When Your Kid Catches You In The Act

by Deborah Gilboa, Family Physician
Originally Published: 
A wooden door with a 'please do not disturb sign' placed by parents so their kids don't catch them i...

Have you ever had a romantic interlude completely ruined by a noise in the hall outside the bedroom? I’m not talking about your high school boyfriend’s room – I’m talking about you, your bedroom and that heart-stopping (and orgasm-ruining) thought “What if the kid walked in right now?!”

Years ago, when my first child was still jailed at night in a crib, I read a darling story in a parent’s magazine “Things to Say at That Awkward Moment!” My favorite was the suggestion to say to the child, “Oh, honey! Daddy was helping Mommy look for a quarter she lost!” Where, exactly, had she put this quarter in the first place? Anyway…

Most parents have considered this moment. But we’re often, ummmm, distracted when we think of it. And hopefully we’re pleasantly tired later, when we might think of it again. So we ignore it, or figure we’ll cross that bridge – and find that therapist – when we come to it.

Practically speaking, we lock the door and hope for the best.

But childhood is long, and good relationships often involve a lot of sex. So the odds are… it’s going to happen sometime. Don’t most of us have a time-we-heard-our-parents-doing-it story?

Here is my 9 year old son’s story. He can’t fall asleep. He hears a noise. Noises. Weird noises, coming from his parents’ bedroom across the hall. Is someone crying, or angry? Heart pounding, he gets out of bed and stands outside the door for a minute, listening. More noises. He knocks. The noises stop, abruptly. “Yes?” he hears. “Ummm, is everything OK?” “Yes, honey, get back in bed. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

So what did we tell him? Brace yourself. We told him the truth.

What? Yes, we ‘fessed up. Why? Well, in your friends’ stories about “catching” their parents, didn’t they know (or figure out later) what was going on? Did the lies their parents told – an upsetting phone call, a TV program turned up too loud, an asthma attack – ever fool them? No. But it may have taught that child an unintended lesson: kids can talk to their parents about anything… except sex.

Later, sitting on the edge of my son’s bed I asked him, “Remember we told you last year about sex?” “Uh-huh.” “That’s what we were doing.” Pause, while I brace myself for shock, or horror.

“Oh. But it sounded like it hurt.” Brain spinning, stall, stall… then I say “Have you ever heard one of your brothers in a different room and you couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying?” Him: “Sure.” Me: “It’s like that. It doesn’t hurt at all, but it’s a really strong feeling.” Pause. Him:” “Oh, OK.”

And that was it.

The main reason my husband and I decided in our hurried conversation to tell him the truth was this: we keep demanding honesty from our kids. We tell them they can talk to us about anything, and claim “We don’t lie in our family.” So we decided we had to talk about hard stuff, and tell the truth.

Lying to those who know you best is sticky. You get stuck in the details, or your child senses an inconsistency. If they question your story, you get defensive or angry, cutting them off with emotions that don’t match the moment, from their point of view. Why are you angry that I’m asking who was on the phone, or how long you’ve had asthma? The whole thing leaves both parent and child with a very bad feeling in their gut.

So lock the door. Be quiet. And consider telling the truth if you get “caught.”

Will he still need therapy? Sure. Because now his story ends “…and then my Mom wrote about it for ScaryMommy.” So, if you see him, don’t bring it up, OK?

Or else send us a little money for a good therapist.

* * *

Dr. G is not only a longtime Scary Mommy contributor, she’s also my favorite voice of medical reason. She’s the rare doctor who is able to offer helpful advice in a completely down to earth (and doable!) manner and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the release of her first book, Get the Behavior You Want… Without Being the Parent You Hate! It’s the book you need to check out if your kids don’t always behave the way you want them to… in other words, the perfect book for every parent out there. Check it out, and congrats, Debi!!

– Jill

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