When should parents stop being naked in front of their children?
This is a question asked by journalist Kelly Wallace on CNN and it is probably one asked by parents the world over.
Perhaps I should declare at this point that I am not a parent myself, so everything I write here is the result of research and thinking about it. What happens in real life… well, that’s another matter entirely. As for my own experiences as a child I would sit in the same room, reading the latest edition of the Beano or Dandy, as my mum got dressed. Not that I saw her naked as she would turn her back to me and use a dressing gown to provide a degree of privacy. I also grew up at a time when it was still common to have an outside lavatory and even now, I can see the lighted end of mum’s cigarette bobbing up and down as she chatted to me in the dark, as she used the loo. As for bath time, mum was given the most privacy with my brothers and I excluded from the kitchen where the old tin bath was located for the duration, a towel would be draped over a window in the kitchen door that would otherwise allowed light to filter throughout the ground floor. Dad was give some privacy from us boys but we had the least and mum and dad would wonder in and out of the kitchen as necessary while we were in the bath, even when my older brothers were in their teens. I tell you this just so you can put the rest of this post into context, but later my parents had a bathroom added to the house and we were given the same amount of privacy when we went to the toilet or had a bath, which was total. Only much later, when I briefly acted as carer for my mother did I see her naked.
So, back to the question in the title, when should parents stop being naked in front of their kids?
Kelly Wallace joked the only person who signed up for the privilege of seeing her naked was her husband, while her kids hadn’t. Yet, she doesn’t cover up in front of her daughters (aged seven and eight) as she’s getting dressed or in the bathroom as Wallace didn’t want them growing up thinking that there is anything wrong with her or their bodies. Wallace continued: ‘when they ask hilarious questions such as “Mom, why do your boobs hang?” I can’t help but laugh and use the opportunity as a chance to tell them my body has changed over time and theirs will too.’
In researching her article, Wallace spoke to parents all over North America and found, as with so many things in life, there is no one answer. One mother of three said that when their children were little, both she and her husband would not hide their bodies from them, as a way to teach them not to be ashamed of theirs. But, the mother admitted, as they got older her husband was more discrete around their daughters and she, their son, not because they had become uncomfortable with their nudity around their children but because they might be. [My emphasis]
For She Knows – a website for women to empower women – Michelle Maffei wrote an article that was introduced with: ‘Find out what the experts say about when you should start practising modesty around your youngsters’. By ‘experts’ it means two: Drs Fran Walfish and Carole Lieberman, who both say that by the time the child is six, parents should be setting an example by stopping shared bath times, and closing the door as they dressed or undressed. Yet, Maffei also writes: ‘Just keep in mind that presenting your children with a negative attitude towards nudity can cause your youngster to form a negative view of their own sexuality’
Canadian blogger, Julian Page, also asked if adult nudity had any impact, knowing that some parents took their young children to nude swims, and wondered if there would be a time when they stopped taking them. ‘Is there an age,’ she asks, ‘when children should not be seeing their parents naked [or hang out in] social nudism settings?’
In an attempt to answer that question, Page quoted another doctor – Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of Yale Parenting Centre – who told Yahoo Parenting: ‘All things considered, there is no one guideline as to what you should do and at what age. Culture makes a huge difference. Religion makes a huge difference as do parents’ own individual attitudes to the body.’ [My emphasis]
Two other Canadian bloggers (Her Bad Mother by Catherine Connors and PhD in Parenting by Annie) wrote in 2009 how their [then] young children enjoyed life without clothes. Connors even introduced her daughter as a: ‘…unrepentant clothes-doffing, underwear-eschewing, bum-baring, breeze-loving, parts-showing nudist.’ Even so, they worried they were passing on their own fears and insecurities about body image to their children and on to the next generation. Connors wrote: ‘I love that my daughter so exults in her physical being that she is so unreservedly comfortable with her physical self. And yet I catch myself, sometimes, pestering her about sweaters and socks and underpants.’
Meanwhile Annie, in PhD in Parenting, wrote: ‘When I hear stories about women who are ashamed to breastfeed in public, people who are ashamed to don a bathing suit, people who will only have sex in the dark, I wonder what happened to make them feel that way? Who told them to be ashamed of their bodies?’ Annie went on: ‘If they are to have a fighting chance of surviving those horrific influences on body image, I think our kids need our encouragement and support, in embracing and exploring their bodies as children.’
Neither blogger said they spent anytime naked with their children, as Connors wrote: ‘I’m not a compact little person, and I might knock over coffee mugs with my pendulous boobs and, also, frighten any passers-by who might look in the windows.’ Even so there were plenty of comments by readers of both blogs who admitted that they did and approved of the two women’s reasoning for allowing their children to be play naked.
Before you start thinking that all this is from the other side of the pond and therefore does not affect us Brits, The Daily Mail (28/08/2014) published an article that featured Jules Pomerance, a 44-year old mother of three who: ‘happily potters around the house in the nude, doesn’t wrap a towel around herself when she leaves the bathroom after a shower and she and husband Nigel (45) often enjoy a naked snuggle in bed with [their son and two daughters].’ While their daughters Daisy (ten) and Lily (seven) are still of an age not to raise too many concerns by such behaviour, their son Jordan is 13-years old and the article asked the question: Is it unhealthy for boys to see their mothers undressed once they have reached puberty or, indeed, at any age?