How I Handled the Masturbation Conversation with My Three-Year-Old
This word strikes fear in the heart of most parents. It’s the Kryptonite of the parenting fraternity. When most parents look at their children, the last thing they want to think about is that they -- gulp -- masturbate. Because there seems to be such taboos connected with this topic, many parents are unaware that it is, in fact, totally normal for children to be touching themselves regularly at the age of three and then again, from twelve well into adulthood.
It’s bizarre, really, this fear of the masturbation conversation. I’ve seen friends freely post on Facebook about how little Sammy ate a cockroach today! Marcus fingerprinted with his own poo! Jenny had an epic diaper explosion (with attached photographs for evidence)! But when they discovered little Toby masturbating: silence. This little milestone is shoved under the rug faster than the most shameful family skeleton.
I was fortunate to have been raised by two incredibly open and honest parents and had benefited from the freedom to be able to discuss anything with them. This led to some conversations that my parents probably didn’t enjoy much (sorry, Mom and Dad!), but I grew up unafraid of my body and free of misguided hang-ups. I decided when I started this parenting journey that I was going to be the type of parent that answers questions frankly and openly and without reservation. Yes sirree, I was evolved.
So when the day came that I discovered my three-year-old daughter with her hands down her pants, I took a deep breath, plastered a non-freaked out smile on my face and calmly told her that touching herself was a lovely and normal thing to do but that it was something she should do alone in her bedroom. “Okay,” she happily replied and skipped off to her room. Patting myself on the back for being so calm under duress (because the inner voice was shrieking “omigodomigodomigod!”), I went about making dinner and praying that that was that.
The Masturbatory Gods had a good laugh at that one. As if. The next day, I unsuspectingly walked into the living room with a basket of laundry and BAM, there she was, hands in pants. Deep breath. Calm, cheery (slightly squeaky) voice. “Darling, remember how we talked yesterday about how if you want to touch your vagina, you need to do it alone in your bedroom?” Sweet, innocent eyes looked back at me. “Yes, mama, okay.” Off she went.
Phew. Twice wasn’t so bad. Now, she got it. Excellent.
Until the next day. Three times. And the day after that.
By this time, I was getting so good at this conversation that I didn’t even bat an eyelid anymore. I knew this was a totally normal phase, and I was proud that I was handling it with such grace and maturity. Mary Poppins herself couldn’t have handled it better. The new mantra in our home, repeated in sing-song voices multiple times per week, was “If you want to touch your vagina, you have to do it all alone in your bedroom.”
One morning, we were all eating breakfast before day care when down the pants went her little hands.
As I poured my cereal into a bowl, I said, “Honey, you can’t touch your vagina at the dinner table.”
Chewing her Weetbix, she replied, “But why, Mama?”
Good question. Now how to put it into a social context that a toddler could understand?
I answered, “Okay, Sweetie, let me ask you this: Have you ever seen ME touch MY vagina at the breakfast table?”
(Brilliant, Michelle! If she understands this, then she’ll get why it’s an inappropriate social behavior!)
Innocent eyes stared back, as she thought, then she grinned as the penny dropped, “No, I never seed you do that, Mama!”
I grinned triumphantly, “You see, touching vaginas is not something we do at the breakfast table.”
She smiled back and replied, “If we want to touch, then we have to go to our bedrooms!”
Phew. FINALLY. She got it.
Off we went to day care. My little girl skipped in happily and put her bag in her locker.
Then she ran to her teacher and excitedly declared…
Wait for it…
You’re going to love this…
“Natalie! Guess what! My Mummy touches her vagina all alone in her bedroom!”
My mouth opened and closed. I blinked. I died a hundred deaths. I blinked and, fish-like, opened and closed my mouth again. I blushed furiously as garbled words of explanation fell out of my mouth in a tangled heap on the floor. I tried to explain that I REALLY wasn’t touching my vagina in my bedroom and my little princess hadn’t seen anything and ohmigosh am I really saying this out loud at daycare? I died again.
No amount of explaining was going to make this sound better.
The teacher laughed as she attempted to help me dislodge my foot from my mouth and she very sweetly reassured me that I wasn’t the first parent who had had this conversation with her, nor would I be the last.
When I left the daycare that day, I left knowing two things: 1) I had provided some outstanding staff room conversation, and 2) This motherhood gig had finally stripped the very last bit of dignity I had left.