My child asked me if I'm having sex – this is what I told her

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

I try to be open and honest with my kids about pretty much everything, in an age-appropriate way, of course. But when I started dating again after my divorce, I realised just how messy and complicated parenting honestly can sometimes be.

My younger two children – both under eight – are happily oblivious to what I get up to when they're at their dad's place. If something doesn't affect them in a direct way, they couldn't care less, and I'm happy to keep it that way with them for as long as I can.

My 13-year-old is another story. She's a curious person to begin with (some would say nosy), but she also spends more time with me at my house than my smaller two, so I knew it was something I needed to tackle.

It took me a few months to work up the energy to tell my teenager that I'm dating. I thought long and hard about what I was going to say, and then cautiously broached the subject one evening over dinner.

"So, how would you feel if I started dating again?" I asked, holding my breath while trying to look casual.

She shrugged. "Fine," she said in that studiously nonchalant fashion teenagers are excellent at.

"Okay, well maybe I'm dating a little bit," I said.

My teenager rolled her eyes. "I know, Mum," she sighed. "I've known for ages you've got Tinder on your phone."

Right. Ahem. Well then…

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Things rolled on comfortably for a while after that. My daughter would occasionally ask me what was happening, if I'd met anyone nice, what their name was and what star sign they were.

When I started seeing the same person for a few months, the questioning became more intense. What's his full name? Is he on Facebook? (Oh god, please don't let my child stalk my boyfriend – how incredibly awkward!) When am I seeing him again? When can she meet him?

Like middle aged dating doesn't come with enough pressure and weirdness, adding a curious teen to the mix can be seriously nerve-racking.

But it was then that my daughter reached a new level of curiosity with the big question I wasn't prepared for.

"Have you had sex with him?"

When I was growing up, the last thing I wanted to think about was whether or not my mother was having sex. When did kids start getting past that?

I never want to be dishonest with my children, but I would also rather have my fingernails removed with a pair of pliers than talk about my sex life with them. And I also wondered if she was really prepared for the answer if I gave it to her.

But I realise that while it's great to be open and honest when talking to kids about adult relationships, there is also a line between appropriate and inappropriate information.

I told my daughter that the intimate goings on in my relationship are private and – with all due love and respect – none of her damn business. Just as I certainly won't want to know all of the details of her relationships in the (hopefully quite distant) future.

She seemed satisfied with that answer – especially when she saw how it might apply to her life some day. There's nothing like the promise of impending parental embarrassment to pull a teenager into line.

For now we're working on a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which suits us just fine.