design for Sex—four books that are age-specific. You start with the one for the younger kids, and you work your way up to the ones for the—I think it’s for preteens or 11-, 12-, 13- year-olds; right?
Mary Flo: Eleven- to thirteen-year-old is the last one.
Bob: You used these books with your kids?
Mary Flo: I used these books with my children, and I think they are wonderful. I think the pictures are very respectful, and the vocabulary is great. It’s an easy resource for parents to use.
Bob: And it’s not a “Use this tool; and then, check it off the list.” It’s a part of the whole conversation you have with your kids, over a lifetime. It’s one component—it’s not the entire package.
Mary Flo: That’s right. It’s a helpful tool, but you need to be able to have conversations with them. They need to hear your words and your voice, also, not just the books.
Dennis: And I think what parents ought to have is—they ought to have a copy of your book, which is a good overview, and provides some excellent coaching around vocabulary and the process you’re going to go about as you help raise your kids.
Then, I think you need God’s Design for Sex, all the way through to the adolescent years. You also need to have Passport2Purity, which is really bigger than just the sex conversation—but it is a great Friday night/Saturday experience for a mom and her daughter or a father and his son to be able to have, again, additional conversations to prepare them for adolescence.
Bob: Well, and obviously, the books we’ve been talking about are age-specific. They are books that you read to your children during different seasons of their growing-up years. Mary Flo’s book is a book for moms and dads—that provides the foundation from the beginning. It’s called God’s Very Good Design. You can order a copy of that book when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can order the entire series of books, and we’ll include Mary Flo’s book when you do that.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us here, on Monday, when we’re going to talk about how going back to school ought to include having a biblical reference library available to you. Scott Lindsey from Logos Bible Software is going to be here. We’re going to talk about some of the amazing technology that exists around Bible software today. So, I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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