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Birds, Bees, Arachnids, Me: Talking (or Not Talking) About Sex with Your Kids

Babiesaremade - inside
Inside the book How Babies Are Made

“Mommy, how are babies made?” The question, of course, had been raised before, what with a little sister joining our household just over a year ago. My husband and I have staved off the inevitable from our curious boy with a deft combination of avoidance, generalities, and feel-good euphemisms. While I was pregnant, we talked to my (then) three-year-old son about the cozy place the baby was growing inside Mommy’s body, how she was developing week by week, and what would happen when she was born and my son would become transformed into the esteemed position of Big Brother.

We settled on a suitably generic-yet-factual phrase for how babies are made. “The mommies and the daddies put their bodies together in a certain way and that starts a baby growing” is what we ended up saying to him umpteen times as my due date drew nearer. This answer seemed to appease him. And once the baby came, we were all too busy and tired to think about much beyond getting dressed and fed on a regular basis.

So I was caught off-guard when, a couple of weeks ago, the question, “How are babies made?” came back with a vengeance. I started to give him our standard house answer, but he cut me off.

“I know they put their bodies together, but what parts of the body do they put together?” He looked at me with sweet, genuine puzzlement as I stammered, flailing around the room and crashing into walls like a wounded butterfly. We always explain EVERYTHING to him; why was this subject any different? It’s just science, right? Nonplussed, he pressed on: “Is it, like, their heads they put together? Or their tummies?” He was looking at me for honest answers in order to help him make sense of this crazy, crazy world, and what did I do? Giggled like a twelve-year-old and told him to ask his father. Aye! A grand mal, 1950s-style parenting failure!

But he didn’t ask has father; he asked me again a couple of weeks later. This time, he was in the tub, and as I cast my eyes wildly around the bathroom looking for some sort of an escape hatch, I happened to see a spider on the ceiling.

“Now spiders are an interesting example of animals putting their bodies together! In some species, the male spider actually has little pods on his front legs that he inserts into the female to make the babies.” I held my hands up wildly in front of me and poked them into imaginary spider-semen receptacles. “Like this!”

I also remembered the Miracle of the Internet and asked him if he would like to watch a video of said mating process. Diversion tactic: activated! Within a few minutes, he was in his pjs and ready to get a lesson in spider sex. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how we came to view this video on a recent Friday night. I do not recommend it for date night with one’s spouse.

What killed me though were the “Related videos” links to the right of the spider video. He wanted to watch something else, so I scanned them quickly and saw lions (no!), rabbits (I don’t think so!), and horses (are you kidding me?!). Finally we found tortoises, which seemed safe enough due to their very unsexy shells and general unwieldiness, but guess what? Did you know that when tortoises mate, the males make unholy grunting noises like eighty-year-old men doing one-armed push-ups? Well, they do! And I don’t know why, son, they just do. Now turn off the computer and let’s go watch Elmo or something, for Pete’s sake!

I definitely do not feel very Nurturing about this act of Nature, so I wanted to hear from our astute Kidoinfo readers. When did you have The Talk and how on earth do you do it without freaking your kid or yourself out?!

Related reads:
It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris (Ages 4-8)
A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex by Dr. Kevin Leman (Ages 8-14)
How Babies Are Made by Stephen Schepp & Andrew Andry (Ages 9-12)
How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Linda and Richard Eyre (Pre-school-teens)

Nature/Nurture, written by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is a column with ideas and information to help kids and their families engage with the natural world in fun, interesting ways. Share your thoughts and explorations by adding your comment below, or contact us with your story ideas.

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  • If you want THE book to use to help you when teaching your 3-10 year olds about the basic facts of life, it’s HOW BABIES ARE MADE by Andry and Schepp. Perfect.

  • Excellent article. There are many books out there which parent &/or teachers can use to help teach kids (4-10) “the basic facts of life.” Without any doubt I beieve one book is head and heals above all of them — HOW BABIES ARE MADE (Time Life Books & Little Brown & Co.).

  • I love the way you write about this highly tense subject! I thought I could explain it all to my daughter, after all, she knew what China rhymed with by the age of two. But I basically skirted the issue through my second pregnancy until last year, when she was seven and I finally pulled out the 1970’s “Where Do Babies Come From” that my mom bought me when I repeatedly asked how the heck it all went. She was mortified, but relieved to know the truth. Funny to think she learned the “facts of life” before learning that I am the tooth fairy.

  • Thanks, everyone!

    I just wanted to note that I went to the book store yesterday in search of some of the “Related Reads” and they had the “It’s So Amazing” book, which is actually written for a slightly older crowd than my son (7 and up). I ordered another book by the same author called “It’s Not the Stork”, which said it was for ages 4-7. I’ll update here with how it goes (wish me luck)!

  • It is funny reading this as I was thinking of how I will answer this question myself in the near future… or get out of answering it… do you think explaining with the aid of male and female plug / socket will work… so far that is my best idea… I think I am going to be in trouble!!!

  • I learned about baby-making from the book with the cut-paper illustrations. It’s a good one. Builds up slowly to people from plants (as in the picture Michelle used), chickens, dogs, and finally people who are under a (possibly gingham, if I recall correctly) sheet.

  • I’m not sure WHAT to leave in this comment, I just know that I HAVE to comment because this is possibly the greatest parenting article I’ve ever read. 🙂

    I’m so lucky I haven’t gotten this question at all from my 3 1/2 year old. But when I do, I’ll look for the nearest spider!

  • i love this piece. i’ll have to watch the spider video when no one is around.
    there’s no clarity here! for example…

    younger son: hey, wanna know something weird? when mommy pees she doesn’t have any penis, right?

    older son: no. she has something else. i think it’s called a vulva.

    big brother’s visiting friend: it’a bajiva.

    older son: mom? a “jabiva?”

    me: and some people call it a “bajingo.”