Friday, July 30, 2010

NO shame on you!

When I was a kid, certain parts of a person's anatomy (including my own) were referred to as "naughty parts." This was common practice in those strange, post-Victorian days of the 70's and 80's. But here in this new millennium and I smell the whiff of progress. Or just the whiff of some kids who need to get in the tub and wash their parts.

We are wising up: it isn't necessarily helpful or useful to shame any part of a child's body, or their thoughts and curiosities.

No matter our religion, most of us have some deep and abiding internal sense of original sin. The use here is borrowed as metaphor more than a literal use. I'm speaking to those parts or aspects of our natural nature that we find repugnant, wrong, or just inherently bad

Freud had some really fancy notions about what these labels and subsequent repressions did to us, as have mythologists and psychologists. But what is the real consequence? Besides the obvious (offing your dad and sleeping with your mom like poor old Oedipus), what are the tangible and actual consequences of telling a kid they are "bad" when they are acting their most human? What if instead of some personal version of original sin we opted to see ourselves and our babes as made in the image of the Divine and accepted, loved, seen as holy ... all of them and their parts?

(These questions ain't rhetorical, yo -- when you get to the end, you know what to do! Thanks and much love commentors.)

<<<<"Tell me about your naughty part ...." (somehow it sounds even stranger in a heavy Austrian accent)

We rightfully fear raising children who can't control their impulses or have no sense of morality. Thank goodness that every mom and dad I know feels compelled to actively parent, establish rules and limits, and give real consequences for wrong actions.

But aren't thoughts or desires to be handled differently than actions? Talking about the fantasy of giving one's sister away is different than actually soliciting a buyer.

Recently at baby story time the facilitator had us a do all five verses of "Where is Thumb-kin?" When we got to the "naughty finger" we called it "tall-man" and waved it air like we just didn't care. We effectively gave the middle finger to the notion of the naughty or bad finger. We have this finger, and we didn't skip it. We acknowledged it but rejected the label. Accepting and loving the whole package keeps the self in tact.

I would also like to see if I can pull off an existential tie-in with the greater subject of this blog (drum roll). The world would be a very different place if we were raised to accept and see our whole selves and our selves as whole, rather than having inherently bad or flawed parts. Surely we would love ourselves more ... and better. We'd develop a self-security and confidence and extend more grace and compassion to others.

aaaahh! Can you honestly tell me this isn't precious?>>>

Can I get a whatwhat and two tall-men up? Or give me the traditional middle finger -- either way let me know what you think!


  1. Heehee! I loved this! Naughty parts!

    I absolutely LOVED what you shared about library story time including the "naughty" finger, but giving it a different & shame-free label! Those librarians know what is up!

    It is really sad (yet funny in retrospect) to think about the days we labeled genitalia as "naughty." I think the word "private" is a valuable & appropriate choice for describing/talking to children about their genitals. It does not indicate that the parts are "bad", but does explain why we don't go around showing them to strangers, etc.

  2. Yes! That is a great example; private vs. naughty. I was just having this great conversation with a friend about parenting style and the complete failure of tools and interventions to accommodate to the unique style and personality of your kid. Things just aren't black and white and we can set limits WITHOUT PATHOLOGIZING! We have to parent in way that honors their sweet and precious person-hood. I love that your example does that. It gives the parameters and safety down low in a positive fashion.

  3. I've struggled with this some... my son moved into his phase of exhibitionism at a later age when it wasn't considered "cute." Before play dates, I've had to remind him to "keep his private parts to himself," sounding very much like my own mother (I was caught playing doctor with the neighborhood boys one time and I don't think she ever fully recovered).

    My son is very interested in private parts (which, I'll admit, in casual conversation I've referred to as "naughty bits" a time or two just because it's fun to say in an Austin Powers sort of way... who knew that Howard Stern could be more appropriate than Mike Meyers?). My son sometimes asks to see my private parts, and since I deny him, he'll try and catch a glimpse if the opportunity arises. As one with modest tendencies myself, I'm not sure how to present a healthy balance between not being ashamed of our bodies vs. keeping them to ourselves. Call the parts whatever you'd like, I would suspect the two ideas seem contradictory in the mind of a child who doesn't grasp the concept of cultural standards or potential dangers involved. "There's nothing wrong with your body... it's beautiful! Just don't show it to anyone, for goodness sake!"

    I don't want to suppress his natural curiosity and thereby hyper-stimulate his interest or unknowingly pass along any modesty issues I am potentially still harboring from the "doctor" incident. :) Oh, how our childhood shapes us.

    Adam and Eve didn't even know they were naked until they chose independence from God... it was a non-issue. Interestingly, that was one of the first changes that they reportedly noticed after the apple incident... they were naked and they hid. So, inherently, we do the same.

    Anyway, as you can see, I don't have this one figured out in the least. Darn, another tic mark on the ol' "to do" list.

    :) anj

  4. Healthy balance is really hard. That is the perfect way to put it. And not just with literal "naughty bits" but all of it. I want my girls to understand that fear, anger, frustration etc. are a totally normal and natural process. There is no "shame" but I also want them to function well in society and (to me) that means they can't always "express" themselves all over creation. I am doing lots of "quotes"-if we were in person I would be doing them in the air. Big fan of the "air quotes."

  5. That's a great point. One thing I really love about my kids is that their social filters aren't developed yet. Their emotions are as naked as their bodies would be, were they given the choice of what not to wear. On the other hand, one thing I really find frustrating about my kids is that their social filters aren't developed yet. C'mon kid, pull it together already! (Especially when people are watching and your behavior reflects my parenting skills.) I'm kidding of course (sort of), but my question is to what degree we allow society to dictate what is "appropriate." (I'm air quoting right along with you.) I want our kids to function well within society, yet I also want them to learn to think and reason for themselves and not just buy it all hook, line and sinker. Healthy Balance, you elusive beauty you.

    Maybe the key to healthy balance is cultivating respect and love and empathy for others that then guides appropriate behavior from a standpoint of caring about someone other than yourself and considering how your actions affect them. That way, rules aren't defining actions so much as an overall disposition naturally producing a considerate response. But, developmentally, I know this opens a whole new can of worms. True empathy is something you can model, but not coerce.

    That's one reason parenting is so challenging for me. Kids are so black and white and I am so gray. Oi, by the grace of God, go I.


  6. I am so in love with this. "Naturally producing a considerate response." LOVE THAT.

    Validate the feeling, evaluate the ramifications of the action, act accordingly. And I really believe that if I can stay empathetic to my kids, even when they are being naked-no filter-hooligans, they will eventually follow (and follow with some clothes on).

    Why does everyone not keep a blog? Real time, wise, and relevant feedback. With book recommendations? Does it get any better?

  7. Socialization is a powerful thing, and it is super effective. Much of what we believe is to be true is only because we were told it was true. Some of it doesn't even make sense! We only accept it as truth because we've been told we have to.

    A few years ago I had the privilege of listening to a man who had completely re-organized the New Orleans school system. He covered a lot of information in his 2+ hour presentation. Most of what he said was simple, common-sense stuff.

    One thing he addressed was sex ed. His words struck me as a parent even more than as a professional. He said we teach our kids that sex is dirty, gross, and wrong, but save it for the one you love. What the hell? Why not teach that sex is beautiful and spiritual, so save it for the one you love?

    There are so many contradictions in our adults we take them for granted because we've been told over and over that's just the way it is. Ultimately, we're told to quit asking questions, and we do.

    When I was much younger, I swore I'd never cop out and tell my child "because I said so." I think I've kept my promise, but at times it is difficult. Our kids need to have things explained to them, and we need to give them reasons! Don't do this just for the kid, but do it for you!

    Is it really harmful to wear plaid and polka dots? Is it going to hurt anything for a girl to have a "cars" birthday party? We need to let go of our social norms and stereotypes to open up the world for our kids.

    So, I think this process is three-fold.

    1) Balance. Yes, I think the key to EVERYTHING is balance. Of course our kids can't run around naked because at some point it stops being cute and starts being illegal. But we can control how we teach them about it. We don't have to wear clothes because parts of our body are naughty or wrong, we have to cover ourselves because our body is special, wonderful and sacred.

    2) Question everything. When you tell your kids they can’t do something, ask yourself why. Sometimes it might be easy to answer, and other times, it might not be. Either way, it’s important to know why. If your little girl wants a Transformers backpack, stop and ask yourself why you are telling her no. Are you worried other kids will make fun of her? (If so, could that not also be a valuable lesson?) Are you worried what other parents will think of you? Just be aware of the boundaries you are placing on the kiddos, and make sure they are the boundaries you want them to have.

    3) Accept yourself. Think about the parts of yourself you consider “naughty” and ask yourself why. Do you feel that way because you were told to? Is it something you can and should work on, or is it something that is part of who you are? I don’t really have any body modesty issues, but I used to. Once I became a nurse, all of the body parts became equal.

    But we all have our “naughty” parts of personality. I hold grudges. Should I work on that, or is that what makes me fiercely loyal to the few close friends that I have? I would like to make more money (or my husband to make more money so I don’t have to), but yet I feel so grateful for what I have. Should I feel guilty for wanting more? Or should I accept that wanting more is exactly what makes the world go ‘round and is actually the catalyst for progress. It’s not “bad” to want more, but I do feel guilty. Why??? Wanting more does not mean you are ungrateful for what you have, it just means you have a goal/dream/desire, and that is what makes us human.

    And, as I wrap up this extremely long post on naughty parts, I ask you to ponder this. One of my nurse-friends, taught her boys the correct, medical terms for their body parts. One day, her youngest son came home and asked, “Mom, how’s come I have testicles but everyone else has balls?”

  8. That is the funniest f-ing story of all time. I like your parallel between naughty physical and naughty personality. There is no inherent shame in any of it. Of course how we choose to act does have the potential to be destructive, but that is more about achieving that balance that we all keep referring to.

    I have found that if I am feeling "naughty" (greedy, jealous, self pitying) one thing that NEVER helps me to move on is to chastise myself. I try to just label the feeling and move on, sparing the internal guilt trip. As an adult I have had to actively separate out the difference between feeling angry and acting out. Feeling angry can actually be really useful, it usually means that I am hurt, sad, need to change something etc. It only becomes destructive if I stay stuck or start throwing punches (literal or figurative). It does seem that there has been some societal mixing up of the feeling/action.

    We SHOULD question everything and encourage our children to do the same. Darn if that isn't exhausting when you live with someone who strives to perfect the Socratic method but your good thoughts help restore me to patience.

  9. Have I ever mentioned that I love you people? I don't know most of you, but still, feel the love, because in your comments I see your kind and thoughtful selves striving to make sense of the world and to grow in it. I'm often checking in after the fact (I'm more than a day late and probably at least $1 short...) but I really appreciate your willingness to share even though I don't often leave a comment to say so. So I decided to leave a comment to say so. So THANKS!

  10. Seriously! I am instituting a monthly give away because I just have to find an outlet for all of the loving feelings these commenters generate. Thanks and love to you Wendy!


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