How An Unplanned Pregnancy Changed The Way I Want To Talk To My Kids About Sex

By TARA PRINGLE JEFFERSON

I quickly took the pregnancy test out of the bag and fumbled with the instructions: Pee on the stick, wait three minutes, discover if your whole world is about to change. I didn’t even have time to put the test down on the counter before “PREGNANT” appeared on the little digital screen. Oh, sh**.

That was five years ago. I had just turned 20, was smack in the middle of my junior year of college, and was looking forward to a summer internship in New York, the first step on my road to world domination. This was not the time for a baby.

Instead of feeling elated about the news, I was burdened by how I thought others would react and my own personal shortcomings. I wore extra large shirts on campus for the rest of the semester and didn’t speak a word of the pregnancy to anyone except those who absolutely needed to know. During that period of my life, I probably averaged at least three full-blown crying fits a week. On the bus. In my dorm room. In the car on the way to the doctor’s office.

Of course now, as the mom of two (my son was born two years later), I feel like my kids are the best thing that ever happened to me. But it took me a long time (and a lot of tears) to get here.

As a young mom, I’m fully aware of the challenges of becoming a parent before you’re ready. This is not for the weak. In essence, it’s an endless game of catch-up. Rushing to find a pediatrician. Rushing to save money. Rushing to get a spot in an affordable daycare center. Rushing, rushing, rushing. And I don’t want that for my kids.

When they decide to bring a life into the world, I want them to be bursting with joy. To be confident that they have the skills they need to be an amazing mom or dad. And to know that if they do need anything, their Mom is only one phone call away.

But in order to do this, they need to know they can come to me, or their father, with their questions and concerns. And I admit, this stumps me: How can I be an “askable” parent? How can I begin to build that line of communication now, so my kids always look at me as their ally, rather than the warden?                  

My kids are ages four and three now, and while they are a bit young for the entire sex talk, we’re getting there in age-appropriate doses. From the beginning, I taught them the proper names for their genitals. (And of course my son enjoys screaming, “Penis!” whenever we’re in a crowded space. Fun times.) We’ve talked about boundaries and how no one is allowed to touch them, and if someone does, they will face the wrath of Mommy and Daddy. They’ve got it.

As they grow, the conversation will expand, and it’s my prayer that they’ll be doing a lot of the talking. If their little personalities are any indication, I’d better prepare myself for the onslaught of questions now. I’ve given it some thought and come up with four lessons about sex and love that I hope they take to heart:

  1. “I’m not being hypocritical when I insist that you wait until marriage to have sex. I’m hoping you can learn from my mistakes.” I learned a lot of things the hard way, and I suspect that’s a huge part of growing up and exploring. But when those actions (i.e., unprotected sex) can have long-lasting consequences, it’s my job as their Mom to help them navigate this minefield.
  2. “If you are going to date someone, you need to make sure they respect you 100%.” This is where I feel a lot of parents fall short. We might set rules about when it is okay for our teens to date, but are we teaching them what comes next? Are we helping them discover what a good boyfriend or girlfriend even looks like? Heck, most adults don’t even know what a good catch looks like or how to hold on to one, so leaving our kids alone to stumble through these adolescent relationships is reckless endangerment.
  3. “I’ve made my share of bad decisions. Ask me about ‘em. You should know your mother isn’t perfect, but I’m honest.” Some parents choose to hide their shortcomings from their children, figuring it’s easier to lay down the law if they don’t have to explain about all the times they disobeyed it themselves. I, of course, can’t pretend to be little Ms. Virginal (my daughter was present at my wedding), but it doesn’t mean that I can’t want more for my kids. Letting them know that Mom struggled too is my way of opening the gates to conversations that might be a little uncomfortable—for the both of us.
  4. “Choosing a great parent for your children is one of the most important things you will ever do for them. Don’t date anyone you wouldn’t want to marry or have kids with.” This might be a little too black and white for some people, but I firmly stand by this. I don’t knock women who go on dates purely for fun, or because the guy was cute, but I do throw major shade their way when they continually ignore the red flags that should send them running in the other direction. Love is sticky, sure, but knowing when to cut your losses early is a skill too many in this generation lack.

I know I will really be tested as the years go by and the questions stop being rhetorical. I know there will be times when I think to myself, What on God’s green earth would possess you to ask me that? There will be times when I don’t have the answers and I don’t want to hear the questions.

But I’m dedicated to making sure that I am there for them, every step of the way, so when they do get out on their own, and they’re grasping that pregnancy test, there’ll be no room for any emotion except pure joy.

Tara Pringle Jefferson is an author, blogger, and PR professional living in Ohio with her husband and two kids. She’s also managing editor of BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog for her insights on what it means to be a mom, wife, student, writer, and about three other labels she’s too tired to remember. 

This post is part of Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk campaign, a month-long online conversation designed to help and encourage parents to talk to their kids about sex and relationships. Stay tuned for more insightful Let’s Talk content here on MyBrownBaby and on some of your favorite sites around the web.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

14 Comments

  1. I think this is a great perspective on such a delicate subject matter. It’s so hard to wrap my mind around having a healthy discussion about sex with my daughter when she reaches that age. Far too often we give mandates with no support or explanation for those mandates on what to do and what not to do when it comes to sex. Your tips here present a good approach!

  2. What a great approach you’re taking. My mom was that way with me and my siblings, I knew I could always go to her with any questions and although a lot of my friends thought I was naive at first when I didn’t know any of the slang or pet terms for things it wasn’t long before they were coming to me with questions they didn’t want to ask their parents.

    I’m really glad you brought up what kind of person they should date as well, I would even go so far as to say that their friends should be held to the same standards, I had wonderful friends growing up and they, along with my parents, helped me have a strong conviction that it was better to move on then be with someone who didn’t treat me with respect or didn’t really want to be with me.

    I’m now married with three kids, 8 months to 5 years, and I am using this same approach with them, it’s intimidating sometimes but worth it.

  3. You are so right when it comes to wanting to make sure your kids come to you when there is talk about sex. I think there are a lot of parents who think they only need to have the conversation once and then (PHEW *wiping brow*) they are all done… That is where they are sadly mistaken, I want the type of relationship where my daughters and son feel comfortable enough to come to either myself or my husband and say… “So, I heard such and such today… is that true or can you expand on that?”

    My bio never talked about sex with us and so I am scared of what that conversation is going to be like, I mean I never even had the period talk with her. It was all learning on the fly, not the best way but I’m realizing it was her way.

    What I do know is I never want our kiddos to be ashamed of their bodies or themselves and that any question is never a silly question when it comes to those topics of conversation. I swear I think I bring up the subject with my girls at least 2-3 times a month, just randomly and it is all age appropriate.

    I had to chuckle at your comment about your son shouting penis in a store, my funniest memory is of my son singing at the top of his lungs, “Found a penis, found a penis, found a penis yesterday” … when he should have been saying, “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut yesterday!” I laughed so hard, it was the cutest and funniest thing. And I still get flack because people I know thought I was wrong for teaching him the real word for his anatomy.

    Keep up that attitude and when your children get older they will come to you before running to their friends.

    Thanks :-)

  4. I was a young mother as well and I have thought about these same things you have. I definately don’t want my daughters (or sons) to make the same mistakes I did. My mom didn’t talk to me about anything when I was younger and I don’t want my kids to feel the way I did about those things. It worries me though because to this day I am uncomfortable talking about such personal things. I’m trying my hardest to get over it though because my kids are getting to that age where puberty is starting and I want them to feel like they can ask me questions anytime.

  5. I really appreciate both your candidness toward your children and your desires for their well-formed choices. I agree with you entirely–many children are taught to wait until marriage, or at least until a certain age, or simply taught to wait to date until such and such a time, but never really formed in how to determine whether the object of attraction is good for him or her. I work with teens, and I’m constantly telling them that the behavior and mindset they practice in high school leads them to a particular kind of person; what we do when we date is what we do when we marry.

    I’m so grateful there are mothers like you in their children’s lives!

  6. This: “Choosing a great parent for your children is one of the most important things you will ever do for them. Don’t date anyone you wouldn’t want to marry or have kids with.”

    Tara, you aint nevah lied! I so feel a lot of the points here, but that one… yeah. So. On. Point.

    And kudos on using the real words for genitals! No “pee-pee” and “wee-wee” over here either.

  7. I think the approach that you are making with your kids are great. I also decided to just be honest about it, and not dance around it. Growing up, mom and dad were not the best person to talk to about sex or sex education. I don’t want that for my kids.

    If they can tell me about making a mess, they should be able to talk to me about what they plan on doing, or what it all means.

    I want to become an “ask-able” parent as well.

  8. Great article. As a young mother, one of my biggest fears is not doing enough to make sure my kids don’t fall into the same bad decision-making patterns as I did. I see, so often, how “the cycle” continues from generation to generation, and my husband and I are determined to do our best not to allow that to happen to our children.

    Thanks for such great insight!

  9. Great article Tara! I love that you’re taking steps now to get your kids open to talking about sex like talking about their body parts, etc. I think a lot of parents make the mistake in waiting until kids have heard about sex from everybody and everywhere else before they even begin broaching the topic. If we start off with the simple things like teaching them to be comfortable with saying words like penis and vagina then that comfort will continue on when it’s time to go more in detail.

    Also, I love the idea of not pretending to be perfect. That’s where a lot of parents disconnect with children. Our kids want to know that we’ve been where they are and can relate or understand the pressure and temptations set before them. Great tips!

  10. First off, let me say that I love love love this article! I grew up in a wonderful family, where I felt comfortable talking to my parents about everything…except anything pertaining to sex.

    I’m the middle of three girls, no brothers, so the sex talk I got pretty much boiled down to, “Penis is evil!…That is of course, until you’re married. At that point we’d like some grandbabies.” LOL

    In the beginning, any questions I brought forth were quickly met with the side eye to end all side eyes, the oddest curious smile and some variation of, “Uh, huh, I see and why do you wanna know XYZ?”

    I vividly remember being told that I wasn’t allowed to date until I went to college. Now my parents of course remember uttering no such thing. But either way, eventually, I felt like coming to them with my questions was a waste of time. I couldn’t date, so what’s the point?

    I don’t have any kids. I love my parents and think they did an excellent job raising me and my sisters. But the way I was taught about sex will definitely play a role in how I talk to my kids about sex. It’s not enough to “penis is evil” it and sweep it under the rug, hoping that your kids will “just wait.”

    I want my future kids to be able to have an open dialogue with me, and to be able to know the knowledge that comes from making mistakes and the freedom in learning the lessons.

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