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Developing a Parental Decision-making Process

QUESTION: I have a seven year old daughter and three year old twins, a boy and girl. Our problem is that we have one tub/shower unit. We bathe the children together to save time. Now the twins are aware of each others' different sexes, as is the older daughter. The twins share a bedroom. My question is, when is it inappropriate for the twins to share a bedroom, and should only the girls bathe together, instead of the twins? Help!! I get such conflicting views, but no one has to ready them for bed but me and my husband. Am I doing something inappropriate bathing my children together, at this age? And if not, at what age does it become inappropriate?

The reason you get conflicting views about bathing your children together is because there is no one "right" answer! Like most parental decisions, it is up to you and your husband to determine what is in your children's best interests. Your answer lies in your own levels of comfort and the philosophy you develop together as parents.

It is time to be concerned about what your philosophy is on this topic, instead of focusing on "saving time" by bathing all your children together. Do not sacrifice depth in family relationships for "efficiency".

First, clearly identify what your concerns are about bathing your children together. Are you worried that you are "over stimulating" them in some way? That your children will develop inappropriate sexual behavior with one another? If so, observe whether this is true. Do your children show signs of discomfort bathing together? sharing a bedroom? Or are they comfortable and having fun doing so? Gather information from your own observations of your children and share perspectives with your spouse.

You have been bathing them together due to time and space factors, but you may be failing to address the deeper issues involved in the decision-making process with your husband. It is the two of you that must discuss and develop your own beliefs about how you want to approach this situation. Establish a forum to decide upon your approach to this problem. It will be one of many decisions to come which you will have to make together as your children's growth stimulates areas of personal discomfort for you. Developing a parental team approach now will assure you that you will become more comfortable with inevitable areas of conflict later in their development.

Secondly, observe whether you or your husband are developing feelings of discomfort about your children bathing and being naked together at this age. If your children ask questions or comment on one another's genitals, do you answer matter-of-factly, or do you find yourself avoiding their questions? It is important that you as parents are comfortable about what you are doing with your children, as they will pick up your comfort or tensions about the situation. In other words, whatever situation you set up for your children, you must be willing to handle.

If you are greatly confused and uncomfortable with what comes up for them or there is unresolved conflict between you and their Dad about bathing together, your children are likely to pick up on your tensions about the topic. In this case, your children could become vulnerable to internalizing unspoken tension, and even develop shame about their bodies, which could be damaging. On the other hand, if you feel positively about their experience and freely answer the questions that arise, they may develop a sense of acceptance and pride in their bodies.

Families vary in their levels of comfort with nudity, in general. The guiding principal here is to be clear about your message. To do this, you must discuss and develop your own child-rearing philosophy.

Talk with your husband. Clearly, there will likely be a time before adolescence (or preadolescence) when your child(ren) will want more privacy! This will no doubt include separate bathing and maybe separate bedrooms as well. By adolescence, many parents who freely walked naked in front of their children have usually been asked not to by their embarrassed teenagers.

The beautiful thing about parenting is that you are free to create the family atmosphere and guidelines you want in your lives. Professionals, friends and experienced parents are wonderful resources, but you are the authorities in your own home. Certainly, you will adjust to your individual children's needs and personalities as they grow, but you are still at the helm!

Develop your parental discussion forum now and you will experience smoother sailing in the future, even when the waters get rough. The two of you are the "CO-captains" of the family. Practicing parental teamwork will ensure that you are learning how to navigate your way through your problems in a way that works for your family. That way, by the time you reach the hormonal storms of adolescence, the two of you will be experienced and trustworthy seafarers!


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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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