Our five-year-old son is uncircumcised. We just moved to the U.S. and he says most of his classmates and all of his friends are cut. He’s asking about getting circumcised to look like them. How do we handle his request? We sure don’t want to circ a five-year-old. – Uncut in the U.S.A.
Though there are hordes of people in both pro and anti camps who will happily sell you on the one true path, we here at Parental Advisory believe that the circumcision issue is not quite so, er, clear cut. In fact, we ourselves made different choices when faced with the question of our firstborns’ foreskins. Ideally the decision is made taking into account a range of factors: emotional, physical and cultural.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can address your question, which seems to us to be less about circumcision and more about a five-year-old’s anxiety. Moving to a whole new culture at this age is bound to make a kid feel strange and different, so it’s understandable that your son would be very attuned to what sets him apart from others right now. And he might be focusing his feelings of being an outsider onto his anatomy.
We can imagine it would be hard for you to hear that your son feels so self-conscious and out of place. You may feel the same way to some degree, or responsible for this heartache. He may be angry with you for making him so different. You may be tempted to do anything you can to help your son assimilate in the name of compassion (or guilt). But if you were to circumcise now, you could send a message that being different is indeed so bad and so awful that it needs to be avoided at all costs. Since it would hurt quite a but, he could assume that you think it’s worth physical pain just to fit in. That’s probably not a message you want to be sending.
So what can you do instead? Talk about how the penis is just one area in a whole landscape of ways people are different. And that’s okay. You can point out how even within your family each person has unique characteristics. Respect his concerns. You don’t want to be dismissive or ignore him, but reassure him that he won’t always feel like a stranger in a strange land. You can tell him about circumcision and how some families do it, and others don’t. Show him in every way you can that you are completely certain that his penis is just wonderful the way it is. Just like the other kids’ penises are great, too.
By five, kids are slowly becoming aware of differences – skin color, religion, household rules. And they may also develop a new (and likely continuing) interest in bodies and the attitudes that surround them. Should, say, some public peeing opportunities occur, don’t push the issue either way. If he feels more comfortable peeing privately, let him. But if the subject comes up among friends and you happen to be present, by all means, seize the moment. Your role in this situation is to educate, without pressuring your son to change how he feels. Time will likely do a good job of that one, anyway: we know personally of boys coming here at age five, uncircumcised, who have no ill feelings as grown men. And if recent foreskin trends are any indication, your son will be fitting in just fine.
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