talking to your kids about sex

cute little girls running on beach

When I was a kid, I asked my dad to teach me how to swim. He said no because he didn’t do it correctly himself. He didn’t want screw up and teach me the wrong way to swim. I eventually taught myself. To this day, I am uncomfortable in deep water because I’m not a strong swimmer and I do not trust myself not to drown.

I totally understand where my dad was coming from. I am very comfortable talking about sex and sexuality with my clients. Yet, talking to MY KIDS about sexuality (and doing it well) TERRIFIES me. I didn’t do it all right myself, and it’s such a big deal. I get it.

I see all the hurtful, painful possibilities of distorted intimacy and sexuality regularly, and I want to protect my kids from that. It makes this task feel bigger and more complicated than is helpful. That’s where my anxiety comes in, the fear of MESSING UP something so important. If you are anything like me, I urge you not to let the fear of messing it up keep you from saying anything. We CAN do hard things. We are in this together, friends. There is grace in this. Believe me, we need a healthy measure of grace when it comes to sexuality because I’m not sure any of us on this green earth have figured it all out yet.

A few things to remember: This is hard, but you can do it. You MUST do it. They will learn about sex somewhere; let their first messages be true (and from you!) so they have a better filter for all the distorted messages they’ll get later. Keep it simple at first. Think about the big picture and what you want for your kids as they grow up. Then, be intentional about giving them the best possible foundation for those dreams you have for them. Utilize teachable moments, and keep it an open dialogue. The sex talk should not be a “one and done” kind of thing. It should be an ongoing conversation. Positive messages are more powerful than fear-based ones.

Here are some benchmarks to help you (and me). I gathered the following information from a book called, “How and When to Tell your Kids about Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones. I put it into an outline to make it easy for you and I’ve added some of my own insight, as well.

My Big Picture:

For our kids to become healthy adults who can have deep and meaningful relationships, where they both respect themselves and others. To enjoy having emotionally, spiritually, and sexually intimate marriages. To know and feel that sex is good and for them to enjoy.

Infancy through Kindergarten (0-5ish years):

  • Teaching the goodness of our sexuality.
    • Our kids are sexual beings. Use correct names for body parts, normalizing erections (It feels good, God made men that way), noticing differences in male and female parts, God made all our parts and they are good.
      • Ladies especially, be mindful of the way you talk about and interact with your own body. Your parts were made by God and they are good, friend. A little girl I babysat helped me remember this important truth. She pointed out that my boobs were very big. I agreed and (unfortunately) told her that I didn’t like them for that very reason. She didn’t miss a beat, “Why?” she said, “That’s how God made you.” Mic drop, you guys. I got schooled by a 5 year old.
    • Sexual curiosity.
      • Curiosity is normal. It’s ok to look at and touch their own body parts (in private) and to ask questions. Explain things truthfully, but basically/broadly. Kids are usually not looking for in-depth explanations at this age.
      • Remember:
        • God’s gift is good.
        • God’s gift is private.
        • Curiosity is good.
        • Set clear boundaries and expectations. You could say something like, “But even though it’s a fine thing to be curious, I don’t want you to show your penis (or vagina, privates) to other kids. And I don’t want you to ask to see theirs. If you keep those parts of you private and special, it will help you to always feel that God made you in an especially wonderful way.” (p.83, 84)
        • Know that self-stimulation and touching is unlikely to become a problem if you do not overreact. Remind your kid’s about privacy if they are doing it around others. (p.85-87).
      • Abuse prevention (p.94-97).
        • 3 important Rules:
  1.  Your body is private. “No one has the right to look or touch your privates unless it’s mommy or daddy when we bathe you, or the doctor (and mommy or daddy are there).”
  2. Do not keep secrets. “If anyone ever asks you to keep a secret from us and says that we will be mad at you if you tell, please know that is a lie. We will never be mad at you for telling, we will be so proud of you for doing the right thing in telling us.”
  3. Trust your feelings. “Your body belongs to you. We will trust you, and we want you to trust your own feelings if you feel confused or uncomfortable about the way someone looks at or touches you.”
  • Skills:
    • Recognize danger. Teach them to pay attention to their feelings and if something feels uncomfortable or confusing, to tell you.
    • Be assertive.
      • “No” means “no”, “stop” means “stop”. During tickling and play, these words are to be respected immediately.
      • Do not make your kids hug or kiss anyone, including you. Asking for a hug or kiss is ok, but they are allowed to refuse.
      • Teach your kids to expect that their wishes regarding touch will be respected immediately by you, and should be respected by everyone. This will help them identify more easily when something “doesn’t feel right” and to be more aware of the problem when someone doesn’t do this. This will also aid them in understanding reciprocity and their right to refuse, as they get older.
  • Supportive Environment
    • Stand behind your children (if they don’t want to hug, etc)
    • Reinforce the three critical rules (your body is private, we don’t keep secrets, pay attention to your feelings)
    • Be aware of your child’s world (have a sense of the kids and parents and caregivers in their lives. Pay attention, and do not ignore any feelings you have, either)

Next steps: Sit down with your spouse and talk about the big picture you both have for your kids. Then, review this together and discuss it. Begin telling your kids these things in every day moments (during bath time, when they ask a question, dinner time, before going to the park or visiting family, etc).

My next post will be on the big messages we give our pre-puberty (6-11ish) age kids, then puberty age (12-18ish) kids. After that, I’ll post about what to do and how to respond if abuse is revealed. If you can’t wait, check out the book, “How and When to Tell you Kids about Sex”. It’s not a perfect book, but it has a lot of good and helpful information.

Fun Announcement!

I am so excited to share the new name of my practice with you: 
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I am the most excited and proud of my new website: www.joyfullifecounseling.org, this site will serve as a one-stop-shop for learning more about the services I offer, contain helpful content and resources, as well as scheduling and paperwork! It is my desire to simplify the often overwhelming task of finding a counselor!

Also, like my new Facebook page for life encouragement and relationship tips! I’d love to brighten up your newsfeed!

 

how to talk to your spouse about counseling

I often hear, “I would love to come to counseling, but my husband/wife won’t come.” I get it. Marriage counseling is often thought of as the last thing you do before you get divorced.

There is a misconception that you should only go to marriage counseling if you are in crisis/on the verge of divorce. There are also many folks who go for a session or 2, so that they can say they “tried counseling” even though their minds were already made up and they didn’t actually try at all.

The truth is most couples wait 6 years to come to therapy after the issues begin (Gottman). That means, most people do wait until they are in crisis/make or break/verge of divorce mode.

And this is a huge problem.

Waiting too long means one person (likely the one asking for counseling 6 years ago) hasn’t felt loved in a long time, and is now on the verge of leaving or filing for divorce. At this point, the other partner finally gets it and offers counseling instead. The issue with this is that it’s too late. The spouse who hasn’t felt loved in a long time is now numb. This numbness is why marriage counseling will have less odds of being helpful. Numb folks won’t make the effort (they’ve emotionally given up) and have usually already made up their minds.

So, now that we’ve established the importance of not waiting until you’re in crisis mode…what are some tips for getting your partner to come?

  1. Bring up your desire for counseling during a time when you aren’t fighting or distracted by something else.
  1. If you get pushback, say that you want to understand his/her reasons for not wanting to go. Once you know why, you can better address the real issue with kindness and compassion.
  1. Offer a compromise. Say, “Would you be willing to come to one session? It would mean so much to me. If your fears are confirmed in the first session, we do not have to go back. If we feel as though the counselor can’t help us, we don’t have to go back. There will be no pressure, I’m just asking you to give it a chance.”
  1. Then, express why you want to go now, and not wait until you are in crisis. “If we go now, we can have a better marriage, and prevent things from getting worse and being harder to fix in the future.”

Remember, counseling can be a really scary thing for some people. Unknown things usually are. Be compassionate, but firm.

If you think you need marriage counseling, you probably do. Don’t give up! I’ve found that I can win skeptics in the first session because I have a practical plan and structure for marriage sessions and because I incorporate humor with compassion, and tough love.

bad habits

It’s far too easy for me to fall back into bad habits. I can excuse them as being busy or tired, or stressed…but the truth is something a little closer to laziness and an unwillingness to make my health a priority consistently. I am well aware I need to reduce my sugar intake and keep on exercising regularly. I’m sure many of you can relate to this battle, right?

But what about our relational bad habits? Unfortunately, I think most folks are TOTALLY UNAWARE of these in the first place. It’s time we took it back to the basics regarding a few things, my friends. Full disclosure: I have no place to judge: the relational skills I’m about to share are ones that I learned as AN ADULT. Like, mid-twenties, adult, y’all. I did not learn these basic relational skills (for the most part) until then. It’s a crying shame, really. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you never learned, or maybe you’ve just gotten relationally lazy and fallen into bad habits. Either way, let’s do this! Your people need you to.

Lesson #1: Expressing your feelings with actions.

It is not enough to feel something (aka: gratitude or love); you must express it with your words and actions so the other person feels it, too.

Gratitude:

For Thanksgiving, Andy Stanley preached about gratitude and posited a simple truth: it is not enough to feel gratitude, you have to express it. He goes on to say that failing to express gratitude in a meaningful way (a heartfelt card or phone call) creates a divide in the relationship. He said that there is then something missing, something incomplete. It creates a relational divide and often feels like rejection.

Who do you owe a debt of gratitude to?

Have you expressed your gratitude in a meaningful way?

Love:

Do your people feel loved by you?

It is not enough to say it. Love is a feeling and an action. How do you show love to your people in a way that makes them feel loved? It is possible to KNOW someone loves you and not FEEL loved. This also creates a divide, a disconnect in the relationship. Intimacy suffers.

Lesson #2: Conversation.

If someone asks you a question, answer it and then ASK THEM A QUESTION. It is amazing how many people do not do this. It is awkward and exhausting, people. If nobody wants to talk to you, this may be why. Ask questions! (Listen; sometimes I’m awkward too. It can’t be helped. Especially if I’m caught off guard, like running into someone in the store). But if you’re over at someone’s house, at dinner, or having coffee: have your conversation hat on. Pay attention. Ask questions.

If possible, let the questions be thoughtful. Follow up on what you spoke about the last time you talked. Check in. Show that you listen, are interested,  and that you care. It is amazing how much you can make someone feel cared for by asking a simple follow up question. Also, please do yourself and your people a favor and check out this life-changing blog post for more ideas about question asking!

Best wishes to you as you cultivate good relational habits, my friends.

 

Now offering Intensive Marriage Therapy slots!

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Have you thought about trying Marriage Therapy, but concerned about the time it would take to experience change in your relationship or even fearing it won’t help at all? Or maybe you’ve considered a Marriage Intensive or Retreat, but finding the time … Continue reading

needs based parenting

legal004

I was the best parent before I had kids. I just knew that I was going to do things differently. I was pretty prideful about it, let’s be real. It would not be my kids watching a video on a phone in the restaurant. It wouldn’t be my kids having a tantrum in public. My kids would eat all their vegetables and be polite, contributing members of the family and society as whole.

I’m still holding onto hope that these things will happen for us.

All that to say, it feels a little ridiculous that I would write a blog about parenting. I mean, what do I know? I’ve spent the last 4 years figuring it out as I go. Reading books, articles, and even a class or two: I desperately want to be the best parent possible and I keep falling short. The problem is that reality is a heck of a lot different than theory. Reality is chaotic, loud, and messy. Reality is really, really hard.

Reality is a 1.5 year old whom considers the day wasted if he hasn’t climbed, tackled, and eaten everything in sight. A rambunctious, ridiculously adorable, needing-a-scenery-change- every-20-minutes, thinks-the-word-“no”-is-hilarious, very heavy, very particular, toddler.

Reality is a 4 year old with sensory processing problems. A sweet, handsome, affectionate, picky, particular child who gets really overwhelmed, really easily and can’t communicate why. It sucks not being understood, and then not having the words to communicate what’s going on inside you. So he has a tantrum, he cries, yells, spits, or hits to get our attention. So we know he needs something from us. The problem is that I’m angry. I’m confused. I don’t understand, because it doesn’t make sense. It hit me recently that I’m feeling the exact same way he’s feeling: angry, confused, overwhelmed.

Logic doesn’t always have a place when it comes to emotions, right? We need emotion to understand emotion. The emotion I’m going back to is love. How do I communicate love to my child through this tantrum?

I took a class recently and learned about relational needs (From the Center for Relational Care- check them out!). The simple principles are life changing. It has transformed my counseling practice, transformed my parenting, and is transforming my marriage.

In the class, I suddenly realized that I’d been using fear (threats, anger), or manipulation to get my kids to behave. That I’d sometimes withdrawn my love and attention when my child rejected me, or embarrassed me, or disobeyed me. That I was (unconsciously) wanting my kids to meet my needs. My need to be loved, accepted, and respected. All important needs. However, my kids were given to me so I could meet their needs, and not the other way around. If they meet some of my needs (and they do!) that is a blessing and a gift and should never be an expectation.

One of my bigger take aways from the class was learning about the 10 relational needs. I made something for you to keep; it’s a gift that I really hope you’ll use. It’s here: 10 Relational Needs. Study them. Place them somewhere where you’ll see them often. When your child (or husband, or client, or family member, or self) is doing something you don’t understand or you don’t know how to respond, ask yourself this question:

“What is he/she needing right now?”

Here are a few examples:

Comfort? Say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting right now” and ask if he would like a hug.

Appreciation? “I noticed that you just helped your brother. Great job!”

Acceptance? “There isn’t anything you can do that will make me love you less.”

Approval? “I’m so glad you’re my son.”

Respect? “I will give you some privacy.”

Security? “I will be here when you’re ready to talk.”

Encouragement? “I believe in you; don’t give up!”

Attention? Get down on their level, enter their worlds.

Support? “I see that you are struggling. I’m here to help, if you’d like.”

Affection? “I love you to the moon and back!”

If you are unsure of the need, default to comfort.

I’ve been doing this more and more for my sons. Particularly with my 4 year old, I’m trying to meet the need first, and discipline (when necessary) after he calms down. Only emotion can understand emotion.

Guess what? It’s working!

Asking if he’d like a hug in the middle of a tantrum has helped him calm down much faster. Telling him that I will always love him, even when he says he doesn’t want me, or pushes me away has made him feel safer and more secure. Pointing out the good, encouraging him to keep trying, letting him speak for himself, etc. is shaping my son’s character and heart.

While threats can often get your kids to obey, what will they do when the threat is removed? Will they make the right choices when you’re gone? My hope is that by meeting my kid’s needs first; I can better influence their hearts. Will I take away privileges? Oh yes, without a doubt I want them to understand that our choices have consequences. Do I want my kids to obey and respect authority? Lord, yes. Will my kids continue to test me and disobey? I believe they will. I’ll continue to try my best to be consistent with boundaries, rules, and expectations. I just want all of those things to be soaked in unconditional love.

Heart transformation can only occur within the context of a healthy, secure, and loving relationship. Love first. Your teaching with have more of an impact if you do.

I’m still learning all this, but I’m getting closer every day.

sex resources

Y’ALL. You may have already found out about this woman, but based on what I’ve read so far on her blog: I’m pumped. She covers so many of the topics I teach in session, and gives ways to engage in conversation with your husband, as well ideas for spicing things up. It’s called “29 Days to Great Sex” and it is faith-based in nature. I hope you enjoy!

In addition to “A Celebration of Sex” (this is a great reference book to keep on the nightstand) and “When Two Become One” (I love this one for help in understanding God’s design and purpose for sex) as I’ve suggested in previous posts, I’ve also been told that “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” is a wonderful resource as well as “Sheet Music.” 

Great sex requires communication and trust. It also requires planning, prioritizing, and a willingness to be completely vulnerable. I hope that these resources and my posts help you create or reclaim great sex in your marriage!

sex talk, part 3

Disclaimer: Y’all. I need you to know that talking about something as sacred and complicated as sex is not something I take lightly. I know I’m writing in a very conversational style, but I don’t want anyone to be confused about my understanding of the enormity of this task and my complete inadequacy in addressing it fully. I listen to stories and it has been so difficult to lump you all into one “category” where I know full well you do not fit perfectly, or some of you at all. I don’t want you to think I don’t see you. Perhaps you are the higher desire partner, or you are facing something in your marriage or life that is so heartbreaking and BIG that sex is not even on the radar. I see you, friend. I’m not trying to leave you out. I hope you’ll understand I’m doing the best I can with this tiny platform I’ve been given.

Find your number:

How much sex should you be aiming for? What’s normal? And the answer is….(drumroll please) that’s up to you and your husband. I advise that you sit down with your husband and ask him what he would like in terms of frequency. Share what you would like. If his number (or your number) is completely unrealistic, come up with a compromise. 1-2 times a week is very reasonable, BUT there are some couples that find they need more, AND some who are ok with less. You could say something like, “Let’s really make sure we are having sex AT LEAST once a week right now.” If you have more sometimes, AWESOME! If you cannot do your “at least number”, acknowledge it! Don’t let it fester and be the elephant that makes you both start assuming stuff or avoiding stuff. Say, “hey, I know it’s been ___days since we’ve had sex. I am going to do z, y, or z about that.” Seriously doesn’t matter NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT what other people are doing as long as you two are satisfied and are understanding where the other is coming from.

Create space for your number:

So, whatever your number—control whatever is within your power to control to make your “AT LEAST number” a PRIORITY (see my last post for help with that). No excuses. In between those times, make sure sex isn’t your only intimate time with your husband. And if you cannot, or are unable to have sex, you can still act like lovers.

Be lovers in and out of the bedroom:

Practice being lovers with your clothes on and off. Kiss, touch, cuddle, wink, flirt, send sexy texts. Even if you feel totally lame, my guess is your husband would appreciate the effort!

Listen, I’m not asking you to be someone you aren’t, but I am asking you to imagine how you’d behave if you knew that you wouldn’t be embarrassed, ashamed, insecure or afraid of rejection. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Strengthen your largest sexual organ:

Your largest sexual organ is your brain. Most ladies, particularly after years of marriage and kids experience “normal” female desire. Normal female desire is receptive, or “sex neutral.” This doesn’t mean women don’t enjoy sex! This means that outside circumstances can shift the gear into sex-positive or sex- negative with relative ease. My previous post mentioned lots of things husbands (and you) can do to shift into sex-positive gear. On the other hand, the “turn off” list are all the things that shift us into sex-negative gear and that list gets longer as we get older and after having kids.

Let me try to explain what “sex neutral” means: it means that we usually don’t walk around thinking about sex. Unlike men, we aren’t visual, so seeing a naked man isn’t going to make us aroused. One of our biggest problems can be when we think back to how we felt in the beginning, or we look at his desire and think, “oh no, something’s wrong with me!” or “I have no sex drive anymore!” We have to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with us. Not only do our bodies not respond as quickly or intensely as they have in the past (thanks aging!), but we also have more outside pressures making us too tired to even want to get undressed, much less knock our husband’s socks off with our sexual prowess.

However, it DOES mean now we have to work harder to get in the mood. 

Here are a few things to try:

  1. Notice his butt, his lips, his hands…whatever floats your boat. TRAIN yourself to pay more attention to him, to be more aware of him. Look at the color of his eyes, notice his eyelashes. Notice if he looks tired. Think, “wow, he’s working hard too”.
  2. Remind yourself of why you married him, why you love him, what he does for you and the family.
  3. Think back to the best sex you ever had with HIM. Think about the feelings, what he was doing, what you were doing…allow yourself to be turned on.
  4. Watch him with your kids. Just watch. Allow that to make you want him.
  5. As you shower that day, think about him. Think about being with him later. Shave your legs, apply lotion, his or your favorite perfume. Put on your good undies, the ones without holes. Think about how happy you’ll make that man you married, the father of your kids, when you surprise him with…you.

I’m not saying this will work every time, but it’ll increase the odds. It’s brain training. And you’ll probably forget after a while. Life will get in the way again. So, write it in your calendar. Set reminders on your phone to “think sex!”  You can do it! I’m betting on you.

sex talk, part 2

Ladies, here are some of my practical solutions. I think you are going to hate them, because do you really have time for more things?!?! I hope you’ll try some of it anyhow. I know it’s not easy, but we can do hard things!

1. Time to have sex: Ask yourself, when is the ideal time for your mind and body to be open to sex? Ladies, when you are dog tired, your body will not respond the way you want it to. Sex can become uncomfortable or even hurt in this state. Or it can feel like you are being used, or like a very unpleasant chore. I don’t recommend pushing through these things and having sex like this (unless you are trying to conceive, in which case you may have less choices about timing–do the best you can with what you have, friends). So, make sure you have made space in your life during the times you are more rested.

2. Well rested, relaxed: Not getting enough sleep? When possible make appropriate changes to get to bed earlier, take turns with your husband on night or morning duty, get out of the house with friends or alone. Skip the 2nd or 3rd glass of wine. It’ll just make your sleep less restorative and your mornings harder. Ask for help from your parents, friends, neighbors. Give your kids to someone trustworthy for the day or evening. It takes a village, folks.

 3. Feeling appreciated, valued, loved: You could try something a little like this (whisper this seductively so he knows you’re being silly, even though YOU  TOTALLY AREN’T JOKING AT ALL): “Baby, you know what really turns me on? Clean dishes. Oh yeeeeeaah. Or dinner made, kids bathed. A note or text during the day. A ‘thank you’ or a ‘what would I do without you?’ A, ‘isn’t mommy so beautiful?’ to the kids. I especially get aroused when you offer to do something I normally do, or when you put me first. Or when you genuinely want to know how I am, or remember about that meeting or the doctor appointment I was nervous about and ask me about it. When you listen to my feelings. mmmm…yes.”

4. Connected to husband: But for real though, what makes women want to have sex is emotional connection. We have to teach our husbands how to connect with us, and how to love us so we feel loved. We are simply more complicated. And he feels loved when you have sex with him…so this is a win/win for everyone. Husbands love for you to say EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT/NEED. They can’t always read between the lines and he sure can’t read your mind. Be specific, be honest, be real, and be vulnerable with him. Also, check out this blog if you need help explaining to him what a day is like with the kids or ideas regarding talking about your day. Being known is what intimacy is all about.

5. Feeling sexy or attractive: For me, the goal was all about getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight and all my old clothing. Once I got within a few pounds of that goal I realized that there was no way some my old stuff would fit even if I lost all the weight. My body was just different (this was especially true after my 2nd). I decided I needed a different attitude and some new clothing (and some alterations) and not a different body. Also, check out this and this for help with your perspective. It is vital for the health of your marriage that you find a way to accept yourself EXACTLY the way you are. It’s great to want to be healthy, exercise, and eat well…but love yourself WHILE you do those things. Don’t wait to be kind to yourself until x, y, or z thing happens. Feeling awful about myself just made me feel depressed and made it even harder to get motivated.

6. Sleeping kids: When this is happening make sure you and your husband are in the same vicinity the number of times you decide is your normal. More on frequency in the next post.

7. Clean house: a clean house totally turns me on. But, I am learning to live with the mess. I just try to see it all as our abundance and feel gratitude instead of anxiety. It’s a journey, friends. But if you wait for a clean house and a checked off to-do list you will NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN. And that’s no good. We have to learn to focus and say to ourselves, “this man right here. He is the most important thing to-do right now.” Besides you can get back to your list when you’re done. A good friend, life coach, or counselor can help you prioritize, let go of what you need to let go of, and learn how to manage your anxiety or racing thoughts if it feels too big to tackle on your own.

*PSA: It is impossible to write a comprehensive blog about sex. It’s too complicated and big. I would love to have written so much more, but the kids only nap for so long. If you need more ideas, check out “A Celebration of Sex” or “When Two Become One.” Please let me know if you’ve found a book that was really helpful to you. I need more sex books!

**PSA #2: If you try these things and find yourself thinking: “NONE OF THAT HELPED, thanks for nothing Lauren!” You could be struggling with negative feelings toward your husband, resentment, post partum depression, depression, anxiety, pain due to changes in your body from birth, difficulty figuring out how to be a mom and a wife and acknowledge your body as more than a vessel for babies to grow and feed and use and empty until you have nothing left, nothing at all for anybody else, especially not the jerk who did this to you. Kidding. But seriously though, email me and I will help you or find someone who can help you. Your family needs you to be healthy and whole and to know that YOU ARE ENOUGH. And, at the risk of sounding cliché, please know that, no matter what your road(ahem…sex)block is, there are answers, there is help, and you aren’t alone.