My son follows me from the bathroom door to my closet. As he regales me with a typical little kid story, I secure my towel with one hand and pull underwear out of a drawer with the other. I interrupt him to say, “I’m going to get dressed now.” My son stops long enough to say, “K,” then continues his tale while I let my towel drop and put on my undies. He doesn’t stare or turn away in embarrassment. In fact, he shows no hint of being intrigued or bothered by my naked body at all.
I’m not shy or reserved about being nude in front of my children. I don’t make a point of it, and I don’t wander around our house in the buff, but if my kids are in the room and I want to change my clothes, I don’t kick them out. I let them know I’m going to change and that they are welcome to go out or stay in. They’ve seen me naked since they were babies, so it’s not a huge deal to any of us.
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My daughters are both teens, and my son is 8. We’ve always talked about bodies matter-of-factly, with proper terminology and an attitude of wonderment over all of the amazing things our bodies do. I want my kids develop a healthy love for their bodies, and I’ve tried to lead by example by treating my physical being like an awesome tool and by not showing embarrassment or shame over what it looks like.
When they were really little, it simply seemed silly and unnecessary to go out of my way to avoid being naked in front of my children. They breastfed, so they were right up close and personal with my breasts for the first couple of years of their lives. I bathed with them through toddlerhood, and lord knows they saw me pee enough times to be familiar with my body from the get-go. It didn’t make sense to all of a sudden start hiding parts they’d already seen, as long as they still felt comfortable.
They knew from early on that showing other people our private body parts isn’t appropriate, and we’ve done the whole body safety rules discussion countless times. But mom changing clothes or getting in and out of the bath or shower always fell into a category of its own; just as their being naked in front of me hasn’t ever been inappropriate, them seeing me in the nude hasn’t either.
And we continued down that road until they started wanting privacy to go to the bathroom or to get dressed. For my girls, that was right around when they started puberty. My son has hit that point with other people, but still doesn’t seem fazed by me seeing him in the buff. I know at some point he will start asking me to leave the room, and I’ll do so without question. I imagine it might be sooner than it was with the girls, and I will respect his boundaries.
This is one of those areas of parenting where I’m thankful to have an open, communicative relationship with my kids. We’ve always made sure they know that no topic is off-limits, and we’ve tried to consistently respect their choices about their bodies. As a result, they’re open and honest about what they’re comfortable with. Even as they’ve gotten older and wanted their own privacy, they’ve never expressed any ill feelings about seeing me naked. They are happy to offer me privacy if I ask for it, but it’s no big deal if I don’t.
Part of what helped me develop this approach with my kids was seeing how nudity is handled in other countries. I lived in Japan for a year when I was fresh out of college and would visit the onsen — a natural hot spring made into an indoor public bath. It was gender-separated, but every woman and girl in it would be nude. Being naked in front of a bunch of strangers and not having it be weird was liberating.
The Scandinavian attitude toward nudity in the family also helped. In Swedish and Finnish homes, seeing one another naked just isn’t an issue. They sauna together without any covering. They’re not exhibitionists, and they’re not out wandering around nude in public, but at home with family, occasional nudity is totally normal. I assume that nobody thinks of Swedes and Finns as a bunch of sickos, so clearly there’s nothing inherently harmful in kids seeing their parents naked.
I also think that letting my kids see me naked might mitigate some of their natural curiosity about naked bodies. If kids never see a real, adult body, how are they going to know what to expect as their own bodies grow and change? Drawings in an anatomy textbook? Movies? Porn? That hardly seems healthy. I’d much rather my kids — both my girls and my son — see a normal woman’s body with all of its “imperfections” and see the woman with that body embracing its awesomeness.
As long as your kids are okay with it and you’re okay with it, there’s nothing wrong with kids seeing you naked. Follow their lead and do what you all feel comfortable with, and don’t let anyone turn a little natural, no-big-deal nudity into something it’s not.