My ten-year-old son storms into my bedroom, plants his feet, fixes his eyes on me and bellows, “I can’t take it anymore. He won’t stop banging his drums when I’m trying to play Guitar Hero! Can you pleeeeeeeease help me? Now?”
“Sure – just give me two secs.”
He huffs back towards the playroom, glancing over his shoulder at me to make sure I am on my way to save him from his younger brother. A typical exchange between mother and son, with one exception: I am completely without clothes.
He caught me coming out of the shower at the precise moment when the wet towel went up on the hook and I was figuring out what to wear that day. The bedroom door was open and I was routing through my underwear drawer when confronted with his urgent problem. Yet neither one of us skipped a beat. I may as well have been standing there in a full-length parka, boots and a hat. It was a non-event for both of us.
Later, I ask my husband, “Do you think it’s creepy that I still let the boys see me without clothes on?”
“It’s not creepy. It’s not like you prance around or anything.”
“So, as long as there is no prancing, it’s okay?”
“I think so.”
“What about when they’re teenagers?”
“You might want to rethink things then.”
But I didn’t want to rethink things. For me, there are certain inalienable rights associated with the family: not worrying about what I’ve got on is one of them.
My feelings are not rooted politically. I am not taking any sort of stand on freedom of expression. And I’m certainly not making bold statements about “not being ashamed of my body.” At thirty-nine years old, I clearly sport some body parts that are worthy of a little shame. But these are the humans to whom I am the closest of anybody in the entire world. If, so to speak, they are the fruit of my loins – why should I have to rush to cover said loins?
When your kids are toddlers, it’s hardly an issue. For most moms, trips to the bathroom and showers are rarely unaccompanied, and doors are never locked for safety reasons. But when your kids are around age four or five, things change. It’s at that point that parents choose how they want things to be.
I chose not to cover up – and am sticking with that decision – because paranoia in my own home feels repressive. Yet it remains an incredible quandary for me and the countless other parents who have young children of the opposite sex. My husband can walk around the house without a stitch for the rest of his life without question or judgment because his parts match our children’s. My sister, the mother of two daughters, can do the same. Yet, as a mother of brothers, my exposed body can be questioned. It feels unfair.
Fathers of daughters have it far worse. The stigma of who is and who isn’t a sexual predator falls heavier on men. I find myself thinking often of The Good Mother, the Sue Miller novel turned movie with Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson, in which a mother’s custody is threatened when her young daughter sees her boyfriend naked and asks to touch his penis. The boyfriend, with actually the best intentions, agrees and all hell breaks loose. Clearly, in this scenario a line was crossed. But who draws the line?
The question of clothes falls under the same guidelines as how long to breastfeed, how much TV gets watched or whether sugar cereal is available for breakfast. It varies by family and, I imagine lines up very closely to what the parents experienced as children. I remember seeing both my parents au naturale when I was a child – never out of context and never in an inappropriate way. I don’t feel the least bit scarred by it. Conversely, married friends of ours who were raised in conservative households never saw their parents without clothes and thus always remain dressed in front of their own children. I suspect they stay covered up in front of the family pets, too.
Don’t get me wrong , I too have a sensitive moral barometer. For example, showers with Mommy were at one point a special treat for my little guys. There was nothing inappropriate about this activity whatsoever, in my opinion. I washed their hair, made bubbles, and helped rinse. (They didn’t wash me.) But one day, I noticed that they were tall enough that eye level for them was crotch level on me. And the shower stall does not leave a great deal of room for personal space. That was the day the Mommy showers stopped.
While I still hold my ground on my right to be in the buff around my kids, I do think there are certain parameters by which to abide:
1) I won’t overdo it. Except for the rare occasion when I need to retrieve some critical article of clothing from the downstairs laundry room and decide to make a dash for it al fresco, it will remain in the bedroom and bathroom, where I have a right not to be paranoid about it. If they stumble upon me in a state of undress, so be it. If they don’t want to get an eyeful – they will learn to knock.
2) I will never do it in front of their friends. I do not aspire to be Stifler’s Mom. When guests are in the house, I will stay covered.
3) If I am going to put myself out there like that, I am going to have to be willing to answer their questions when asked. So far, there haven’t been that many queries, but I probably should be prepared for some anatomical interrogation.
4) No touching, tickling, hugging, kissing, back scratching or wrestling without clothes on. While these are activities that we do engage in regularly when everyone is dressed, doing any of these things while clothes are off feels highly inappropriate. So it probably is.
5) Lastly and most important, I will trust my gut. We ask our own children to do that when it comes to protecting themselves. When something doesn’t feel right, it almost certainly isn’t. My choices are reversible; I can just simply start covering up. (Though, for the record, I don’t think the same can be said if your children have never seen your body and you suddenly decide to expand their horizons.)
I would never judge another parent who is uncomfortable with what I’m saying, but I would ask her to be understanding of me as well. With all the horrible things we hear happening to children, it is no wonder we have become a society of overly paranoid parents. It is one thing not to trust others with your children; it is another thing not to trust yourself. The fact that my son doesn’t bat an eye at my unclad body suggests that I am raising an uninhibited child who has the highest level of comfort with his mother. And, in my opinion, there isn’t anything creepy about that.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Holden