Saturday, February 20, 2010

just call me prudish polly

For as long as our children could sit upright, we've bathed them together. Because, they loved splashing as a group, and it was a lot easier for us to wash them all at once. It was certainly nice having all of them in one place - as opposed to rolling or crawling or running throughout the house in different directions - while we were focused on the one or two in the tub.

So communal bath time has been something we've done around here for the better part of our children's lives. And it's worked well for everyone. But recently, it's getting a little awkward.

For me. Not them.

Because it's me that gets a little crazy when one of the kids will stand up and say, "I'm making a tunnel with my legs, climb underneath!" Or whatever they do that makes me consider, "Maybe the boys and girls should be bathing separately. Or independently. Or in their clothes?!"

I know the kids are at an age of "exploration" but I'm not sure what exactly my response should be to all of this budding awareness. It's certainly difficult considering we live in a small house and there are no doors on a few of our rooms. They can't help but see things and wonder. So do I segregate everyone and insist that they stay apart and not look at each other? Do I implore that they respect each others private parts and not act inappropriate? But at five-years-old, do they even understand what inappropriate is?

Last night, in mid wash, the kids were doing the whole tunnel thing which probably doesn't sound as risque as I actually think it is, and I tell them to STOP because it is not nice for them to be acting in such a way and they need to keep their parts private and respect each other's private parts and blah blah blah. And I'm very clearly upset about this. Right?

My children - in the midst of my very serious lecture - dissolve in to giggles. Laughing, snorting, absolutely unable to control themselves. So I ratchet up the angry level and pluck all of them out of the tub, despite the fact they are covered in bubbles. And I wrap each one tightly in a bathrobe and make them stand in different parts of the room, so that not a speck of skin is showing and they can't touch each other. And then, I make two leave while I rinse them off, one by one in the shower while I rattle on and on about the importance of RESPECTING your private parts blah blah blah.

Later that night, as I was tucking them in to bed, William apologizes and says, "Mom, I'm so sorry I was laughing about private parts. I don't want to laugh but private parts are SO FUNNY and I can't hold the laughing back. I can't Mom. I really, really can't. Hee Hee! See? I'm doing it again! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Hee! Hee! Snort! HEE! HEE! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Yup. This is what I'm up against.

So do I allow this angst to over take me that my children are going to grow up with zero modesty and no understanding of personal boundaries, or do I relax and realize that my five-year-olds are going to know more about the intricacies of the opposite sex, than me in my first year of marriage?

What say ye, fellow parents with multi-gender children?


  1. Sorry - no help from me. I just have the one....

    I'm sure you don't recognize me - I'm more of a lurker than a commenter (working on that) - but I love your blog.

  2. One of many cuzzins!2/20/10, 7:33 PM

    LMAO!!!....Ummm, has anyone asked to drive the choo-choo into the tunnel?!! Just asking!!!

    Before you know it, you'll be hearing "GET OUT of here, I'm getting dressed" followed by a door slamming and pictures falling off the wall...I promise you they'll be shielding themselves soon enough.

    Enjoy the ease of "double dipping" for as long as you can. But, if YOU think your family is past their prime for that convenience, then it's probably time to seperate boy bath time and girl bath time.

    I really got a good laugh reading this post...yeah, I'm a pig!

  3. That is so funny! I have been having the exact same thoughts every night. My son is 6 and daughter almost 4. I agree it is just easier and more fun for them to have someone to play with. In the back of my mind I always said we would stop at age 5 (the usual recommendation), but it hasn't happened. So instead we have crazy rules like "we don't sit on each other naked" and "we don't touch people's bottoms" and "no standing up in the bath".

    I tell myself the upside is the innocence of it all. They are not thinking suggestively like we do as adults. And they will not have the unquenchable curiosity in the next few years that same sex siblings usually get. They've seen it already, so it's no big deal.

  4. we've had a couple of inappropriate times in the bathtub with a 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. We decided to start bathing separately and that lasted exactly two weeks. I bathe them together because is it a lot easier to yell, "get naked and get in the tub!" at both of them and just get it done already. We just tell them to keep their private parts to themselves and press on. I'll worry about it when Lucy's 7.

  5. I say wash the girls together and the boys together. That way you're still only doing 2 baths.

    We have two girls and a boy smack in the middle and just stopped doing mixed baths this year, mostly because our oldest is naive and super comfortable in every situation. Now she showers alone and the little two shower together or I shower with one or the other in the morning. We don't do baths at all unless it's a special occasion and I pull out the bubble bath for play time. I'm a mean mom like that, I guess.

  6. Lucky for me, I have two girls. Though, my oldest (4yo) has taken baths with her boy friend before. The last time they bathed together, a few months ago, she looked at his private parts, pointed and said "what's that?" (to which I clutched my chest and fell to the floor) My girl friend (who has 2 boys) was much quicker on her feet then I was. She responded "that's his pee-pee and girls don't touch boy's pee-pee's." Her boy responded with "Does Daddy touch your pee-pee?" (and then both of us died of laughter) My girl friend responded with "Nope! Boys and girls are NOT ALLOWED to touch each other. Ever. " And then it was done with. And I mental noted right then and there that communal showers with boys are a thing of the past for my oldest one!

    Good luck with your brood!

  7. What they don't learn about at home, they will learn about at school. Who would you rather they learn from??

  8. I will be interested to read throguh some of your comments. I have two oys, and am the only 'girl'in the house. so I don't run into this a lot... but I will be interested to here how people handle some of these questions...

  9. well....i don't have multi-gender children, but I grew up in a house where we all had showers together with my mom and dad whenever it fit. There was never any kind of sexual meaning to it, but I don't remember that kind of playing (tunnels or the like) either. We just showered. We stopped probably in pre-teen years, as I remember when my breasts started growing it took some months for my parents to notice bc I was embarrassed to tell and they didn't get to see me naked anymore if I didn't want them to. But even today, I do not have problems with being naked in a room and my father coming in, for instance. I will just cover up to make everyone more comfortable, and same goes for everyone in my family.

    I think that whenever they start understanding any kind of sexuality or "wrongness" to privates, they will stop doing that kind of play, or at least in front of you, hehe. If they do it and feel comfortable even when you are seeing it, I do not see a problem, as long as this is kept among siblings of course. It would be enough for me that they understood that being naked or talking/playing with privates near strangers is not OK.

  10. As a singleton with twin g/b twins 22months younger and the mom of triplet ggb trips (8-1/2yrs.), I don't think you have anything to worry about. I saw my brother naked and he saw us and I like to think we are well adjusted as adults... I did start having my triplets bathe separately when they were about 6 ish - mostly because they were getting too big to share the tub. I now have had a few talks with them about modesty (not undressing infront of the window or their brother). It is slowly sinking in... I think are getting to an age where they want privacy. Kids laugh at things like "private parts" - bathroom humor and potty talk is always a hot topic during these years. Good Luck! :)

  11. No advice from me. I have 6 year old boy/ girl twins and they still bathe together. Please, no bashing! Yes, at times it gets awkward, but giving them separate baths means an even longer bedtime routine and I can't for the life of me survive that! Soon though it will need to happen. I cringe at the thought that one day they might mention to their teachers that they STILL bathe together and I might receive a call from the school psychologist... Oy vey!

  12. My b/g twins are same age as Henry, and they bathe together and dress together and totally notice each other's parts. They are fascinated by the differences, but really don't understand how things work. I heard my son tell my daughter, "I have a weenie" and she replied, "yes, you do now, but don't worry one day you'll have a tootie (the word we use for her lady parts)like me" I almost wet my pants at that one. I just tell them to keep hands to themselves (which they hear all day long anyway in the midst of their battles) and we leave it at that.

  13. Regina!!! I had originally titled this post, "maybe I was a nun in a previous life?" but then changed it AFTER I PUBLISHED, to "just call me prudish polly"

    Because I didn't want to offend YOU. Someone who actually WAS a nun in a former life. Now you serve up, "Drive the choo-choo in to the tunnel"? !!!!

    Oh good heavens, I'm LMAO.

  14. I like this topic Ive wondered at what age is it not appropriate to bathe my two together 3 1/2yr.Girl 18month boy I figured Id have till at least five.

  15. Just use lots of bubbles and no one stands up in the tub because it's dangerous!!! Oh and BTW, my "word verification" for this comment is - sucksti... nice!

  16. I was told by my therapist that it's at age three that you no longer undress in front of children. I would assume the same age would be appropriate for separating children at bath time. And I don't mean this in any kind of harsh way, so please don't assume it to be...

    I hardly think we can call you "Prudish Polly" when your five-year-olds are still bathing together. I'm squirming just thinking that so MANY people do that. And okay a little at the one who said she is still cool with being naked with her dad. And that she was naked until she started getting boobs. Because then they didn't "GET" to see her naked anymore. Yikes.

  17. All my 3, twin girls and 1 boy, were washed together when younger for our convenience. That stopped when they asked to have seperate bath/shower. The girls were developing. They were about 10. My son is now 10 and is now also asking to shower on his own. I think it will come naturally. Don't force it, let them enjoy bathing together until they decide not to.

  18. Soon enough it will happen that the children will not want to bathe with each other. In my house it happened at around 6 -7 years old. My 5 year old girl is really upset that the older two do not want to have a bath with her but she has to learn to respect that. My nine year old girl started puberty somewhere around the age of six, so that was a natural break. The seven year old boy is very private now, but wasn't until about six months ago.

    I would go with what s comfortable for you. You have to live with it, after all. If you go with single sex baths then I would do them alternate nights so that you don't have hours of bath time every night. They don't get all that gross at this age - not sweaty and greasy!!!

    I would also look for an age appropriate book and read it when you are not feeling stressed by a situation you can't control.

    I have to say, it is all very normal behaviour for their age and nothing to worry about. You just need to keep a balance between not turning healthy curiosity into something forbidden and guilt ridden and your happiness with whatever situation you choose.

  19. I am surprise at you, Jen! The worst thing you can do it teach a child shame. LEARN from the children, don't teach them this ugly world's hang ups. It is SOCIETY that is hung up -- the worst thing you can do is tell them their body is dirty and shameful. :"(

    Who ever came up with the idea that one little part of the body is DIRTY and SHAMEFUL??? If you simply stop and think about it, the idea is INSANE! The idea is absolutely ludicrous! :O

    IF they were my kids, the would bathe together until THEY wanted to stop. And William wouldn't be shorn like a sheep (short hair) - he would have the same hair style as his sisters so they'd match as triplets. He would also be IN the ballet school, not going to it to get the girls. Why discriminate against William because he is a boy? Why can't people just be people, and live as one in peace???

    ~Cindy! :"(

  20. Cindy, I certainly appreciate your comment and will take your suggestion to my fellow parenting board member.

  21. Speaking as someone who bathed their twins together for years..I don't think you have to worry. Kids figure out their own sense of modesty when they're ready.

    Now, for their own safety, I would sit them down and talk about their private parts are their own and no one is to touch them without their consent and "good touching" and "bad touching".

    But other than that, I wouldn't worry in the least. Besides which, if you make too big a deal about private parts and their own bodies and "no one should see you", you could be giving them issues that would carry through to adulthood.

    No worries, Jen. Honest. As your cuzzin said, pretty soon you'll hear "GET OUT OF MY ROOM, I'M CHANGING!!!!!"

  22. I have two younger brothers. They are twins and are two and a half years younger than me. I think at some point, maybe around six, I started bathing alone? It's a guess.

    I think it will come naturally. I think telling them that their parts are theirs alone and not to touch each others, is smart. I also think at five years old, they are just curious and it's completely normal.

    That being said, I've got two girls and a boy. My oldest is 8 and just started showering alone, but that it mostly because she prefers showers. My younger daughter is five and my son is 17 months and they bathe together. So um...heck if I know. ha.

    I know you've already gotten so varying opinions on this. I think if it makes you uncomfortable, then it may be time to switch to two baths, one for the girls and one for the boys.

  23. Um Cindy, Jenn didn't tell her kids they were shameful or dirty.

    But at some point, kids do have to learn what it okay and not okay. Not because of siblings, but so they know what is okay and not okay touching from other people.

    As someone who was sexually abused as a kid, by another kid, I do think it's important to think about it from all sides.

    Please try to think about that, before you accuse someone of calling their children shameful. The world is not just black and white like that.

    (And what the heck on the comment about William's hair. Or ballet. Seriously, stop judging people for no reason. You feel free to do what you want with your kids.)

  24. Cindy is right on. ;-) The kids' behaviour is natural and normal. Let them be and they will grow up fine. Better than fine because they have opposite sex siblings and can indulge their very natural and innocent curiosity in a safe environment. The last thing you want to do is instill shame in them. Let them be your guide. They will let you know when they want more privacy from each other (and you). I've also got four kids, ages 8 mos. through 12.5 years, a boy smack in the middle of three girls. I will admit that I've been uncomfortable over the years with their natural curiosity at young ages but I always tried to leave well enough alone and, sure enough, they've let me know when they've wanted more privacy as they get older.

  25. I have all girls, so I'm no help there. However, we have made a point to talk to our girls from the time they were about 2 or 3 about their "special places." We use the book "The Swimsuit Lesson" by Jon Holsten. ( The idea is that any body parts covered by your swimsuit are special and private places that are not for anyone else to touch. The book encourages children to come and tell mom and dad if anyone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

    We tell our girls that Mommy and Daddy can touch their special places to help them clean or to make sure they are healthy, and that their doctor can check that their special places are healthy. Other than that, no one touches anyone else's special places, including brothers or sisters. They don't "get it" in the way an adult would, but it is definitely teaching them boundaries, and opening an important dialog.

  26. Hi Jen. I LOVE your blog. Just LOVE it.

    When I first read this post, I thought it was one of your funny ones. While it is very funny, after reading the comments, I've realised that you and your commenters are serious. Without wanting to use the same vehemence as Cindy, I must say, I do share some of her point of view.

    To the commenter who said that THREE is when you stop undressing in front of your children, I think you may have been fed a line there. Everything I have read about healthy sexuality says that the more you normalise the human body, the LESS likely kids are to get into trouble later. You can still do this while teaching boundaries and privacy. eg we get dressed in the bathroom or bedroom. We close the door when you go to the toilet. etc etc etc.

    Having secrets and feeling you have to keep secrets is a tool that abusers use to control children. We actively work against secrets and treat secrets as BAD. Keeping a present hidden from a sibling is a surprise, not a secret. We use words such as "If you want to share how you feel inside, you can ALWAYS tell mum and dad. Feelings can be personal but are never secrets."
    We try and move along at the kids pace. If they are still innocent and just at the giggling stage at five, and no-ones feelings are getting hurt, then that is fine with us. If they show signs of being uncomfortable or if the fun play is not fun for someone anymore, then we make other arrangements.

    By the way, my husband is a safety engineer and he blanched and cringed when I told him the part about standing up in the bath. That was the bit that got him worked up! Better not tell him that his own kids do it in his own bath upstairs!!!!

    Jen, I live in awe of your passion, humour, love and energy. Thanks for your blog.

    Sorry about the long winded comment.

  27. I totally LOVE reading your blog and laugh and laugh at your great stories. You are a wonderful writer. I hope you are planning on a book someday. As to the issue at hand, do what you feel is right. You're a great parent and you know your kids. I just enjoyed hearing the story!

  28. I think William is hilarious!!
    I wouldn't worry about them sharing a bath, as long as they know that their parts are private. My oldset three, 2 boys and a girl shared the bath up until they were too big to fit comfortably and showers became easier, I think they were 6,8 and 10yrs.
    Although if you are uncomfortable with it, separate them, every house has different rules, as I tell my kids on a daily basis!!

  29. I wouldn't worry about modestly too much at this age, maybe in another year or two, but I would still bath them seperately from a purely practical viewpoint. I don't know how you manage to fit three 5-year-olds and a 2-year-old in the same bath without it getting very crowded, I often bath three boys(oldest of whom is five) and I find that very crowded and have thought about bathing the older boy seperately

  30. My experience is that one day they will become modest and then you won't have to worry anymore. Different kids reach this point at different times. My one DS was impossible to potty train, but once he was, he no longer allowed anyone into the bathroom with him. My other DS (his twin) couldn't have cared less.

    I stopped bathing the boys with DD when it became clear they didn't want it anymore.

  31. I have a 6 year old girl and a 3 year old boy and I still bathe them together, although I am on the verge of starting to split them up. But I think I'm going to let them keep bathing together as long as THEY feel comfortable with it. I can see that it's not going to last much longer as my daughter is starting to develop more of a sense of modesty. I don't think it's really a problem. Private parts ARE funny and they STILL make me giggle sometimes. :) I am trying to teach my kids that their bodies are their own and that they are not to touch each other's private parts, but obviously they see them since they share a room and bathe together. But they are just being kids and sometimes they act goofy and silly and although it sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable I don't usually do too much about it unless they are really crossing a line. And I am trying to help them learn that what is appropriate at home with family is not the same in public. I mean there's a time and a place, right? But I really agree with those who said that they will soon enough develop the desire for privacy and if it's easier for you to bathe them together and you are comfortable doing so, go for it. :)

  32. My sister and I bathed together for ever until one day my brother who rolled him self up in a carpet that was to be installed in the bathroom walked in the carpet over to the tub. We both screamed, my Mother ran in unrolled him, swatteted him and decided we never bathed again together, five years old when they start to notice, take the time and bathe seperatly.

  33. What's wrong with the human body? While I only have boys, they still take baths together and still love having a bath together. They have a great time in the tub. I do tell the boys not to play inappropriately, but it is in the same way that they are not allowed to grab each other's necks or faces. I don't want them to develop any shame about their bodies. They will develop modesty in their own time.

    But, We're not real modest in my house -- if my boys, who just turned 5, come in while I am taking a shower or getting dressed, then they come in. Usually I am home alone when I am showering, and I am going to leave the door open. I don't parade around the house naked, but if they see me, they see me.

    If you stop bathing them together, what are you going to do about the bathroom when you are out in public? Or if you are at the swimming pool without your DH to take the boys?

  34. LOL, you must tell us what your fellow board member thinks of Cindy's suggestions ;)...

    I just have my one, but I dunnno. All families have different rules about nudity. Growing up in my house, everyone was covered up from as far back as I can remember. No lounging around in underwear or sharing baths. No one ever shamed it or even addressed it really, it's just the way it was. I feel like covering yourself up is just respectful to the others in the home.

    My husband grew up differently, and prefers to spend his relax time in a t-shirt in underwear. My daughter is one, and just the other day, in fact, I was telling him that he needs to start getting used to wearing shorts, because she will start noticing soon.

    Of course, that's the issue of adult nudity. As far as children go? If I were in your shoes, I'd probably start taking William out of the tub and bathing the girls together/boys together. Then in the very near future, doing them all separately. But that's about me and my comfort level. Like I said, it's such a tough issue because every family is different.

    Ultimately, it's your decision. I don't feel like what you were doing was shaming anything at used the words "respect" and "private." I don't think anything in that will teach your children to feel shamed at all. I think you're doing great! Obviously is was an excellent question, because there is no clear cut answer.

  35. Ohhh.. Long time reader here, first time commenter (I think..). Couldn't resist this one. I have a 10 year old girl, 5 year old girl, and 23 month old boy. The girls used to bath together until, well I think my middle girl went right from bathing with her big sister, to bathing with her little brother, who would have been around age 1? The oldest girl was requesting private time in the bath, and it was a none issue until then. (I guess she would have been about 7 or 8?) It never occured to me to seperate them before, as they were girls and liked to play together in there anyhow.
    My middle girl and little boy will likely bath together until either a request for privacy, or I find them getting too curious. There have been a few times that they have said or done something slightly innapropriate (that usually makes me laugh more than anything else) and then I will tell them to keep their hands (or thoughts) to themselves.
    I think bathing your girls and boys seperately would be the easiest for them and for you?? I find the older they get the less time they really need to "play" anyhow, so adjusting their bath times alittle wouldn't really keep you tied up bathing all evening.

  36. Yes, it is about what you teach them, but you have to be comfortable too. As an earlier commenter stated, every home has their own rules. Maybe at 5, they are old enough to be taught how to shower on their own? Then a bath becomes a fun treat every once in a while.

  37. I just recently started insisting on seperate boys/girls bathtime and/or showering here because I found the curiosity a bit much (and that is IF they are together at all). I have a 11-1/2yo girl; 10yo boy; 8yo girl; 6yo boy. There was a time when I could fit them all together. The oldest two stopped bathtime together eons ago and it was mostly the 6yo getting tossed in with whomever. Once it moved from pure innocence to something I was uncomfortable, I simply made it a 'because I said so' moment. We've had the 'bathing suit' talk (if it's covered by that, it's private) and now they are begging for privacy in general any ways.

  38. I'd hate to think the "age 3" rule above is true... or my five-year-old triplet boys who still shower with me are destined for trouble. ;)

    Actually, I've just started considering the time for them showering with me is coming to an end... because one boy complimented my breasts and asked if he could start nursing. Now there's a sign that transition time is coming, eh?

    More than anything, though, I'm thinking it's time to start the discussion with them about "private parts" (a term we have never used because we want to keep the boys comfortable about the human body for as long as possible) because the boys are going to school in a few months. That means for several hours each day they will not be with me or my husband or their grandparents. That's a first, and now that they are out of our eyesight, they need to be aware of what parts of them people can and cannot touch. Same goes for the 'don't talk to strangers' discussion, which until now we've only just touched on. Time to break out John Walsh's "Stranger Safety" video.

  39. Mine are a year older than yours and have been taking showers and getting dressed by themselves for a year now. Each one gets their own shower, washes their own hair, dries themselves off, and gets dressed alone.

    Try it. It is SO EASY. They just get their towel and go get showered. I LOVE it.

  40. Next time we do an ED . . . remind me to tell you the "Fur China" story . . . . .

    Yous - J

  41. Recommended reading:
    From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children
    by Debra W. Haffner

    She suggests that it's all OK until the kids start giggling nervously. Not to sum up the entire book in one sentence, but just to give you a quick answer. :)