The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Didn't Prepare For...

I didn't prepare for the way a daughter would watch me, emulate me.
Sometimes I look at Ariam, not yet 22 months old, and wonder how much of her will be her nature alone and how much of her will be my (positive or negative) influence.

There was one sentence that stuck with me from our adoption training (well, hopefully more than one, but there is one that rings in my ears daily) "the most influential role model in a child's life is his/her same-sex parent."

Before the trainer had even put a period on that sentence, J looked at me and whispered "we're asking for a girl!" (Ah, my sweet reluctant husband. Little did he know how much parenting a little girl would turn his world upside down.)

Despite this...warning? preparation? information? I didn't prepare for how early this role-modeling would begin.

A few months ago, Ariam began "helping" me get ready in the bathroom each morning. She likes to open my drawer, pull out mysterious products one by one (glancing up to get my approval for each) and lay them on the toilet seat. Then she watches what I do in the mirror, selects a product she thinks matches whatever I'm using (ie. if I'm brushing on blush she uses a wrapped tampon as a "blush brush" on her own cheeks. If I'm putting on deoderant she uses my empty travel deoderant container and insists it be put on under her shirt!) This is her favorite way to pass a half an hour. She'd play this imitation game all day and often cries when it's time to put everything away and leave the bathroom. It is so sweet and endearing.

I didn't prepare for her ability to observe. Even though I know she likes this bathroom game, I was unprepared for her recent demonstration to me of the "real" use of a tampon! And her attempted wearing of my bra.

Observant little doodle!

She's 22 months. I never considered that she was watching *that* closely!

So I ask you, when is it time for some privacy? Is it time for her to wait outside the bathroom door sometimes? What is the appropriate level of modesty between a mom and her same-sex toddler?
The few times I've showered with Ariam her jaw just about dropped to the tub floor. She wanted to touch, she wanted to learn more body part names. Does that mean she needs to see more or less?!

I've wondered, with children physically born to a mother, is there a certain level of shared intimacy they share that a mother and adopted child do not (can not?) have?  I didn't feed Ariam. So she's curious about my breas.ts in a way that makes me a little uncomfortable. We have never shared a body. But I don't want her to feel that her body or mine are shameful or weird. Because...well, the whole same-sex role model thing. It means I have to shoulder the bulk of teaching her about bodies and self-confidence and esteem! Lots to think about!

I prepared to teach her how to be gentle with friends and dogs, how to sing along to The Sound of Music, how to care for her hair and skin, the importance of praying before bedtime, and when to say please and thank you.

I didn't prepare for the imitation and the intimacy....



  1. (hi, this nicole from south carolina, I have been reading you for over a year.. i read via google reader)

    Hi! I very rarely comment on blogs, I am not sure if I have ever commented on yours.. but this series of pictures was so hilarious I had to say something. What a cutie, and how unbelievably smart! My husband and I are pre-adoption, so I have no parental advice, but I must say that I am of the opinion that being open and honest and not hiding from your children is probably the best policy, and might confer confidence and comfortability with her own body. There is probably a line to draw, but I think this is different for everyone so find what is comfortable with you.

    Your post reminded me of this one from another mommy blogger.. you might find it interesting!

    Thanks for sharing.. it is a very thought provoking subject!

  2. I would say A is pretty darn observant! I did recently institute a Mom gets to use the toilet all by herself thing, but that was as much a desire for 2 seconds of quiet as a desire for ahem, toileting privacy. Yet another fun thing we can talk about this summer, right?

  3. Ha ha! Oh, they miss nothing. Yosi will occasionally rummage through my dresser and try on a bra. He thinks he is hilarious when he puts one on his head like a hat. (Okay, he IS hilarious.) He's 30 months old, and I've just started working on the concept that mommy gets privacy, as in do not attempt to climb me like I was a tree when I am, ahem, using the facilities. I've talked about privacy when changing his diaper for ages, so hopefully he will be able to extend the concept. I don't think the issue is birth or adoption - I think it is the parent's attitude and degree of comfort. My son is far more physical with me than my (bio) mother would have allowed me or my sister to be, aside from breast feeding. He's very touchy-feely. I'm working on just being calm and matter of fact about saying 'mommy needs some privacy now please' and examining what's behind my own reactions because I don't want to create any sort of shame or discomfort around bodies. But dang, toddlers just don't have personal boundaries!

  4. I've been asking myself these same questions recently. My now 18mos old daughter currently puts down her toys and stares wide eyed when I get out of the shower and I've wondered what she's thinking... this morning she pointed at my belly and said, "button!" :) Soon she will become more curious, so I'm interested to hear comments from your other readers.

  5. My 3 1/2 year old daughter, adopted about 4 months ago, is fascinated with all parts of her body and mine. I generally don't shower with her, mostly because its my only alone time, but we do shower together after the pool and she does often watch me get dressed. I try hard to use relatively proper words for body parts - though she loves pointing to her boo.bies, mine and my male partners! That's the funniest, when she asks to see his. I remember my cousin saying that her son wanted to know the different body parts of boys and girls, so they taught them to him and said they are perfectly acceptable words - but they referred to them as 'house words' - trying to keep his use to in the home. It worked, I think!

  6. You want scary and observant. Single mother raising not the same gender kid. HE DOES THE SAME STUFF. Yup. Bra. Tampon. Pads (mommy's diapers). Except in a completely distructive -tear -bathroom -apart -and -put -it -back -together -backward -and -upside -down -boy -way of doing things. And this isn't even the stuff that scares me....

  7. Can't attest to the adoption relationship as we are not there YET (please God let it be soon!!) BUT ... as a mommy to a 5 year old who is the youngest with 2 big brothers, and my little shadow - we have had the bathroom experiences as well. I often do shower with her as when you have a family of 5, you do anything to save the hot water! As she is older, I think she has developed just fine, a little curious at first but really now, she doesn't seem to notice or be bothered by either of our bodies. I do have the 'not when I'm in the bathroom' rule for privacy but kind of like the idea that I am teaching her that her body is not to be ashamed of while also keeping the girl/boy boundaries in place.

  8. Because A and Corban are so close in age, I always appreciate these "milestone" updates. Corban surprised me at about 20 months old by opening the bathroom cupboard under the sink, pulling out a tampon and saying, "Pampon!"
    I have 100 other funny examples, but just decided to write a blog of my own about our "bathroom time."

    No advice, I always just use the real words for body parts, not nicknames and if you want some privacy, take it and don't apologize for it. Momma needs some space now and then!

  9. YIKES! My kids aren't doing this yet (except wearing my bras on their heads....) so I got nothing. Great questions - no freaking clue what the answers are :)

  10. I don't think this would any different with a bio child. I personally think it is ok to have her see you naked. My husband used to shower with my son until he got older. I think it is natural (the body, appropriate nudity) and teaching kids that it is natural is important.

  11. I am with Shannon - I'm a single mother of a 3yo boy who has been home for 4 months. We were in a busy public restroom at a zoo a few weeks ago and after he went to the bathroom, I decided I should go. When I was finishing he declared, "mommy wipe" I try to be discreet (both at home and in public) but it is tough to figure out where to draw the line.

  12. This post really struck me. Such thought-provoking questions. I'm just sitting back at my desk going: "hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..." Raising kids...all the puzzle pieces of questions, instincts, beliefs, advice, all somehow fitting together without a picture on the front of the puzzle box to reference,and this little personality is forming. Totally amazing.

    This is Laura, but I don't think I have a profile set up for comments!

  13. I can't believe it!!! that little stinker. This is absolutely the funniest post EVER:) Oh and by the way, if you think you have it bad now, wait till she is a teenager and steals your clothes and shoes! Luckily my daughter can't wear my shoes but she still steals my casual clothes.

  14. I have been meaning to get back to your comment, but we just got our internet back this week. Can you give me your email address? Thanks!


  15. I can SO relate to this, I wonder where to draw the line too...but I do recognize that it's more about my own level of comfort with my body, with physical affection/touching, and my need for occasional privacy than it is about what is and isn't appropriate for my daughter to see.

  16. I Bf'd my daughter, and her 'explorations' now can put me off, so it's not just an adoptive mom thing. I agree with Judy and Barbaloot's comments.

  17. I have 2 girls, 3.5 and almost 1, and they are both curious about body parts and functions. We are very open with them (Daddy still baths with them once in a while). They sometimes ask questions or want to touch/see the "different" parts that we have, but mainly are used to seeing us bathing, using the toilet, etc...
    We think this is much better than having them think that there is something wrong or secret about normal bodily functions and cleaning habits. This also allows them to see how to take care of their bodies themselves as they grow up, by example.
    Modeling normal behaviour is more important to us than any modesty - and WAY more convenient too!

  18. Hmm, I have 2 girls (one bio, almost 9, one adopted, 4.5) and have been very open with them (for instance, my daughter watched the birth of her baby brother last year, shortly before her 8th birthday, and both girls will watch the new baby expected this fall.)

    My rule has always been, with both girls... If I am willing to share, it's one thing. But you asking is different. Both my bio and adopted daughters went through stages (shortly after I stopped showering with them because they were old enough to shower together or by themselves) where they asked to see my chest. Obviously, they have seen my chest, and with breastfeeding a baby, saw my chest frequently. But I had shared with them in those situations. When they asked, it was different. It wasn't sharing on my part--- it was a request to show them something that was private.

    I used those experiences to remind them that bodies are private, and the only people who should ask to see your body are doctors--- and only with mom/dad's permission.

    While we (obviously) feel comfortable sharing our bodies (especially same-gender parent, but both parents under age 5ish) we also do want to reinforce that "normal" is not synonymous with "public."


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