Is there anything more wonderful and more terrifying than raising a daughter?
Daughters are a gift and the moment that she enters this world, you have a responsibility to guide her, particularly in the area of sexuality. You have a formidable task ahead of you because every day you will have the privilege of protecting her against a world that is against her.
You know that one day soon she is going to want to know when she can have a baby and where they come from, but you feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped. You attuned to the importance of her sexuality early but you have no idea where to start. You have want to broach the subject, but you have always been awkward about discussing matters of sexuality.
You are not an idiot. Daughters, unfortunately, do not come with a ‘How-To’ guide; biologically fathering and mothering a child does not automatically qualify you to raise them well. The sad reality is that most of our parents did not intentionally teach us about our vaginas and penises. They used code words and avoided the issue.
You are not a horrible parent just because you have no idea what to say, but you are a bad parent if you choose to stay in your ignorance. If you do not teach your little girl about her vagina, someone else will. Do not leave your child’s sex education to a teacher at school. Do not let the first time your daughter learns about her private parts be in a ‘show-and-tell’ with her play date.
Do not give opportunity to the perverts of this world to teach your daughter about her sexuality.
The recent backlash from the Prosecutor General’s comments shows how much of a hot-button topic children and sexuality is. The state has a duty to protect our daughters through the law – sexual crimes against children must be defined as such with appropriate penalties provided for.
The issue here is that over and above the law defining what consent is, it is our responsibility to teach it to our daughters first. In her piece #FirstHarassed: A Mother’s Perspective, Koketso Moeti provides wisdom that every parent should draw from:
“I am also big on bodily autonomy and do not force my children to physically interact with someone, whether sitting on their lap, kisses and hugs. I am trying to ensure they know they should never feel forced to do it. This can be difficult, especially where family is concerned, but to me it’s about ensuring that they learn all about consent from as young an age as possible.”
Sexuality is a cradle to the grave issue, and while your daughters are young and under your care, both mothers and fathers have a duty to teach and model healthy sexuality to their daughters.
Sexuality is a sensitive topic and the fear of messing up is real. Do not feel pressured to communicate with your daughter perfectly. Focus instead on starting the conversation with her early. The first thing that every parent should teach their little girl is where her vagina is. As a big person, it is really easy to forget that there was a time when you did not know the difference between your ear and your elbow. When you were a kid, they may as well have been the same thing!
Call a vagina what it is. Make sure she knows exactly where it lives and do not be vague about it. While you give her a bath, explain how the vagina is a special body part. It is so special that it must be kept private and not shown to everyone. It is not bad, but good. It is not dirty, but is a treasure that no one but herself is allowed to touch and see.
Just before I turned five, I had a conversation with my mom where she told that my vagina was mine and only mine and no one else, even a grown up I know should be allowed to touch it. If any uncle or aunty ever tried, she told me, I should say no, get away from them and tell her or my older sisters as soon as possible. I remember that conversation vividly and I will never forget it. My mother was not naïve and understood that every little girl must be taught to guard against sexual abuse.
Different & Equal
One foundation that must be laid is that God creates people male and female. The main difference is that little girls have vaginas and little boys have penises. They are different but they are equally special. When you are teaching your little girl about who she is, do so in view of her cultural context where boy-children are still regarded as superior to girls. Always communicate value and equality to her.
Early on in your daughter’s life, one thing that you must impart to her is that being a woman is a good thing. Throughout her life her identity will be attacked and undermined. As a parent you are in a very powerful position because before a little girl knows God, her mother and father are like god to her. She is whoever they say she is.
Remember that you do not only teach by your words, you do so by your conduct also. If your little girl streaks through the house naked while there are visitors and you lose your temper, shout and smack her, you are communicating a specific message to her. When she stops crying and starts thinking, the lesson she will take away is this: My nakedness is shameful and makes mommy and daddy angry.
Here are three basic principles you can follow: Stay calm, be firm and always explain why. Sometimes anger is just fear in disguise. When you get angry at a child for something like streaking it is probably because you love them, you want to protect them and you are afraid of what will happen if you do not. Having said that, other times you are just embarrassed, and your anger or irritation is a natural manifestation of that. The problem with anger is that there is no scenario where your child will receive it as love. You therefore have to control your temper.
Your may be an easy-going parent but the laissez-faire approach is a bad one to take here. Be firm. Be clear about the fact that walking around naked in public is not funny or acceptable. Why not? Never say, ‘Because I said so’. Again, explain that a vagina is a special body part that must be kept private and should not be shown to everyone. Make it clear to her that you expect obedience from her in this area.
Telling your daughter that you found and collected her from a shop in town will probably be easier than attempting to explain the reproductive process to a four-year old. Feeding her a story about how mommy and daddy were lying down in a bed one night and the next day she started growing in mommy’s tummy is so much less complicated than explaining that the penis enters the vagina and the egg in the mommy receives the sperm.
It may seem easier at the time, but it will make your life harder later. Every lie that you tell is something that cannot be untold. Depending on her age, try not to lie to your daughter about the fact that her vagina is not just functional but is also sexual. At the same time, do not give details about your sex life! At what you think is the appropriate time and age, what she needs to know is that sex is a good thing that happens between a man and a woman.
As a Christian, the main thing I want to communicate to my daughter is that her sexuality is something that she must guard and protect until the right time when she meets the right person. Sex has a deep meaning between two people who are committed to each other in marriage and is a way for them to express their love for each other.
Do not be intimidated and remember that there is no such thing as an expert parent. Focus on getting to know your daughter instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. By choosing to be there for your daughter you have already taken the first step in being an intentional parent.
Remind yourself that you have been given the amazing opportunity to raise a woman who is powerful and free in her sexuality. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Trust that even the small steps that you make today will reap rewards tomorrow.
Start the conversation today.
Main image taken from madamenoire.com