What I'm going to tell my daughters about abortion

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Abortion has been a topic we have so far avoided discussing with our girls, but recent news events have put the issue in the spotlight and now they want explanations.

The steady flow of news segments detailing the archaic law changes in the US banning abortion have been difficult to avoid.

My girls, eight, ten and 12, now have questions and this is what I'm going to tell them.

I'm going to keep it very general for now. They're still quite young and at this stage I'd prefer to keep it not too detailed.

When they're older I'll let them guide me in how much more information they need from me, but for now, I'll keep it simple. I'll explain to them what an abortion is and women have many reasons for why they make the difficult decision to have an abortion.

Then I'll them the most important thing – I believe there should be no laws governing a woman's right to choice what she does with her body.

And then I'll them that if they ever chose to terminate a pregnancy that I would continue to love and support them and so would their dad.

I'll let them know that there are good women, and men, in the world who will continue to fight the law changes and if this lunacy spread to Australia, that I would also make my voice heard. And that it's vital women keep fighting for ownership of their own bodies.

Julie Sweet, a psychotherapist and operator of Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, said she's seen an influx of people wanting to discuss the issue of abortion as a direct result of recent media coverage out of the US.

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"When children ask questions about subjects, such as abortion, parents are encouraged to answer and answer honestly," Ms Sweet said.

"Keep in mind their age, answer when asked, with honesty, reach out to resources and support to gain tools, and keep reflecting throughout the process, what is in the best interest of my child."

As children grow older, it's important parents respond with more detail.

"I find some parents coming to me citing fear around telling their children too much, when in fact, it's often the opposite and parents can sometimes say too little. As a result, they can become ambiguous and vague, which can lead to confusion and their teenager feeling unheard," she said.

"Parents need to arm themselves with strategies and up-to-date evidence based research when it comes to talking to their children about these sensitive matters.

"Shying away from tough topics and going 'around' an issue, instead of going 'through' it, fails to build connection which can have a knock effect of failing to build resilience in your child."

She explained that a different approach was required when discussing sensitive topics with younger children.

"Less is more with small children until they're ready, however, when they're teenagers, their capacity increases. And besides, teenagers can sniff avoidance a mile away, which can make them suspicious and consequently withdraw," she said.

"You don't want withdrawal, you want engagement."

Author Susanne Gervay OAM, who specialises in writing 'issues-based' books for children and young adults, said it's best to keep it simple when talking to young children about sensitive issues.

"It's really important that parents realise that they have adult knowledge about these distressing issues," Ms Gervay said.

"When a young child brings up an enquiry, they are not seeking a detailed explanation.

"The child is seeking a simple clarification, as they explore more relevant interests in their lives."

But as they grow older, being aware of what's being discussed as part of the school curriculum will help parents further discussions at home.

"It opens the way for parents to talk to preteens and teenagers about sexuality including abortion, rape and incest," she said.

"It's important to discuss these topics in a non threatening, non prescriptive way, in the course of their lives, such as in the car or at dinner."

By encouraging your kids to read books aimed at various age groups, dealing with sensitive issues, it gives your kids the opportunity to explore the topic in their own time.

"For children and teens, story journey is one of the most effective and safe ways to engage young people in these issues," Ms Gervay said.

"YA (young adult) novels reflect a changing world inviting young people to emotionally engage and think critically about their place in the world and difficult issues.

"These are tough issues and often private ones, that young people can safely explore, opening the way to discussion with parents."