by Martha Kempner
In the last blog, I talked about naked kids and questions that start coming up as kids enter pre-school about whether it’s okay for them to be naked around each other and around adults. The other question that starts to come up around this age is similar but maybe even more complicated: when does it stop being okay for us as parents to be naked in front of our children?
As parents we often worry about this one more. It is trickier because it involves adults’ own perceptions of modesty and comfort with their own bodies as well societal perceptions and fears about sexuality and incest. I think a lot of discomfort stems from parents’ fears of doing something that other people might find inappropriate. While we can laugh off inappropriate behavior exhibited by our four year olds, we’re held to slightly higher standards. Again, I say go with your gut.
This also came up in our house recently because Charlie discovered showers. We got a new showerhead in the master bathroom that is removable and she became fascinated with it. Instead of the scary stream of water that comes down from miles above her head, this hose allows her to control where the water hits her.
She think this is fantastic because “she’s just like a grown up.” I think it’s fantastic because it takes far less time than a bath – which never involves less than half-an-hour of playing mermaid. And, I’m convinced that (if only she’ll let me try it), the direct stream of water from the showerhead will get the shampoo out of her curly hair far more efficiently than pouring cups of bath water over it.
So, this weekend, when it was Daddy’s turn to do the bath, she suggested that, instead, they take a shower, together. My husband did not say no – logistics ruled it out as an option, because the master shower (which I affectionately refer to as Barbie’s dream shower) really doesn’t fit two people and we have not yet installed the new showerhead in the bathroom that has the tub. Later, however, he admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that he was uncomfortable with the idea of taking a shower with her at this age. My first thought was to tell him he was being silly, she’s four not fourteen, but I stopped myself.
Again, parents and experts disagree on when it is and is not appropriate for kids to see their parents naked. And, more often than not, this disagreement focuses on parents of the opposite gender. I have heard some experts give precise rules that parents must keep their clothes on from the time their child is six and others suggest that appropriateness has more to do with the situation, the family structure, and the parents and kids themselves than with any exact of age of development. For some reason, I remember an expert on an episode of Oprah that aired at least 15 years ago saying it depended on what the family dynamics were, “If a naked parent is like furniture,” he explained, “just a casual, unnoticed part of the household, it could be no big deal.”
So I go back to; trust your gut and take your cue from your kid. My husband’s gut said it made him uncomfortable and that was enough. The next time it comes up, we won’t make a big deal out of it, in fact, we won’t even make it about her. We already know, in this house, that Daddy like privacy when he goes to the bathroom. We will just extend that to the shower. “Daddy is happy to help you take a shower, but he likes privacy when it’s his turn to shower.” (This logic also works in reverse, if there is a situation where a child is the one reluctant about the nudity, he/she should be able to ask for privacy as well.) Not only does it help make my husband more comfortable but it also sets the precedent for personal preference, allowing individuals in the family to decide what they are and aren’t comfortable with, which in the end is the most important “rule” to follow.