A very interesting and sad thread appeared on Imamother this past week in which the topic was discussed. In the thread, a woman says that her very sheltered 12 year old daughter accidentally saw her neighbors making out on the couch. The couple had apparently left their blinds open and hence the daughter was able to see them kissing and hugging. Being very sheltered, she probably never saw anyone kiss beyond a quick peck on the cheek and was disgusted that her neighbors -- otherwise fine Jews (from my reading of the post) -- were "acting like chilonim." As the poster puts it:
Obviously I'll never know just how much she saw but she was in total shock that this couple were "behaving like chilonim" and she was nauseous over the whole thing. Needless to say, my dd is very sheltered and could not imagine that anyone Charedi would do something so disgusting!
The poster's first instinct was to tell the kid the truth -- that married couples do engage in such behavior but that it is meant to be private and that the couple should not have been doing such when others can see them. And so she told her daughter. Her daughter's reaction:
She was not happy with that answer and of course, started to ask me about her father and myself. I didn't give her a straight answer but I did let her know that it's normal and natural.
So far, so good. Kid sees something that was meant to be private. Being a pre-teen and never having been exposed to this, she's kind of grossed out - a perfectly natural, normal reaction (given her upbringing). Mother tells the child that it's normal and natural for couples to behave this way and that she'll learn more about it as she gets older.
But the story doesn't end there. When the woman's husband hears about the story, his reaction is different. In her words:
When DH found this out he was not a happy camper. He would rather have her think that the neighbors are pervs or something. Oy.
And sure enough, he does just this. In a later post, the woman recounts what happened the next day:
She ran to tell my dh about it this morning before I woke up. He told her that it's ossur and not done and that the neighbors are not beseder and that the only reason I said that it is done is because I didn't want to say bad things about the neighbors and that I didn't know what to say. She asked me if that's true and I said yes.
My husband says that the mere fact that she got such a shock from what she saw is enough of a reason to make sure she gets back on track and the only way to get her back to her equilibrium is to let her think that it's wrong. He says it's allowed by halacha to lie about this. I said that she'll eventually know I'm a liar and he said that the important thing here is not if I'm a liar or not - it's her state of mind.
The thread goes on for seven pages in total and in those seven pages, EVERY single woman who expressed an opinion on the matter all agreed that the initial response was the correct one and that her husband's approach was wrong. These responses come from just about all segments of Orthodox Judaism as represented on Imamother -- Chareidi, Chassidic, Litvish, Modern Orthodox, etc. Yet, in the end, she continues to stand by her husband's decision.
So, what's the end result here?
1. Over the next few years, one or both of the following is going to happen to this poor girl:
a. She will internalize the message her father gave her, come to view physical intimacy with loathing and disgust and possibly even suffer from self-hate when her own hormones kick in and she begins to have desires for physical intimacy. Oh, and heaven help her kallah teacher and future husband.
b. She will find out from her friends that her parents lied to her and that they cannot be trusted to provide her with serious mature answers to the important questions in life.
2. The father, by telling his daughter that "it's ossur and not done and that the neighbors are not beseder" has, in effect, told her that the neighbors are disgusting perverts. Granted, they should have closed the window blinds, but from the mother's description, it doesn't sound like we're dealing with serial exhibitionists here - it was a mistake, pure and simple. But the father chose to paint them as deviants rather than have the courage to face the truth with his daughter.
3. By telling his daughter that her mother lied, she, in effect, helped to undermine her credibility. By "confirming" the "lie" (which, mind you, was in fact the truth), she has put herself in a position (vis-a-vis her daughter) from which she has no credible resolution. IMHO, undermining a spouse's authority with anyone (and *especially* with her children) is one of the worst things you can do in a marriage.
I don't want to address the fact that this couple has obviously never shown affection for each other in front of their kids. If that's the way they want to run their marriage, that's their business. It's not how Eeees and I run ours. Our kids see us hug and kiss. They can visibly see the affection that we have for each other -- whether we're in physical contact or not. Eeees and I believe that it's healthy for children to see these things (and yes, they did go through their "ewwww" phase -- but they got over it) and to see that hugging, kissing and physical intimacy (within limits, of course) are perfectly normal and healthy in a married relationship.
I can understand a parent wanting to keep their child sheltered. It's a perfectly natural parental reaction. Yes, some parents tend to overdo it, but at the core of a parent is the desire to protect his or her child. Unfortunately, however, children cannot be sheltered forever. At some point, they will have to be told about subjects that you might not want brought up -- and sometimes they'll come up sooner than you like.
We had this issue with one of our children. Eeees and I were forced to give him information about intimacy sooner than we would have liked. No, s/he didn't walk in on us or anything like that -- but s/he became aware of some information on his/her own and we, as parents, had to put that information in the proper context. We could have lied to the kid and we could have buried our heads in the sand -- but that would have been the wrong thing to do. The child would have grown up and internalized the wrong message about intimacy -- and that would have required far more extensive "fixing" later on and a total loss of trust in us as parents. So, we chose the responsible choice -- giving the child the information s/he needed and putting it in the proper context.
Children are naturally curious about the world. They will constantly ask questions, and they will sometimes see or hear things that you would rather they not know about. But a child also needs to know that they can come to their parents for accurate information when they see something that so shakes the foundation of their world. That doesn't mean that you *have* to answer every question -- sometimes a subject should be avoided or pushed off -- but a child needs to understand that a parent won't lie to them. As one poster in the thread beautifully put it, you can't be mechanech with sheker - period.
Perhaps our method isn't for everyone -- but I can say this: if my kids had accidentally spied a married couple making out, they might have been a bit grossed out -- but they also would have realized that it's a natural part of the relationship. Furthermore, they would know that they can talk to us about it and receive honest and truthful answers. Eeees and I don't lie to our kids, nor do we EVER make the other parent out to be a liar.
Hat tip: Pesky Settler and OnionSoupMix