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Q&A: Making the Best of an Awkward Situation

Q&A: Making the Best of an Awkward Situation

My wife and I occasionally video and photograph ourselves in the bedroom. Nothing outrageous. Unfortunately, our 9-year-old daughter accidentally saw some images on my phone. To make matters worse, a friend was with her at the time, but it’s unclear how much she saw. We’ve already talked to our child about violating our privacy with the snooping, but how do we explain what we were doingshe’s on the young side and we weren’t planning to have The Talk with her yet. And also, what’s our obligation with the friend’s mother? We don’t know how much she saw and don’t want to expose ourselves (so to speak) if there’s no reason to.

This is a really interesting topic. Thank you for bringing it up. I wish we could have a conversation about all of this, as it would be easier to provide some guidance with some more information and feedback from you. However, I’ll do my best (and you can always write back). There are clearly a few issues here. It sounds like you already brought up the issue of privacy, which is always a tricky one with kids, because by virtue of your relationship with them, they are afforded less privacy than you are. Parents feel differently about how much privacy their kids should be allowed, particularly as the kids get older. But it’s great that you talked to her about that.

The next issues are how to broach the subject of what she saw and when to have, as you put it, “The Talk.” The answer to the second part of that is: Right Now. As you may have guessed if you’ve read other posts of mine, I’m very much in favor of talking early and often. It’s not about one “talk.” The earlier you start talking and the more often you do it, the easier it is on all of you. However, it sounds like from what you’re saying that the subject of sex has not come up at all in your home. So I’ll assume that’s the case.

You have a very clear window here, so jump right through it. Since your daughter knows little about sex, presumably including reproduction, it’s admittedly a bit awkward that your starting point is those images. But it also means that you really don’t have to spend much time on them. There will be so much else to explain to her. However, start by asking your daughter what she and her friend saw. You’re clearly hesitant to do that, so consider what your concern is. Is it that she might not have seen much of anything and you don’t want to bring the whole incident up if it’s not an issue—and then have to explain what the pictures are? I get that, but it’s better than just leaving things as they are—that is, your daughter found pictures of you doing something that she now knows is in some way “bad” because she got scolded for looking at them. So while you and your husband find pleasure in what you’re doing and seem to celebrate your sex life, your daughter’s impression is only negative. You need to turn that around in some way. You’ll have to talk to her about sex and different ways of expressing it—which, if you want, you can couch in terms of a loving and caring relationship. I could write (and am currently writing) a tome on the subject of talking to kids about sex, so I can’t give you a step-by-step guide here. I recommend going to a bookstore and looking for a couple of books on the subject. Read them to make sure you like them and read them again before you share them with your daughter.

Your final question is about the other mother. I don’t think you have an obligation to say anything if you’re not comfortable doing so. If your daughter’s friend says something to her mother, and then she brings it up to you, then I would be honest. Other than that, I don’t see why you have to let her know anything. Her daughter was not exposed to anything harmful. That being said, this brings up another reason to simply ask your daughter what they saw. That way you’ll know what the other girl saw and, thus, what her mother might learn about you. That information might lead you to actually want to broach the subject with her. However, I can certainly understand why you might not want to.

So…while your situation has some awkward and potentially embarrassing elements, view it as an opportunity to talk to your daughter about sex and reproduction—and the fact that your husband and you are enjoying it provides her with a wonderfully positive model of what it can be for her one day.

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