What You Need to Know About When Your Kids Need Privacy
Not going to lie, when my daughter started slamming her door and saying she hated me —when she was four years old, mind you—I was more than a little bit thrilled. Because until then, she was at my side always, never, ever volunteering to spend time by herself for any reason whatsoever. She is a true extrovert, and I an introvert, and it felt like she was sucking the energy out of me at times, and not just because she's a kid and I'm a parent. No, we could be sitting on the couch side by side, and she would get filled up, and I would get more tired. It was a direct exchange.
So with that door slam, I was wondering: is this it? Is this the beginning of her need for privacy?
Nope. The slamming, stomping, and shouting was just a new form of communication she was trying out.
It wasn't until my daughter was in the second half of her sixth year on this planet that she specifically requested privacy. I was surprised, but also suspicious of the request. My spidey-senses tingled.
See, I had had another baby about six months earlier. From that point on, she was asking more specific questions about her body, my body, the baby's body, and even her dad's body. For me, it was heaven. Let's talk about bodies! Let's name parts and talk about what they do!
She knew babies didn't come from "mommy's tummy." Being a doula and childbirth educator, she had been saying uterus and umbilical cord for some time, but these were different. Her questions were situating those terms into a context about systems, and seeing similarities and differences.
I was seeing my daughter entering an age of accountability, or a new phase of self-awareness, or her curiosity was turning inward instead of strictly outward. I didn't know which.
So this first request for privacy was unexpected but specific. "Mom, I want some privacy, but stand on the other side of the door in case I need you." It was bath time, and I was happy to oblige.
She shared later she wanted to wash her hair, and use as much soap as she liked, but she was also nervous about getting soap in her eyes and needing help.
Made sense. I was impressed, really. She showed sound logic there with a backup plan.
A few weeks later, I was puttering in the kitchen, and I had not seen my daughter for about 15 minutes. I went upstairs, and she was inside her room behind a closed and locked door. A firm knock led to some rustling, her closet door closing, and then her bedroom door opening.
"Hi. What are you doing?"
"Nothing, I just want some privacy."
"Okay. No problem. Do you need anything?"
"Okay. Can you tell me what you have in your closet?"
"Can I see?"
She showed me she just had clothes in her closet—but it was all pushed to one side.
"Okay. Thanks. I’ll be downstairs."
I walked to the stairs and paused. I heard the closet door open and closed again.
I walked back.
I knocked on the door.
I heard the closet open, and again she opened her door.
"Hi," I said.
"I have a quick question. Do you want privacy because you are exploring your body?"
"Cool. We should all know about our bodies."
"I didn't want to tell you."
"Okay. You don't have to tell me more. I just wanted to let you know a few things before I go back downstairs so you can be safe. Okay?"
Then we talked about things that are important to know. "Wash your hands," and "don't put things in your body," and "this is not a game, and we don't do this with other people, even if they are adults." I also told her that privacy is important, both having it for ourselves and giving it to other people.
When I was growing up, I had loads of time to myself if I wanted. We were super free kids, living in the country and had space to roam. That roaming let me do things and learn things that I wanted my children to experience. I was nervous my daughter would not have the opportunity to do the same type of self-exploration in the outdoors that had helped me so much when I was young.
But what I have come to realize is that there are plenty of opportunities for exploration and adventuring, wherever we are. And navigating seemingly difficult conversations with honesty and bravery are a part of that adventuring. The way my husband and I have decided to raise our children, being sex-positive as possible, has meant having this conversation about privacy was easy. It is a space to be vulnerable and open with our child.
Having autonomy is one of the essential components of thriving kids. Being able to make decisions gives them confidence, and improves their self-esteem, logic, and reasoning, and helps them assess risk and reward without unnecessary pressure.
Here are a few key features of our conversations that may be helpful:
1. We remove teasing and shameful rhetoric.
2. We make ourselves available to answer questions, using appropriate language and accurate names for body parts in our answers.
3. We share what is safe and unsafe.
4. We give guidelines for when and where the actions or activities are appropriate.
5. We model appropriate behavior, including admitting when we don't know something.
6. We say we love her and that we appreciate having the conversation.
I recently had a chance to see Glennon Doyle speak, and she gave a great definition of bravery that I hope to impart in my children. Paraphrasing here, she said that being brave isn't about feeling fear and doing it anyway. It's about knowing your desire and acting in accordance with that desire regardless of what others are doing.
It is a brave thing to know yourself. And how does a young girl get to know herself if she never gets to spend time alone with her?