This year Belle turns 14 and heads into eighth grade, and for the first time, I’m a nervous wreck.
To explain why, I need to take you back to my eighth grade year.
It was a year filled with new friends mixing with old, wearing amazing stretch pants with stirrups, and my favorite Sam & Libby shoes. Eighth grade is when I had my very first real kiss, which happened at the bottom of my friend’s street behind a car. As it was the first real kiss for both of us, it was quite interesting to say the least. OK, it was bad, but we did get better the more we kissed.
Eighth grade is when I had my first heartbreak. My first-kiss boyfriend broke up with me, and what did I do? I threw myself down on the sidewalk and cried hysterically—in front of all of his friends. Two words: hot mess. No wonder the kid broke up with me.
The end of eighth grade going into summer was the first time I dated an older boy, and I lost my virginity at the ripe ol’ age of 14. I gave it very willingly, so don’t go blaming the boy. However, I did think the only way he would love me was if I had sex with him. For the first time, I associated sex with love, and it became a destructive pattern. My worth became tied up with boys. I was so desperate for someone to love me that I would do anything to feel that connection—including give them my body—because in that moment, I believed they were only thinking of me. Once again, two words: hot mess.
In a short month, Belle will be the same age I was when I lost my virginity. I’m scared sh*tless. I want so much more for her. I want her to be better than me, value herself better than I did, and, above all, know she is loved not only by me but by God. Because I wanted better for her and because I knew all too well how easy it was to go down the path of premarital sex, my husband, Doug, and I implemented some rules.
The first rule: Belle isn’t allowed to date until she is 16, and the main reason is because Belle is trying to figure out who she is as a person, and when you add a boy into the mix, you naturally tend to like the same things he does. For example, when Doug and I started dating, I told him I liked watching a cartoon called “Dragon Ball Z.” That was lie. I didn’t, but Doug did (yes, a 30-year-old man liked watching cartoons), and I just liked Doug. I might be wrong about this, and if so, I will admit it and apologize to Belle, but right now I’m willing to chance it. And a fun little note, when Belle does go on a date, the boy gets to go out with Doug first. That poor boy.
Another rule I placed on myself was to start talking to Belle about sex early and often. When Belle turned 8-years-old, I got her a book called “The Care and Keeping of You” (an American Girl Doll book). My cousin advised me to give her the book at eight because she wouldn’t be embarrassed yet, but she would read it over and over again–which she did. And then she started talking to me about it, which enabled me to start having conversations about sex.
Our first conversation was hilariously awkward. She was about 10 years old, and we were driving home from a baby shower. I had 30 minutes of car time with her, and I thought to myself, “Hey, this seems like a great time to have the sex talk.”
Me: Do you know how babies are made?
Belle: Yeah, sex.
Me: You heard about sex? What is it?
Belle: When people kiss.
Me: Well, there’s a little more to it.
Belle: What do you mean?
Me: A man has a penis and a girl has a vagina and the act of sex is when the man sticks his penis inside a woman’s vagina. (No point in sugar-coating this.)
Belle (with a look of complete horror on her face): Mom, that is gross.
Me: Right answer, but someday it will be not be gross.
End of conversation.
The next 20 minutes were spent in complete and utter silence. Win for mom, kind of.
New scene: Belle is now 12ish, and the middle school ministry at our church is doing a sex series.
We are eating dinner as a family: Doug, me, Belle, Torin (10), and Faith (3).
Belle: I’m suppose to ask you both what you think God’s view of sex is.
Me: To make babies.
Doug jumps in: For fun between a husband and wife.
Belle: Fun? What do you mean fun? You’ve only had sex twice, right?
Me: Well, there are three of you, so no. We’ve had sex more than twice.
Belle: I thought Faith was a miracle.
Me: No, not in that sense. Mary is the only virgin birth, and that happened over 2,000 years ago.
Belle: You guys have sex a lot? You are so weird.
Doug laughing: Married couples who aren’t having sex are weird.
End of conversation.
New scene: A few months ago sitting on our couch—once again, with the whole family there.
Belle: Were you pregnant with Faith during Spring Break of 2013?
Me: No, we got pregnant with Faith mid April, a few weeks after Spring Break.
Belle: I wasn’t home when you got pregnant?
Doug: No, not that time.
Belle (with a look of bewilderment): Woah, wait. Are you saying that you have sex when we are home?
Doug and I both: Yup.
Belle: What is wrong with you two?
Doug and I both laughing: Nothing.
These are just a few of our conversations, and even though they are awkward and even hilarious, these conversations open the door for the real conversations. Conversations that she isn’t afraid to talk to me about because I’m a safe place where she knows I won’t judge. Like conversations we had last week when I asked if anyone in her grade was sexually active or drinking or smoking pot, and she talked to me. She talked to me openly and honestly without shame or embarrassment.
As parents we are the very first people to speak identity into our children, and I want her to know she is loved, cherished, and chosen not only by me but by God. A simple way Doug and I do this is we pray with our kids before bed, and we are specific with each child.
Here is one of my prayers I have said over Belle: “God, thank you for my daughter. She is beautiful inside and out. Thank you for the gift of kindness you gave to Belle. I love seeing this gift in the way she loves her siblings and friends. God, I ask you to remind Belle that she is your daughter and you love her more than I ever could. It is in your name I pray.”
That’s it. I am not a long prayer person, but in my prayer I want to remind her of who God created her to be. If it’s less than 30 seconds, score one for me. Don’t worry, God is good with my prayers. He doesn’t care how long they are, only that I do pray.
Full disclosure: I haven’t told Belle the age I was when I lost my virginity, and it finally just dawned on me why. I’m afraid to. I’m afraid she will look at me differently. I’m afraid she will be disappointed in me. I’m afraid my own daughter will judge me. OK, maybe “judge” is too harsh; I guess I’m afraid she has me on this pedestal and this information will knock me down off it.
Apparently, I’m still working through some crap. I guess that’s why I felt so compelled to write this, because I can no longer wait. I have to tell her.
Honestly, this is some of the hardest parenting I have to do: admitting my past failures to give her understanding and perspective for wanting more. But isn’t that what we should do for our children? Talk to them and be honest with them? Don’t they deserve parents who fight for them? And if fighting for her means showing some of my cuts and wounds, well, I guess I will rip off my Band-Aid, because she is worth it.