Dear Juli, I’m the mom of two teenage girls. I know I need to talk to them about sex but honestly, I don’t know where to begin. My sex life is a mess. My husband and I have relied on porn in our marriage for years. I have abuse in my past that I’ve never dealt with. I feel so messed up in my own life … how can I possibly help my daughters?
One of the greatest barriers to honest conversations about sex with our kids (especially teens and young adults) is our own sexual brokenness. In one sense, this is a good thing. The pastor or parent who forges ahead with “thou shalt not” while harboring sexual sin is nothing short of a hypocrite. We know from volumes of research that the quickest way to lose your teen is such hypocrisy. Teens and young adults are far more impressed by authenticity than perfection.
While we may feel appropriately hesitant to set boundaries that we ourselves are not following, the answer is not to stay silent while our children wade through the cesspool of pornography, sexting, and sexual experimentation. As a parent, you may be determined to save your children from the pain and bondage you have experienced. But how do you throw a life preserver when you are drowning in the same waters?
Become a desperate parent.
Jesus interacted with parents, like the religious ruler named Jarius, who came to the Lord not for their own salvation, but for the sake of their children. Many parents who lack the faith to pursue God for their own healing will do so because they love their children. In fact, Christians who have fallen away from church and God often return because they want their children to know the spiritual life they themselves once rejected.
Perhaps God has been knocking on your door, inviting you to sexual healing and confession, but you’ve been unwilling to open that door for your own sake. Would you be willing to believe for the sake of your children?
The enemy would love to keep your family stuck in the bondage of shame, immobilized to pursue the truth and love of Jesus. He’s had his way in your home for too long. God desires to bring healing into your life, your marriage, and your family for your children’s sake, but also for yours. Remember that you are His child.
Be honest without sharing detail.
I have spoken to many different audiences over years of ministry. Nothing makes me more uneasy than speaking to teenagers. They don’t pretend to care or to be listening. If you can’t capture them in the first few minutes, they are happy to be entertained by their smartphones and friends while you stammer on with advice and wisdom. I once asked a youth pastor, “What’s the secret to speaking to teens?” His reply was simple. “Teens sniff out hypocrisy within 30 seconds. You have to be yourself. They want to see that they can relate to you. If you try to impress them, you’ll lose them.”
While your sexual brokenness and failures may seem to disqualify you from sexually discipling your teen, the opposite is probably true. Your son or daughter is struggling with sexual questions and temptations. He or she doesn’t need an expert to explain how to perfectly navigate these landmines, but rather what to do when one blows up in your face.
Perhaps the greatest credibility comes from honestly sharing what God is teaching you. I would advise against sharing details (your grandfather abused me, I cheated on your mom, I just looked at porn last night) because they will burden your child. But you can authentically share something like, “Sexual struggles have plagued me since I was your age. I’m only now beginning to understand what it means for God to bring healing and freedom. I want to save you from so many years of pain that I have had to walk through.”
Authentically sharing with your teen presents you as a safe person to ask questions and share struggles. Not every teen will feel comfortable talking about sexual temptations and thoughts with their parents, but it is critical to keep that invitation open.
Remember that you are not the Savior.
Discipleship can be summed up with this statement, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.” Many of us think of parenting more like, “Follow me as I try to act like Jesus.” There is a subtle but critical difference between those two sentiments.
The power in my child’s life is not how perfectly I try to emulate my Savior, but how consistently I pursue Him. Do they see my weakness leading me to His strength? Do they see my failures pointing to His perfection?
I’m at the stage of parenting in which my sons are leaving home. They are forging their own identity, belief system, and life choices. I don’t want them to be like me. I long for them to be like Jesus. I can’t fix their problems or answer all of their questions or heal their wounds, but I know the One who can.
Paul famously wrote about a “thorn in the flesh,” a messenger from Satan that kept him humble. When he repeatedly asked for God to take it away, the reply was, “My grace is enough for you. My power will be made perfect through your weakness.”
Your children can’t learn from a “perfect” parent. They need to see God’s strength, not yours. Although the accuser may remind you of your failures to discourage you, remember that “boasting in our weakness” points our children to the only One who can save and redeem them.
You may also find the following resources helpful:
- Java with Juli #3: Mom, I’m Pregnant (member exclusive)
- Java with Juli #196: Public Me v. Private Me (member exclusive)
- Java with Juli #118: When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex (member exclusive)
- Java with Juli #166: We’re All Sexually Broken
- Java with Juli #220: Rethinking Sexuality in Your Parenting (member exclusive)