How Adventures is Making Me a Better Mother

One of the reasons we all connect so well on this space is because as African women, we have shared or similar experiences with our bodies. Of course there are those lucky anomalies out there who grew up with “non-traditional” African parents who created their own value system, but for the REST of us sex education was very simple: don’t do it.

Or more specifically, don’t do it until you’re married.

And by the way, don’t touch yourself, either. And don’t even THINK about exploring yourself!

In the context of this post, my job as a mom and self-exploration, I’m not talking about masturbation (although by the time my kids get into their teens that will be a threshold we will certainly have to cross). I’m simply talking about getting to know your own body.

As Black girls, now grown women, a large part of our maturity process as far as our bodies were concerned often involved a ‘no touch’ policy:

  • We weren’t allowed to touch our own hair, because we might ruin it.
  • We weren’t allowed to touch our budding breasts because that would just be weird.
  • We weren’t allowed to touch our vaginas because that would be unholy! And sinful! And dirty!

The answer in too many communities -and even one community is ‘too many’ – is just to (literally) bind up or cut the offending body parts and troublesome accessories off and discard them until such time that they become ‘useful’. Although my particular upbringing and culture was thankfully never that extreme, I grew up with a heavy dose of guilt surrounding my own body.

I never took any vow that said I would never do ‘thus and so’ to my own kids to make them feel more comfortable with their bodies when I became a mother. I just naturally assumed that this was the way an African/Ghanaian woman was supposed to relate to her body and they would to. In truth, I’ve never given the notion of comfort with my children’s own bodies much thought until I started blogging for Adventures.

A little over a week ago, my 5 year old son climbed into bed with me and buried himself under the covers up to his shoulders. He had a faraway look on his face that I just dismissed as the fanciful world of a kindergartner. Suddenly, he blurted out a question.

“Mommy? Why do I have two balls?”

“Because you don’t need three,” I replied.

“Oh. Do my balls go into my stomach?” he asked. (Obviously the boy was playing with his cashews as we were having this conversation.)

“No. They just move around.”

“Oh. Is my hoohoo (penis) too small?”

This question was asked grave concern. Before I could answer, he giggled and announced that he had made it “bigger”. I assume he was talking about his baby erection, which he wakes up with every morning.

“Yes, son. You can make it bigger.”

It was no big deal. There was no shame, no guilt, no condemnation for asking questions and finding out about the workings of his own body. Hitherto, my encoded Afro-Judeo-Christian mandate as a mother would have been to shout “Herh! Stop touching yourself! Nonsense!” And then I would report him to his father.

As remarkable as that incident was, the interaction I had with my youngest daughter was even more impacting for me. She’s on the verge of turning 4, and enjoys running around the house in various states of undress. This is a trait she inherited from me. On this particular morning, she was stark naked.

There is a full length mirror that hangs behind my bedroom door. She often gazes at her reflection to check out a dress or her hair or if she has crumbs on her face. But on this morning she plopped herself on the floor, spread her legs, and examined her vagina. Her face took on a range of expressions: quizzical, confused and amused. She silently took it all in, figured it out and when she was done looking, she got up and ran off.

I didn’t stop her, shame her, or shout “Herh! What are you looking at! Good girls don’t do that!” How I envy her. Do you know I’ve never seen my vagina? Like, never ever? I’d have to lose another 80 lbs to get that kind of vantage point. My post pregnancy belly is still in the way.

Giving my children permission to be comfortable with and to enquire about their own bodies is one of the best gifts I think I can give them. I believe how they relate to themselves will affect how they interact with others. I could only have done this because of the community we have here on Adventures, so I have all you sisters and brothers to thank for this epiphany. Because of this space, I too can become one of those African parent anomalies that my children can be thankful for.




16 comments On How Adventures is Making Me a Better Mother

  • How can I count the number of ways in which I love this post? And well done on your parenting. Ayeekoo

  • Two will do. 🙂

    And thanks! We are trying small small. I wonder if any of the other parents on here had a similar “aha” moment? Ladies? Gents?

  • I love, love, love this post. I wish you could be here to sex ed my kid. I think I am still embarrassed. I looked at my parts after my son was born because I had a huge tear and now I have a seam. I had only looked once before, very briefly, when I was living on my own. Yes. Even alone, looking made me feel weird.

  • Malaka — “Giving my children permission to be comfortable with and to enquire about their own bodies is one of the best gifts I think I can give them.”

    So true! I have a toddler niece (vicarious motherhood, I always tell my sister “This is my baby, you were simply a surrogate!).

    Baby girl enjoys running through the house naked. I let her have at it as long as it’s not cold and she sequels in delight, prancing about in the nude, enjoying herself, her body and freedom from clothes.

    During bath time, she warns ‘Don’t touch my didi (vagina), I’ll tell mama you were touching my didi) her gran warned her not to let people touch her vagina and to report them if they did. So I indulge her and we chat for a few minutes about her vagina and washing it and why that needs to happen (it’s sometimes a delay tactic on her part because she doesn’t want to bath).

    Sometimes after bathing and while dressing up, she plays with her vagina and peers up at me defiantly. She expects me to object because other adults around her do. A few years ago – I would have snapped ‘Stop that! Bad manners, don’t ever do that again!”. Now, I busy myself with folding clothes, packing up the lotions and cream until she’s done. Then she’s dressed and snowballing through the house.

    Part of my journey and being a part of the Adventures community has been developing myself into a sex positive person. Encouraging the girls and women in my life to be embrace their sexuality and everything that entails (and accepting that they will do that at their own pace). Adventures has great ladies, it is a great forum and great space to do this.

    With my baby girl, it’ll be a little harder because, while we are together often and I try to see her every chance I get, she has other influences in her life who object to her (self)exploration of her body, they tell her not to touch herself, shame her into stopping her explorations and force awareness of negative body issues. I am working against that and I hope I can create a space/niche in her life where she’ll be comfortable in her body, her womanhood, comfortable about her sexuality, comfortable about asking tough questions about sex, sexual and reproductive health and everything sex related – comfortable with the idea of sex as fun (often we are way too serious about some aspects of sex which should actually be fun). I have the privilege of sharing her life journey and I look forward to the amazing woman she will become and I will support her in every way I can.

    Heartfelt thanks to you and Nana for creating this space where we learn and teach each other.

    • Awwww. Sending you hugs Saffron. This comment made my day

    • Thank you, Saffron! And thank you for what you are doing for baby girl. It’s funny that you mentioned outside forces: that’s one of the things that concerns me as well! But I’m grateful she has you as a voice among the many influences that she is growing up with.

      Your comment deserves a space as a post on its own!

  • I think the narrative that our bodies do not belong to us is deeply entrenched in our psyches. Revealed religions say our bodies belong to God, culture tells girls that their bodies belong to their future husbands. The legacy of colonization and slavery doesn’t make things any better. We then get plagued with shame which I believe many are unconscious of. We need to claim agency over ourselves and teach the future generations to do so too.
    I intend to be one of those African parent anomalies.
    Great piece.

  • Am glad I stumbled on this site, so glad that I will share with friends and my precious wife. We are bringing up a cute baby girl, kudos to all of you.

    • That’s exciting to hear. We hope the blog inspired you to bring more cuteness into the world. 😉

      Kalya, you are SO right. It’s saturated at every level. Religion, colonization, even the idea of how we’re supposed to prioritize our time and for WHOM is for the benefit of others. I will fully support you in your quest to becoming an anomaly!

  • Malaka I came here because I was looking for something to help me with an essay I am writing on Sex Education in West Africa… How I wish could quote you

  • I’ve read a couple of the stories here. Most are very hot indeed. This is my favourite yet. Let’s help the young ones, especially the females to feel positive and empowered about their bodies

  • I started exploring my body, particularly my vagina and found pleasure in that without even knowing the term for that. It was in church I was told that masturbation was wrong. I don’t recall if it was in the church or the dictionary I later found out what it meant. I was so surprised that something that came naturally and felt good to me was said not to be right.
    I went through a whole phase of battling myself after that. I am so happy that didn’t diminish my perspective.

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