By Joan Allaby
I escaped to my bedroom to read after the busyness of supper was over. My husband settled into his favorite position on the couch to watch yet another hour of secret alliances and betrayal on Survivor. Monica, our 17-year-old daughter, had disappeared into her room earlier with her laptop. Propped against a couple of pillows, an afghan draped over my legs, I relaxed with my latest library pick.
I had read only a couple of pages when there was soft knock at my bedroom door. Before I could answer, my daughter poked her head around the door.
“You busy?” she asked, coming into the room and closing the door after her. She climbed onto the end of the bed and sat facing me, her long legs curled under her.
I placed my current bookmark, an old grocery list written on the back of an envelope, between the pages of my book. “Of course not. What’s up?”
Having “The Talk” Backwards: Asking Mom For Birth Control
Monica played with the fringe of the afghan. Her head was bent and her long, strawberry-blonde hair partly obscured her face. But then she looked up, and her face blushed soft pink. Her words came out in a rush. “Well, you know, Michael and I have been together for almost a year and a half now, and we’re pretty serious, and, well, don’t you think it’s time we talked about birth control?”
“We” she had said, meaning she and I.
“Wow. Ah, okay. Yes.” I sit up straighter on my bed, setting my book aside. I feel my face getting warm.
That was not what I had been expecting. Not that I had been expecting anything in particular, but there were any number of things she might have wanted to talk about: A school project she was having trouble with, the latest undeserved criticism from her yearbook advisor (She was editor this year.), something she wanted to buy, anything but birth control. Birth control meant sex. It meant she and Michael wanted to have sex. It probably meant they’d gotten pretty close to having sex. Maybe on her bed in the room across the hall. I hadn’t expected it, but I was suddenly having the talk with my daughter.
I liked Michael. He was a tall, personable young man, a good student from a good family. In fact, I discovered soon after they’d started dating that his mother was my optometrist, a woman I’d always liked. A talented musician, he played bass in the high school jazz band and cello in the youth orchestra. He was Monica’s first long-term, serious boyfriend.
When Should We Have Had The Talk?
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the topic. I’m not naïve, and I don’t wear blinders all the time. I had wondered recently how far their physical relationship had progressed and knew that it was probably time to be having the talk with my daughter about sex and birth control. But I wasn’t sure when to have the talk. And if I could put the discussion off for a little while longer, well, that suited me fine.
My daughter and I have a good relationship. We talk. When she comes in from school, she tells me about her day: The joke her biology teacher said during the frog dissection that day, her struggles in math class, her frustrations with her yearbook co-editor, her worries about university next year. But despite our usual easy rapport, I now found myself stumbling over my words. This is not how a modern mother should react!
“I thought you might have said something by now about it,” Monica said.
“Yes, well, I should have,” I agreed. “I find it kind of hard to talk about.”
Should I have just admitted to her that I was embarrassed? That I didn’t know how to broach the topic, so I just put it off? That I’m actually a throwback to the 1950s: An old-fashioned, conservative parent who would prefer to think of her little girl as chaste and unsullied, never experiencing sexual urgings? After all, my mother brought up the topic of sex and birth control the day before my wedding. (I was 26 years old and had had several boyfriends by that time.) She had asked me if she needed to tell me about “things,” or did I already know what I needed to know. It wasn’t necessary, I had reassured her. I already knew. And that was the end of the conversation. But that conversation wouldn’t work now.
The Daughter is Smarter Than the Mom
“Just because I’m on birth control doesn’t mean I’m going to have sex,” she told me. “It’s just something I’m thinking about.” She slid off the bed and wandered around the room, fiddling with the hairbrushes on my dresser.
“Of course. You’re being smart and responsible, and I’m glad you came to me. Really, I am,” I reassured her. “I’ll call the doctor’s office tomorrow, okay?”
“You’ll come with me, won’t you?” There was my little girl again.
I got off the bed and stood next to her. “Of course.” I hugged her. My brave girl. I felt her arms go around me. She briefly laid her head on my shoulder. I wondered afterwards how long she had been wanting to talk with me. Had she spent the evening, maybe multiple evenings, practicing her speech over and over in her head, pacing the narrow floor between her bed and dresser waiting for just the right moment? Had she been wondering when her mother would think of having the talk with her daughter?
Two weeks later we sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. She smiled nervously at me when the nurse called her name. Together we entered the examination room.
Maybe a more responsible, proactive, and confident mother would have had the conversation sooner. But I’m pretty proud of myself anyway. I raised a daughter who was able to talk to me when she needed to.
Joan Allaby is a writer from New Brunswick, Canada, and mother of two children. She has successfully navigated the teenage years, and her children are now in their 20s.