One of the best pieces of parenting advice I can give to mothers of tween and teen daughters, especially the less chatty ones, is that the most revealing conversations happen side by side — never face to face. Get your girl walking next to you and eventually she will start to spill the beans or ask questions she would never would if she could see your eyes. This might be true for boys, too, but I don't have sons so I can't test it out.
We were strolling home from an event in our neighborhood side by side when my 13-year-old daughter asked me a question I had never anticipated. "Mom, when did you lose your virginity?" Without missing a stride, I answered, "You know, I'm not really ready to discuss that with you right now." My teenage years were a little wild; and I was young when I first had sex, only a little over a year older than my very private daughter is now. My daughter, who is now just a smidge taller than I am and who can, at times, look far more mature than the newly minted teenager she is. For all I know, she has never kissed anyone, and I couldn't imagine, didn't want to imagine, her following my footsteps and having sex in a year.
I quickly followed up with this honest explanation. "But I can tell you, I was with the guy for long before it happened and a long time after. I was really in love and it was good." This is all true. My first love entered my life when I was young, and our relationship was long-lasting. My family loved him, as did I. And although he and I have grown apart, my mother and he are friends on Facebook. It's pretty cute to get updates on his life from my mom.
Still walking, still looking straight ahead, I did have the smarts to keep digging. My intuition told me my daughter was looking for something more specific rather than facts about me. A simple "Why do you ask?" brought forth the true information she was looking for and a sweet explanation as to why she was asking. "You always joke that you'll let me do things, adult things, wear short shorts or drive a car or try wine when I am like 27 or 35 . . . so . . . when do people usually start having sex?" She just needed a reality check, an informed, experienced perspective on something that fills the pages of YA fiction and is hinted at in so many teen films.
My answer was based on countless chats about this with friends I had when I was much younger and before things like mortgage rates and PTA gossip became common conversation topics. "High school or college," I replied. "But age doesn't matter. You should take your time and really know the person you do it with." She pondered. She nodded. She looked down at her feet. My follow-up question was if any of her friends were having sex and she, in her wonderfully disgusted "I am still a child" 13-year-old way, adamantly replied NO. I kept my sigh of relief invisible, so no judgement could be construed from my reaction. I did this in hopes of keeping the door open for future questions on this matter.
I am so grateful she asked me, that she opened the conversation, that she knows that she can trust me to be honest (or to reveal as much as I am comfortable with) with her. I only hope she continues coming to me. I will keep listening. I will keep looking for openings. I will keep being her mom and walking by her side and I will allow her to ask me anything.