How not to raise a Josh Duggar

When the first news about Josh Duggar broke earlier this year, I was rapt with curiosity. Questions swirled and surfaced. What makes an older sibling experiment sexually on his younger siblings? What key elements of upbringing were missing from his childhood? What conversations were either had or not had that left him feeling like inappropriately touching his sisters was the most accessible form of experimentation? Was there an emotional void? Psychological imbalance? Genetic predisposition? Is he just bad?

Lest we wag our fingers at people like Josh Duggar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, or former President Bill Clinton (ahem), we must remember that we all screw up. We all manifest our shortcomings by acting out in specific ways. The only difference between us and them is that they are public figures, which does not warrant a free pass for us to lose our minds with criticism.

Instead of raising my eyebrows in condemnation, I turn my attention inward, into my own home, where we have been charged to raise two healthy, productive, respectful men in a world where so much is stacked against them. 

As a parent, I’m hesitant to blame Josh Duggar’s parents. We’re all doing what we think is best for our children, so I have a hard time believing that Jim Bob and Michelle chose their specific path of sexual education knowing in the back of their minds, “Hey, I think this could totally screw up our kids, but let’s forge ahead anyway!”

No, it couldn’t have been like that.

And now it looks like Josh Duggar didn’t reconcile his sexual curiosities in adolescence after all. While he might have made some attempts to walk the straight and narrow and marry his wife with the best of intentions, he’s fallen short again and, again, it has to do with whatever jumbled mess is inside his head about sexuality. He is clearly still grappling with whatever went awry years ago, and honestly, how he and his wife handle their mess is none of my business. Actually, I don’t even care.

The bottom line is this – how can I make sure my own boys do not grow up with such insecurity and misinformation that they philander themselves all over the place?

To start, Chuck and I agree that talking about sex with our boys is not single discussion. It’s a collaboration of conversations that go on indefinitely. We’ve already had candid discussions with Jeremy and we’ll continue having them as necessary. We seek to answer his questions honestly with appropriate language and in keeping with what we view as standard, acceptable behavior in this household.

As far as what “standard, acceptable behaviors” are, we fall somewhere between the Duggars and the Kardashians.

Second, sex cannot be taboo, and that’s a hard concept for me to grasp. We all recoil when we think about saying certain words in front of our kids, but how else will they learn to respect and honor this physical and emotional act of expression? We can’t shut down, we can’t shoo them away, we can’t save that conversation for another time. For the love of all things holy, we cannot leave it to the health teacher. If kids don’t get this information from us, they’ll get it elsewhere.

Case in point: On the way home from something earlier this week, Jeremy and I were alone in the car when he starts a conversation about sex. He doesn’t say the word, but I knew what he was getting at and I wasn’t going to let shame slip in where sex should be.

Jeremy: Have we had “The Talk?”

Me: Yes. Don’t you remember?

J: Well yeah, but [neighborhood kid] says they’re gonna have “The Talk” in health class this year and he’s dreading it.

Me: Yeah, they do that in school. They separate the boys and girls and talk about puberty.

J: Is that what “The Talk” is?

Me: You know what it is. Just say it.

J: I don’t want to say it.

Me: It’s not a bad thing. Don’t be ashamed. Just say it.

J: Ugh.

Me: The minute you start thinking you can’t say the word it becomes this secretly bad thing and it’s not. Just say it.

J: SEX! Okay? “The Talk” is about sex.

I died a little but pressed on.

Me: See? Be confident in your knowledge. And remember this doesn’t mean you are responsible for spreading the news around the neighborhood. That’s up to your friends’ parents. But in our house? Don’t be ashamed.

While I hated every minute of that conversation, I also loved it. I feel like it was right, and no matter how uncomfortable right makes me, I have to do it. Too much is at stake.

This brings me to the third thing we have decided to teach our kids about sex, or rather, about the nature of sex. Privacy is not the same as secrecy. Privacy creates a space of respect and responsibility while secrecy produces feelings of shame and stigma. We talk about sex with parameters because it’s a private subject, not because it produces shame and humiliation.

Honestly, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. I know fully that everything can go to crap at any point, so I’m not claiming that we’ve got this subject mastered. Heck, we’ve only just begun down this is a long, strange, scary road. At any time my boys could be exposed to something at a friend’s house. They could skillfully hack our parental controls. They could rummage through our movie collection and find something that has five seconds of exhilaration. They could do something I haven’t even thought of yet.

All of you with teenagers and college students are saying, “JUST WAIT AND SEE.” I hear you, parents. I hear you, and I welcome your advice and experience and support.

As I await all hell to break loose, my hope and prayer is that our home remains a place of conversation, and even if we don’t have all the answers, I strive to stand in the confidence that we’re doing our best.

Of course, maybe that’s what the Duggars thought they were doing with Josh.

Nature talk on a nature walk

While Jackson was at a church activity last Wednesday, Jeremy and I took Major for a nature walk at the Greenway. By nature walk, I mean I didn’t calculate anyone’s heart rate or attempt specific mileage. We strolled. We looked. We chased squirrels. Nature-y stuff.

Just when I thought our conversation was safe and comfortable with hawks and their prey, Jeremy swung us in another direction (as usual) by asking why specifically Chuck and I could not conceive a child. Not generally, mind you. Not in a “God wanted us to adopt you” kind of infertility answer, but a real, biological, uncomfortable, and blushing kind of answer.

Yeah, I told him. I said all the words I needed to say so he could understand biologically why we were infertile. We also talked about DNA, explaining why his physical features resemble his biological aunt, why my face is similar to Grandma’s but my height is from Grandpa, why Chuck is the spitting image of Papaw. We talked about how he may get mannerisms from us simply because we live together and our habits rub off on one another, to which he replied, “Which is why I’m funny like Dad.” Yes, exactly.

Our ten year old is growing up fast. Since he is quickly unsatisfied with simple answers, Chuck and I have chosen to give Jeremy more information regarding these mature topics much sooner than we anticipated. We already know that Jackson is readily able to accept answers like, “Ah, buddy, you don’t need to worry about that stuff right now.” But Jeremy is wholly insulted by such a reply. He is mature and almost an adult, because being ten is being a pre-teen, which is almost a teenager, which is practically an adult. (As you can see, Jeremy is nearing retirement.)

All this is to say that I can no longer assume that a nature stroll with this child will be casual. Instead, it’s Jeremy’s primetime. It’s the opportunity to ask questions without little brother around, without other distractions, with Mom’s full attention.

Our conversations, as a whole, are shifting in this house. Case in point: On the way home from the pumpkin patch Friday night, we didn’t talk about autumn things. We didn’t talk about Halloween or costumes or the corn maze. We didn’t talk about carving the pumpkins we just picked.

No, we talked about what it means to be a wingman.

It all started when Jackson lovingly said to me, “Mom, you’re my wingwoman.”

Oh really?

“Where did you hear that word?” I asked.

“On Wimpy Kid,” he said.

“Do you know what a wingman is?”

“No,” said Jack.

To which Jeremy piped up and answered, “I do. It’s a guy who helps you get a girl.”

“Well, yes, I suppose that’s right,” I said.

Then Chuck entered the conversation and explained more fully what a wingman is, and I just sunk deep into the passenger seat wishing for the good ole days of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.