Q: Our preschooler recently walked in on us while we were having sex. Should we be concerned that this will have any negative long-term effects on him? I tried to cover up as best I could, but I could tell he was upset. I'm feeling very guilty about this.
Jim: Other parents who've experienced the panic of "children interruptus" -- and have since installed locks on their bedroom doors -- know just how you feel. But you don't need to be overly concerned about what your son witnessed. He may have been a bit confused by what he saw, but if he hasn't brought it up since, I doubt that the incident has caused any long-term damage.
There's no reason for you to feel guilty about this. Sex is an important element of marriage and a normal part of family life. When you're a parent, things like this can happen from time to time, and it's best to take it in stride and move on.
I'd encourage you, though, to use this incident as a place to begin talking about sex and sexuality with your son. Approach this as a lifelong learning process, not a one-time "birds and bees" discussion. As a preschooler, he's old enough to understand some basic concepts about human sexuality, provided they're presented in age-appropriate language. At the most basic level, he needs to know that sexuality is not something scary and shameful, but a wonderful gift from God designed to be expressed between a husband and wife.
Among other things, this may help you resolve your feelings of guilt. It will also go a long way toward helping him clear up any remaining confusion over what he saw.
Q: Our teenage daughter is out of control. She's disrespectful to us, and she's causing problems in school. She's never been like this before. It's so out of character for her. We try to talk to her, and she just says there's nothing wrong. We're at our breaking point and feel so helpless. Is it time for counseling?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: We often hear from weary parents who have reached the end of their rope with a strong-willed adolescent. You're not alone!
When it comes to her behavior, it's critical that you lay out your expectations in advance and make sure that your daughter understands them. The consequences for rebellious or disobedient behavior should also be spelled out beforehand, and the implementation of those consequences should be prompt and consistent. Your daughter will likely challenge these standards at every opportunity, but it's crucial to keep your cool in the face of defiance. Don't give her an opportunity to seize control of the situation.
Also, keep in mind that teens of all temperaments are in the process of trying to form an identity. This can often play itself out in behavior calculated to define "self" in opposition to the values, beliefs, wishes and instructions of the parents. This is another reason why consistent guidelines are so important. They should be divided into at least three different categories: non-negotiable rules, negotiable rules, and rules that can be discarded as your daughter matures and demonstrates a growing ability to regulate her own behavior.
Is it time for counseling? That's a tough determination to make from afar, but you might start by calling Focus on the Family for a free consultation with one of our licensed marriage and family therapists.
Finally, don't lose hope! We hear from many parents who are ready to give up on their volatile teens, only to see them reach a more mature equilibrium after high school. In the meantime, just hang on and pray!
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.