“When Should I Talk to My Teen About Sex?”: 5 Sex Talk Tips for Parents

“When they were eight years old they all agreed they wouldn’t do anything, but now that they’re hit puberty we’ve got to have the talk all over again…”

 

–Bill Cosby Those Of You With Or Without Children, You’ll Understand

 

 

The most frequently asked question I get from parents when I give an overview of my sex talk curriculum is, “When should I start talking to my kids about sex?” Truth be, told many of them, like Cosby, already spoke to their children about sex prior to entering adolescence, but recognize that a new level of conversation and disclosure needs to be had now that they’ve entered adolescence and puberty.

The concern is that their young teen might not be ready or willing for that conversation. On the flipside there is the concern that they might have waited too late to continue the conversation on sex that began so many years earlier. You don’t want it to be awkward and yet you don’t want them getting the bulk of their information from all the sophisticated fools on the bus, playground, or in the cafeteria. With that in mind here is a general answer to the question of when parents should reengage their young teen on topic of sex as well as four other tips for having conversations on sex with young teens.

1.     Don’t Wait Until You Think They’re Ready. A psychologist friend of mine asked me to guess what the national average is for when kids are first having sexual intercourse. I guessed twelve. She said the answer is ten. Surely there are some of you that are thinking that can’t be true and would like to see the research. Like myself you started thinking about all the variables—single parent homes, socio-economic class, education, early onset of puberty in girls—but that’s not the point. The point is on average they’re getting started early so don’t wait until you think they’re ready. Besides, you’re never going to know for sure if they’re ready until you begin to talk to them about it. If they get uncomfortable (which is different than awkward) then use some discernment to know when to stop. You don’t want them to be so uncomfortable about it that they don’t ever want to talk to you about it again, but you don’t know how cold the ocean is until you stick your toe into the water.

2.     Do It In Stages. If you’ve never talked to your children about bodies and sex prior to adolescence more than likely it’s going to be really awkward when you initiate that conversation with a young teen (If you haven’t then even more of a reason to not delay any further). There needs to be a general conversation about their body when they’re five about the difference between boys and girls. They need to know that their penis or vagina is private, and they should never let anyone else touch it (You may be caught a little of guard by my choice of words there. More on that in the next tip). By eight years old I recommend you should have a general birds and the bees/“where do babies come from?” conversation. Fifth grade is usually when there is a more in-depth anatomy and mechanics discussion on sex in school health classes. It’s not a bad idea to preempt the school. After that having a more in-depth conversation is fair game as they will be on the precipice of adolescence and puberty. From personal experience my parents talked to me about sex in stages so when it came time to have the more in-depth conversation they had disarmed my ability to try and be awkward about it. They were even able to remind me of and pull out the books they used as resources to have the previous conversations with me.

3.     Don’t Talk In Code. I’m likely dating myself with this pop-culture reference, but remember in Kindergarten Cop starring Arnold Swarzenegger when the small boy announces to the class, “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.” Part of the reason that scene gets so many laughs is because typically five year olds are taught code words for their private parts. Once again a psychologist friend of mine was telling me how they and many colleagues have watched defense attorney’s cast doubt in child sex abuse and molestation cases because the child did not know the anatomically correct term for their genitalia. There is also research on serial pedophiles where they confess to avoiding children who know the correct names because they know someone has talked to that child about their body. There really is no reason for us not to use the words “penis” and “vagina” with our children. When we don’t use those words or get awkward about saying them we teach them that those are dirty words. Thus we inadvertently teach them that their bodies are dirty gross and disgusting, which isn’t healthy for their development, nor is it true.

4.     Dual Parent Involvement. Both mom and dad need to be involved in these conversations with their children regardless of the child’s gender. In other words girls shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their mother while dad stays silent. Boys shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their father while mom stays silent. The whole point of having these conversations with your children is not simply for transferal of information. It is about shaping and forming a healthy view of bodies and sex in your children. There isn’t so much different roles mom and dad play as much as, depending on the gender, different things they need to hear from each parent. For example, moms are best suited to talk daughters about menstrual cycles, whereas dad is best suited to talk to her about what boys are like. Dads are best suited to talk to boys about nocturnal emissions and moms are best suited to talk to him about what girls are like. Still there is plenty in regards to sex that needs to be both mom and dad talking to children and young teens together. The point being that if they have questions or want to talk further they need to feel safe talking to either parent.

5.     Is A Weekend Camping Trip Really Necessary? If you have to schedule a special weekend to go away and have a sex talk with your young teen around a fun activity then maybe it should cause you to question whether or not you are creating regular rhythms where you are caring for the heart of your child (not to mention this tactic typically violates the previous tip). Put another way to drive the point home, if you aren’t the camping type and it isn’t something you typically do with your son or daughter, then they are going to think that something is up. They’re going to be suspicious and it will most likely be real awkward. For example if my dad wanted to have a more in-depth conversation with me about girls, and sex and so forth, then the natural rhythm would have been to initiate it during halftime or commercials of one of the countless basketball games we watched during my teenage years. Some of my fondest memories of spending time with my dad that nurtured my heart was watching the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers go at it during the NBA Playoffs in 94 and 95 while eating pizza from Domino’s. If you don’t know or don’t have a natural rhythm of caring and tending to the heart of your child by investing time in them with out an agenda then it is not too late to discover what it is or create one if necessary.

 

Conclusion: What Is Your End Game?

What do you hope to accomplish by talking to your young teen about sex beyond simple information transfer? Simply cautioning them to abide by a certain standard or moral code is not enough. You need to ask yourself, “Whom will my son go to first if they’ve gotten someone pregnant? Who will be the first person my daughter will go to if she’s contracted an STD? Who will be the first person my teenager will go to when they’re tired of being teased and harassed about choosing to abstain from sexual intercourse and intimacy until they’re married? They’ll rarely say it but young people are looking for adult mentors who are willing to show them what it looks like to be an adult as they are growing into one. Young people need a safe secure place to talk about how they are living out their sexuality. Teenagers need to feel safe enough to talk to their parents about their sexual lives even if they know they’ll be disappointed at what they hear. Sex is not just a reproductive process of two bodies joining together in a purely physical act, nor is it “the nasty”. There are emotions, feelings, and a sense of self, wrapped up in the complicated beauty that is human sexuality and relationships. Parents always have and always will have the most potential impact in their children developing dysfunctional or healthy sexual lives.

Proof Once Again That Few People Listen To Lyrics

Whether it was Beyonce during the Halftime Show of Super Bowl 47, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performing at the 2013 MTV VMAs, or Beyonce again performing at the Grammy’s I’ve heard people complain and cry foul. They were bothered, shocked and even surprised by their very overtly sexual performances on stage. I didn’t see either one of Beyonce’s performances, who didn’t see at least clips and stills of Miley’s, but all this has gotten me to thinking.

Have you looked at or listened to the lyrics of the songs they were singing at the time? I realize MTV doesn’t actually play music videos anymore. That ship started sailing about ten years ago. The fact of the matter is more often than not music videos and live performances are theatrical in nature. In other words there is a good chance that their stage act will depict the words that are coming out of their mouth. In the case of Beyonce I realize that her public persona is one of womanly grace if you don’t count “popping and locking” while performing at Gospel Festivals against her, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a good number of years the girl has been singing “grown folks music”. It’s hardly the kind of music, if you have a finely tuned moral compass and take a moment to think about it, that is suitable for children. Not that we need to make a big stink about it. In some ways it is what it is. Allow me to go another route for a moment though…

I would argue that the music we (we being evangelical Christians) often say is inappropriate for children or young teens is actually more inappropriate for adults. I’ll speak for myself in saying what I’ve heard many other adults confess as well. I had no idea how truly sexually explicit suggestive and just plain raw a lot of the songs I was listening to as a teenager really were. I speak for myself because I was relatively clueless due to my lack of experience in matters of a sexual nature, thus when I heard these songs I had an idea what they were talking about, but I really didn’t understand. How many of us have gone back and listened to the music of our youth and responded with “Oh my gosh I listened to that!?!” When I had that experience I went to the next step and realize that there is probably a reason why I never had that response as a teenager, and it wasn’t necessarily because I had never listened closely to the lyrics. It wasn’t because I didn’t have a daughter. I just didn’t get it. Now I do, and now I can’t listen to the music of my youth without my imagination filling in what used to be blank. Thus why I must consider whether or not the music of my youth is more inappropriate for me as an adult than it was for me as a teenager. Say what you want but I know I’m not the only one.

Teenagers Under Pressure: Academic Achievement and Anxiety

It is relatively old news for me to tell you that teens are under an enormous amount of pressure these days. I know there’s a correlation but I still find it very curious, in my experience as a youth pastor, that the highest achieving students are often the ones that are struggling the most with anxiety. The kind of anxiety that necessitates prescription meds to cope and overcome. I’m not writing this to be critical of parents in their efforts to help their children continue down the road to success as adults. Nor am I writing this to be critical of schools. I would simply like to share a few observations and a few things I’ve learned.

1. What Is Failing? We should encourage and even push students to maximize their academic ability. Even if a student is capable of getting all A’s getting a B never has and never will be failing. Unfortunately I know all too well from personal experience the gap between a B and actually literally failing a whole class let alone one test or assignment. I know it both at the High School and collegiate level. When you’ve really failed a class you have two options; either admit defeat or take the class again. If you graduate with a B average there is a very small number of schools you will either have a difficult time getting into or simply don’t stand a chance.

2. What Is The Right School? I didn’t believe it when I first read it because it went against everything I had ever been told since Middle School. I don’t have the book in front of me but Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good For Everyone, by Richard Settersten & Barbara E. Ray to quote it, but it they’re research and findings challenged what a lot of us tell young people about the importance of getting into the right school. We tell students they need to get into these top-tier schools to get an advantage when it’s time to get a job start a career and get paid. Whereas it may have been true thirty years ago today the only measurable difference that can be found between top-tier colleges and universities (with the exception of Ivy League and a handful of other schools) is the debt students leave with. In some cases the difference in the debt is absolutely crippling. With the job market being in the current state it’s in the advantages to going to a more prestigious school are not as profound as it once was.

3. What Remains True? Of course considerations need to be made for a particular school having a strong department in the field of study one wishes to pursue, but one thing remains true. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Put more accurately it’s not so much where you go, but who you get to know wherever you go. Personally I’m not big into networking (the very thought of it exhausts me) but I’d be a fool to think that who I know had little to do with where I am today. I went to a relatively small university in the middle of nowhere Michigan, but I met the right people while I was there which helped in landing a job at a mega-church straight out of college. The irony for me is that one of the people I knew had no affiliation with the university I was attending at the time.

4. Success At What Cost? I recently met with a middle school student of mine who was struggling with some things at school. They were conflicted with the fact that she had started become the target of cheating. In other words other students were looking to her to allow them to cheat. Nothing new with cheating except I found it interesting that this is a student who is in a number of honors classes. Maybe I’m naive or revising my own experience but I recall it was usually the students who weren’t high achievers trying to cheat, but now it’s the kids who have shown they can apply themselves and perform at a high level academically who are opting to cheat. Personally I think the extra emphasis on “class rank” has a lot to do with it. It’s not enough to show you’ve mastered what you’ve been taught you have to outperform everyone else, and thus a culture of cheating has gotten out of control.

Conclusion: I’m sure some of you will disagree with my observations and conclusions. Disagreement is welcome. At the end of the day we all want the same thing for our young people. We want them to grow up to be successful and high achieving adults who contribute to the world being a better place. We also want to see them be healthy and not fall victim to crippling stress and anxiety. Therein may lie the biggest problem. We have an entire generation of young people who have been bathed in the culture of fear that has been created and the finger of blame could be pointed in a lot of directions. A whole post could be dedicated to that topic alone, but in the meanwhile t wouldn’t be a stretch to say if we peeled back the layers on each of the four observations I’ve made here we’d find a culture of fear at or near the core of each one.

Should Girls Be Held Responsible For Boys Lusting?: And Other Thoughts on Modesty (2nd Edition)

Revised with an additional thought at the end in attempts to keep it balanced and make sure that a double standard is not being communicated while keeping in mind the differences between men and women.

So Says Ced

Yesterday evening I got into a discussion with some of my female volunteers about modesty. Of course whenever there is a discussion about modesty as it pertains to teenagers its usually a conversation about the way girls dress and how boys respond to the female figure. This particular discussion came up because some of the girls had understood our policy against the girls wearing two pieces to trips and retreats as being primarily an issue of not wanting them to cause the boys to have lustful thoughts. For clarification sake I’ve maintained this particular part of our dress code in the youth ministry as being a modesty issue. It begins and ends with modesty. With that in mind here are some thoughts when it comes to the issue of modesty.

Leggings Show More Than Just Your Legs
Could someone please explain to me why we make such a big deal…

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20 Years Later Charles Barkley Is Still Right: Parents’ Job To Be Role Models

charles-barkleyTwenty years ago as a freshman in high school I became a writer for my school’s newspaper despite the fact that freshman weren’t allowed to be a part of the class. Looking back I probably should have taken shop anyway so that I wouldn’t be paying other people to do odd jobs around the house. Anyway… One of the articles I wrote was an op-ed piece in response to Charles Barkley’s proclamation in the latest Nike commercial that he “is not a role model. Later that summer after the school year was over Mike Royko of the Ann Arbor News  wrote an op-ed piece on it as well which my news paper teacher sent me to encourage me to keep writing. Mr. Royko and I had the same opinion. We agreed with the overriding message of the commercial, “Parent’s should be role models. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” While neither of us condoned of his throwing a guy through a window at a bar fight (thus the mugshot above), or missing the adult he was aiming for and ‘accidentally’ spitting on a kid sitting courtside instead at one his basketball games Barkley is right.

I still have copies of both articles and the note my teacher included with Royko’s. Here are some of the points we both made…

“Parents are the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on their children. Yet, on the whole, some parents haven’t done much at being role models for their children.” (Me)

“Before TV kidnapped our brains, athletes and show biz stars were not an everyday part of our lives. We didn’t have the endless parade of celebrities that now roll across the TV screen. Which was probably beneficial. Social values weren’t being established by Madonna, Roseanne, Magic Johnson, Geraldo, Oprah, Letterman’s guests, MTV, religious hucketers and hop-head rock stars.” (Mike Royko)

“Why,” you ask am I bringing up two decades old commercials and news articles? Last week when Miley Cyrus performed her song “We Can’t Stop” live at the MTV VMAs. There was a deluge of news and social media response to her antics, most of it lamenting her transformation from teenage Disney Star, portraying the very likable and admirable fictional character Hannah Montana, into the twenty year old performer portraying, singing about and portraying a morally reckless lifestyle of uninhibited sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse. Many of the responses centered around her apparent rejection and descent from being a role model into one of those kind of girls you shouldn’t be within a hundred feet of. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, and time to write about it, I have two prevailing thoughts.

Not to defend or excuse Miley’s performance but it was obvious to me that very few people, at least those saddened by her apparent turn, had actually listened to the lyrics of the song or saw the video to the song. If they had, her performance wouldn’t have been so surprising. Her live performance was pretty much a live version of the music video where she did all the same stuff. Goes to show you, if there is one thing MTV doesn’t do much of it is show music videos.

Secondly, and more importantly, the hullubaloo brought me back to what Charles Barkley said in that Nike commercial twenty years ago, “Parents should be role models.” There is no denying that public figures and famous people have influence, but we are the ones to be pitied if we continue to promote (even if it be unintentionally) the belief that their influence can even hold a candle next to the overwhelming influence of private figures. The number one private influence in the life of children and young people is their parents. Even if the parents fail to be positive role models someone else who children and young people can have face-time with have immeasurably more influence than all the famous people they have screen-time with.

Twenty years later as a youth pastor and a parent I couldn’t agree with Charles Barkley more. Instead of questioning Miley Cyrus or more importantly the latest version of her ten years from now when my daughter will be less than a year away from being a teenager I’m questioning myself. Am I going to be the kind of role model to my daughter that will make the exploits, good bad ugly and in between, of the latest teen celebrity turned young adult vixen inconsequential to the kind of person she is becoming and aspires to be? I want my daughter to think of myself, and her mother as her role model. I desire that there would be other adults she knows personally who can also serve as excellent examples. As a Christian my parents were role models to me because they were doing their best to be followers of the model Jesus laid forth. They weren’t perfect, but they pointed me in the direction of the one who is. They couldn’t provide unshakable security through life, but they pointed me towards the one in whom life is found. My parents were role models by simply doing their best to model their life after Jesus. My wife and I won’t be perfect role models either, and we’ll make mistakes, but our influence in our daughter’s life will far outweigh the influence of any celebrity or famous person, ever. Even if we somehow became best friends with one spending lots of time with them we still have the primary job of being role models to our daughter.

As an adult I understand more than ever that life is not found in the life of celebrities and famous people. There are plenty of athletes who I enjoy watching compete and entertainers perform act and sing. I have no expectation that these individuals behave in a way that would suggest that they have trusted their life to Christ and are being shaped morally by him when they’ve made no proclamation of allegiance to Jesus.  Even if they did the likelihood that our young people are going to rub shoulders with them on a regular weekly or daily basis is exponentially unlikely. Nowhere in their contract is it written that they are to be role models for our kids. However, we are bound to our children by something that transcends written agreements with performance clauses. We should be very wary of giving that tremendous responsibility and privilege to flesh and blood people who do little more than flash across our many various screens. Especially a twenty year old girl who could probably have benefitted from one herself instead of being thrust into the position of role model at the age most of us are yearning for our parents and other adults to show us what it means and looks like to be an fully formed adult. Give Miley and all the other famous people a break and let’s do our job.

Why Do Kids Feel So Entitled?

Most people agree that there has never been a generation quite like this current one of teenagers and young adults. More than ever this generation is more in touch with individualism, which is just a nice way of saying they are extremely self-centered.  Sociologists have deemed this group of young people the Me-Generation describing them as confident, assertive, entitled and narcissistic.

Over the last one hundred years there has been subtle shifts in the widely held philosophy of parents to raising their children. Simply put each generation has had a different approach to raising their children based on what they wanted for their children thus determining how they reared them. These descriptions are sweeping generalizations that I believe are indicative of the shifts in our society and culture.

WWI, WWII, and Depression Era (1900-1940s)

This generation didn’t have much growing up. Survival of the family unit depended on everyone playing their part. Discipline was very authoritative and you didn’t question it. It is also important to note that the adolescent stage of human development had just begun to be recognized by sociologists and was considered to last approximately 18 months from the age of 14 and a half to sixteen. With the industrial age in high gear this generation ended up being able to do more than just survive they began to succeed.

Civil Rights And Free Love Era (1950s to 1970s)

The previous generation was expected to listen to and respect those in authority without questioning it and play their role in order to survive. They survived World Wars a depression and had come out on the other side successful. The American Dream took flight as more and more people were becoming the first person in their family to attend and graduate from college. Instead of parenting with unquestioned authority they wanted their children to learn to make good choices that would lead to them being successful by emphasizing the consequences good and bad that came with choices made. They were able to provide for their kids more than just the necessities of life that their parents often struggled to provide. Now they wanted to give their kids the things they never had.

Excess Era (1980s to 1990s)

This generation of parents had gotten things and opportunities that their parents never had. They also had questioned the prevailing standards of the day in the Civil Rights Movement, and the prevailing wisdom and morality with the Free Love Movement. They felt limited and constrained by society that had all kinds of expectations on them. This is the first generation that started to do and try things in that were once not thought wise or prudent in the name of self-discovery. Nothing was held back. They raised their kids in a similar fashion where few things were held back and the self was emphasized. They wanted their kids to have everything they didn’t have or had to fight to get.

Post-Modern Era (2000s to Present)

This generation of parents had gotten everything and they still weren’t happy. They had more opportunities and more things than their parents or grandparents, and they still weren’t fulfilled and satisfied. Authority had gone from being absolute, to being questioned, to being relative. They just wanted their kids to be happy. Right and wrong are no longer about what was best for the survival of the community and family unit. Right and wrong were no longer about what the consequences of the choices that were made. Right and wrong were now about what made you as an individual happy, and didn’t offend or harm others in the process. Self discovery has never been an issue with this generation as they have an innate sense of self that enables them to be a little more direct about what they do and do not like, and will or will not do.

Summary

Long story short in a hundred years we have gone from a parenting style that was dominated by absolute unquestioned authority, where survival was of the utmost, to a parenting style that can be characterized by parents trying to make sure their kid(s) happy. A better life a hundred years ago was largely about being hard working, dependable, and responsible. The better life narrative today is about living life to the fullest moment by moment, which is characterized by the slogan YOLO, you only live once.  A hundred years ago, even thirty years ago young adults knew they would have to work hard to get ahead and be successful. Even the way products were marketed played heavily on the “you deserve this because you’ve worked hard and become successful” line of thought. Today marketers just tell us you deserve whatever it is without telling you why.  And yet the pressure on kids to perform and excel at everything is higher than ever, because elements of hard work, achievement, and success have still been passed along from generation to generation. Or could it be that the happiness of the parents is now wrapped up in the achievements and exploits of their children. Therefore not only do parents want their kids to be happy but also their own happiness is contingent on the happiness and achievements of their children.

When I talked about this in the past it has been with my team of small group leaders in order to think through how we relate to students as adult mentors in Christian living, and yet assert our authority at the same time so they don’t walk all over us. Some kids respect our authority better than others. Some of us had an easier time asserting our authority than others when kids acted out of line. My guess has been that how we were raised and how they are being raised has a lot to do with it.

More recently I have used it as a way of explaining to parents why I suspect that kids seem to be more entitled than ever. There is a number of books on the subject and many of them talk about the transitions and shifts over the last one hundred years in how kids are being reared, and what has been the active objective of parents; survival, have more, have everything, or happiness. Of course we can’t overlook the role of marketing and advertising and how they sell products. Today more often than not we are told that we deserve these things even though they never tell us why or what we did to deserve it. Maybe that is because the American Dream is less about success and achievement today and more about the pursuit of happiness. Just a hunch.

Revelation That Calmed My Fears About Adopting: A Father’s Day Reflection

_DSC8298I never imagined that infertility would be something I would have to navigate. It’s safe to say that no one imagines walking through the painfully indiscriminate and out of our control ways the curse of sin can touch our lives. Whether it be infertility, cancer and other illnesses there is just some things that invade our lives with indescribable grief and massive amounts of pain.

As a man of faith in God and Christ I prayed about it for a time, but eventually became resigned to the fact that if I was ever going to be a father then it would be by a different route. So many become parents, in some cases so “easy”, that we all take it for granted how amazing conception is, and how difficult it can be. As much as it sucked to not be experiencing the blessing firsthand that God gave to mankind to “be fruitful and multiply”, that I may never have a child that is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, or as my wife and I used to say, “have a child with my big nose and her high forehead”, I decided I wasn’t going to be mad at God for the ripple effect into my life of Adam and Eve rejecting God in Eden.

Any adoption agency that is worth their salt will make you go through the gauntlet in order to be put on their wait list for a child. Amongst the many prerequisites we had to go through with our adoption agency we had to read four books on adoption. Three of the four books we read were terrible. Honestly they really were depressing. The main thrust of those three books was that in adoption everybody is wounded. The child is wounded, the birth parents are wounded, the adoptive parents are wounded. Everyone involved is wounded and grieving. So there’s a good chance that adopting a child is going to bring its fair share of difficulty and misery into your life (to which I thought, “Isn’t that the case with having kids in general regardless of them entering a family biologically or via adoption?”). The fourth book however was profoundly different.

First of all let me say that Russell Moore’s Adopted For Life is a book that any Christian should read. Even if you are done having children cause you’ve already conceived and raised ten of them you should read that book. I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with him via Twitter to let him know how profound his book was for myself and my wife by simply including in the tweet a picture of the two of us holding Isla that first day we met her. I’ve never been prouder to make someone’s day, as his reply said, because that book made me aware of something that I had never noticed or been taught prior in all my years of being a Christian.

Those of you who know me well know that I don’t worry about much. I’ve trained myself to be concerned but not worry about things, and it times it can unnerve others around me. Honestly though, I had my concerns about how quickly I would become attached in the very depths of my heart to the child I would hopefully be made the father of. A child who was not mine. The other three books spent a lot of time preparing you for struggling with the fact that your adopted child in all likelihood will not have a lot in common with you (Like I said earlier, it’s not as though it never happens with biological children). They labored that point excessively. I wasn’t concerned as much about whether or not I’d be a good father. However, there was some concern as to whether or not I’d have that overwhelming depth of love that all parents have for their child from the moment their born since I would be receiving a child that wasn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. A child who I not only hadn’t procreated but I also wasn’t there for their birth.

Emma and I were headed up to Michigan for our friends Lauren and Andy’s wedding. Emma had been reading the books before me, and early on she told me I needed to read Adopted For Life first. At one point headed somewhere in the car she turned down the radio and read to me a portion of the book that had her absolutely floored. We don’t have the book anymore because we passed it on to someone else, so I can’t place an excerpt here, but I don’t need to because it was five simple words. Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

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In all my years of being a Christian it had never dawned on me or been taught that Jesus was adopted by Joseph. It’s as though it’s so obvious that we completely miss it. Or if we’re being honest we don’t realize it because we don’t see much mention of Joseph being on the scene in Jesus’ life past the age of twelve, the church has cloaked Joseph in a cloud of mystery and suspicion. However, how was Jesus often referred to in the gospel accounts by the people of his time? He was often referred to as the “son of a carpenter”, which is deeply profound if you know anything about first century Jewish society and culture. I knew enough about it to start filling in the blanks. Good Jewish fathers taught their son their trade. Good Jewish fathers taught their sons (and their daughters) the torah or God’s word. And what were the two things Jesus was well known for? Being the son of a carpenter, and even at the age of twelve, having a mastery of the sacred text (Luke 2.46-47). Surely having the fullness of the deity of God indwelling his flesh probably had something to do with it, but there is no reason to doubt that Joseph took the charge of Deuteronomy 4.9-10 & 6.20-25 to heart, because to him Jesus was his son (In other words, in a mysterious and dare I say weird way that boggles my mind Joseph is the one that simultaneously introduced Jesus to his heavenly father, and by doing so introduced Jesus to himself. Let that roll around in your brain for a second).

Although Joseph obediently stayed after previously considering to divorce Mary quietly due to his non-involvement in her pregnancy, I’m sure he was likely troubled by the thought of raising a child who people knew wasn’t his own just like I did. I can’t help but believe that God did the same thing in Joseph’s heart as he did in mine. From the first time I saw Isla and heard her cry she was undoubtedly mine. Instantly my heart was fixed and bonded to that girl to the very depth of my being, no less than any parent who went through 10 months of pregnancy. There was no need to worry or be concerned anymore. From that moment on I am her father.

I stepped out for a moment as I was writing this to tell Emma what I was doing (and get her blessing to share these things). She summed up my reflection best, and I’m not ashamed to say it makes my eyes well up with tears even as I type it. I’m a Joseph. The grief and dare I say wounding of unexplained infertility, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy if I had one, set me on a path that eventually led to me being bestowed with the legacy of Joseph. Maybe that’s why there’s few things I treasure in my heart more than the first time while praying with Isla before putting her down to sleep for the night she said before I could, with that sweet voice and articulation of a toddler of not quite two just beginning to string sentences together, “Dear God, thank you for…” I get to be Joseph to Isla who is by no means Jesus, but we certainly won’t hold that against her. Because after all one day I’ll get to tell her that she was adopted just like Jesus was. Though she isn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, I have something far greater to give her than my big nose.

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