You buy the back-to-school supplies. You manage all the dental check-ups. You wedge in after-school activities, tutors, screen time, down time, bedtime. You double-check the homework and glue together last-minute costumes for a presentation you found out about four minutes ago. You were the one who broke down the complexities of racism, and you've been chattering on about string theory over ice cream-for-dinner for years now. And you, single mom, are probably also the primary sex educator in your children's lives.
Being a mom is a lot. Being a single parent is even more. And being a sex educator to that kid who was once a squishy little baby and is now gangly and curious and has peach fuzz and a lot of questions – that's complicated.
It can be an even more tangled web if your kids have witnessed your own relationships end or if they've gotten caught in the consequences of an unhealthy or abusive relationship between their parents. Even if you are a mom who is going this full-force solo with no other parent in the picture, or if you've won the world's most amicable divorce award, there's still all that puberty and consent and gender identity stuff to discuss. There's still a tween or teen who frantically hides away to change when, not long ago, you saw their nakey little body seventeen times a day. And there's still terminology and changing language and ins and outs (ahem) to get straight. Complicated.
A couple of months ago, just before the school year ended, six kids in my son's sixth grade class came out. Several shared the information during a team-building exercise, a few others brought it up in the days that followed, and one student casually referred to her girlfriend, which resulted in a bunch of nonchalant "Oh, huh" shrugs.
The real shift wasn't in those revelations among 12-year-old classmates, at least not for my son. It was in the conversations we had that followed. He's used to these open-topic discussions that inevitably happen when he should have been asleep an hour ago, but this was the first time we talked about gender fluidity and the spectrum of sexual identities. He knew more than I anticipated – fresh out of his first school-sponsored day of official sex ed and just finishing a book he loved with a main character who is openly gender fluid.
The shift was with primarily me. To say aloud to my boy the language we have only culturally begun speaking. To share with him the limited phrasing we had when I was growing up. To talk to my child about those stirrings, about the moments we leap into the shocking and relieving cold ocean of who we really are.
We are always swimming, I suppose, looking for landmarks and places to buoy us while we figure out more about ourselves and the people around us, while we go deeper and deeper in discovering those mysteries and truths.
That's a lot to consider when you're talking about sex stuff with a tween. This is heavy imagery in place of reminders to wear deodorant every.single.day and what will become of that darkening peach fuzz.
But this conversation about who has shared that they are gay or bi or somewhere out on the spectrum of sexuality and gender in their own brave/bold/beautiful/quiet/casual-shrug way is in part about all of that, about acceptance and support and who we choose to let closer into our lives and hearts and bodies. And it is also the foundation for the other discoveries we make or revelations we share openly about our tender hearts and pounding brains and big ambitions and paralyzing fears.
So it's bigger than sex ed. Way beyond body stuff. More than whatever the words are in that very discussion in the dark with a kid who is just beginning this all.
Each conversation he and I have had about how bodies work has led to other topics I couldn't have predicted. Talking about what sexually transmitted diseases are when he first heard the word AIDS led us to talk about condoms. And from there, consent. A big election talk about how the candidates differed brought us to birth control and abortion. When we watched the re-made Roots mini-series last summer, rapt by the storytelling and horrific violence and love legacy, we were jarred by what was on screen to talk about what rape is and how it has been used as a tool of war and oppression. None of it has been easy, even in my decided proclamations – "If you and your partner are not using a condom, you're not ready to have sex. Period." and "Know your own body before you offer it to someone else." and "You can ask me anything about all of this stuff. I will always tell you the truth."
Not easy, but often funny, always insightful, ever a beam toward the lighthouse in the distance. We are having the conversations, and I see how fragile and possibly temporary this is. (I hope not.) There's so much more to learn and talk about and find at the bottom of our own oceans. As he asks and gives opinions, digs around to see how he feels about stuff he's heard or read, I am changing, too. Who will I be if he shares a big revelation about his gender or sexuality? How will I react if he dives in to sex stuff too quickly or knocks me over with big waves of questions I haven't ever considered before?
What will happen when he sees clearly the mistakes I've made in my own relationships? How will I teach him to swim wayyyy around the riptides that have almost swallowed me whole – loving people who treated me horribly, going back to homes and arrangements that were hurtful or concerning or boring or not right for me in that moment, spinning with worry about sharing my mistakes or truthiest truths.
The only answer I know is to keep wading into the water bravely, asking and asking and asking open-ended questions – What do you think about this thing? What have you heard about that? What do you wish you knew but don't? What do other kids talk about? How do you feel when this topic comes up? How do you talk about that with your friends? Your dad? In your own mind?
It also helps a lot to have really great resources – moms who are as insistent about keeping the sex ed conversations open and ongoing in their homes, advice in podcasts and books that help guide me, and also videos and books geared right toward my kid.
When we've said all that can be said (for now) or when we need to break the tension or even when I am...just not sure, a quick view of a few videos by AMAZE.org is a deep breath, a good laugh, an "Oh, huh" to a topic that felt momentarily big-deal.
I can email my son links, or pull the videos up on the iPad easily. I can press play confidently, knowing the messages will be inclusive, empowering and supportively open-ended for his own questions. That works for me and for my tween, and that's a relief.
My son doesn't get supplementary body or sex or relationship info or discussion with his own dad, but AMAZE videos (and the books I keep re-placing next to his bed) are the back-up I need as my kid's mom and primary parent and sex educator. And maybe one day, my son will feel comfortable enough to bring up what he's learned or is thinking about or has heard or has found out about himself with his other parent and people in his life who really matter.
That's the hope. It begins with our talks, but the point is for that language to develop, to come easily, and to be the basis of much bigger, present discussions with others. It begins with one talk about someone he knows who has told a classroom he's bisexual, and continues on into consent and falling in love, promposals and self-care within a relationship, condoms and birth control, circling back to deodorant and people who really want to take a date to the sixth-grade end-of-year dance.
Single moms, we've got this.
With all of our complexities and energy constraints and responsibilities and relationships that have been severed or maybe just never existed, we also have the power of our words and our time and the big enough love to ask, listen and really prepare our kids to make healthy, happy choices, to embrace who they – and we – really are.
Start your own sex ed conversations using #MoreInfoLessWeird AMAZE's videos and parent resources here. Keep the talk going by following AMAZE on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube, and by approving your social platform-aged kids to follow along, too.
A little more you-can-do-this and it-can-be-fun/funny-as-well-as-informative-and-serious info about AMAZE: They produce engaging sex ed videos for kids from 10-14 years old, covering the mechanics (see: fuzzy upper lips and periods) as well as complex topics (see: gender fluidity, healthy relationships, falling in love). Each video and resource for kids and parents shows that sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human and is made for you to spark conversations and provide important education. And of course, #MoreInfoLessWeird.
Here's one of my favorites – and a really great one for single mamas and our kids – to get your own conversation started.
This post is sponsored by AMAZE.org. All opinions are my own.