It's already awkward — spending the night with your boyfriend and coming home the following morning. It's even more uncomfortable coming home to the faces of your three teenagers staring knowingly at you. Yes, it's a delicate situation, both as a woman and a mother, but I don't regret being open about my dating life with my children. I believe my honesty about dating and sex is ultimately beneficial for the bond between me and my children, and their future romantic relationships.
I separated from my husband seven years ago. My children were there to witness me get back up on my feet and navigate the world of post-divorce dating. They saw me at my highest highs and lowest lows, at my best successes and my worst failures. As I started dating again and learned invaluable lessons about relationships — sometimes a relationship just isn't meant to be, don't go to a foreign country with someone you don't know very well, never settle for someone who doesn't treat you with respect, you get the idea — I passed those lessons to my children, so they could avoid making the mistakes I made. Sometimes it felt weird to teach them what I learned the hard way, but because I did, our relationships have strengthened.
Over the years, we developed a mutual trust. I'm open with my kids when they inquire about my dating life, and they're open with me. They still cringe at the idea of me having a man in my life other than their father, but they aren't afraid to ask me awkward or personal questions. Fewer secrets divide us (yes, some details are still sacred and not for sharing), allowing our family unit to be closer and stronger. I can have long conversations with my children about dating and relationship issues, and they can talk to me about whatever concerns they have. It's reassuring to know the people willing to listen to me most are my children, who also in return trust me to listen to them.
By maintaining an open conversation about intimacy and dating, I believe my children will enjoy their own strong relationships one day, as well. They have already grown accustomed to open communication about personal issues, which is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship, but they also have learned from my experiences, meaning they have an idea about what to do and what not to do.
Many studies back my beliefs. A meta-analysis of 52 studies that spanned over three decades (with a cumulative population of over 25,000 adolescents) found a correlation between parents discussing safe sex and contraceptives with their children and those children practicing safe sex. It also found that these conversations have more significant impact on girls than boys. Nonetheless, the cumulative data of these studies indicates the importance of having these discussions with your children.
I know not everyone is as comfortable as I am when discussing these topics with kids. So, how do you get past that, and what can you do to become more open and foster communication?
The Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says caregivers should ensure their kids, particularly teenagers, receive accurate information about sex and contraceptives. It suggests you keep up with what your kids know about sex and debunk any misconceptions by having open and frequent conversations that reinforce the importance of practicing safe sex or abstinence. It also recommends not overreacting to any sexual experiences they might reveal in confidence, and allowing them to see healthcare professionals frequently. Other important points to discuss with your teens: healthy relationships, and factual information about HIV and STDs as well as pregnancy prevention.
Not all parents may be ready to discuss their sex lives with their teenagers as openly as I have, but, for the sake of their futures, and as suggested by experts, talking to them about the topic, even if it's not about your personal experience, is a worthwhile conversation to start.