DEAR AMY: I am a physician and a widower. Most importantly, I’m the father of a brilliant and deeply inquisitive 12-year-old girl. I have raised my daughter (by myself) since she was 6 months old. We are very close. I noticed signs that she would soon be experiencing puberty, and I knew she would have lots of questions. I had a series of talks with her about things like hormones, body changes, romantic relationships and safe sex. Before I started each of these conversations I told her that if she was uncomfortable talking to her dad about this, I would be happy to arrange it so she could talk to her doctor (who is a woman), or any other of the wonderful women I have worked hard to have in her life. My daughter told me she would rather talk to me about these personal things. I got a call from my daughter’s health teacher at her school, furious that I had “dared” to discuss menstrual products with my child. The teacher called it “tantamount to child abuse,” that a male person (even a father) had discussed these things with a 12-year-old. Amy, I know the information I gave my girl was correct, and I gave it to her in as objective, non-sensational and supportive way as I could. Was I out of line here? Should I have left this conversation to my daughter’s pediatrician?
DEAR WORRIED: First things first. If your account is accurate (I’m assuming it is), then this health teacher should be brought up short. Teachers are “mandatory reporters” — meaning that they must report any suspicion of child abuse (as a physician, I assume that you are, too). This teacher skirted this mandate by accusing you of doing something “tantamount to child abuse,” basically leveling a deeply offensive accusation — without the benefit of due process.
You are being bullied by your child’s teacher for providing informed and accurate information to your own daughter.
This teacher’s contact with you was out of line and inappropriate, and the statement she made was sexist and obnoxious.
Too many parents abrogate their own responsibility to inform their children about sex and relationships, and leave these important conversations in the hands of (in your daughter’s case) ignorant, uninformed and/or uninspired others.
In some schools, educators are actually prevented from supplying accurate and detailed information about sex to adolescents. (Is keeping young people ignorant about human reproduction also tantamount to child abuse?)
You did the right thing. I hope you will continue to answer your daughter’s questions about sex and relationships. If she isn’t comfortable talking to you, the options you’ve presented (women friends, or her pediatrician), are perfect.
DEAR AMY: My girlfriend and I have been together for about three years. We each have children. Initially, I had a hard time treating all of the children as if they were my own. She had no problem taking mine on as her own. I didn’t treat her and her kids the best, so eventually we split up over a period of about three months. We got back together about six months ago, and I finally got my act together and am doing my part — but she is very cold to me, and says she can’t get over my past mistakes. Do I give up and move on, or should I stick it out?
DEAR TRYING: Kudos to you for getting your act together. If the relationship between adults and all of the children in the household is positive and loving, the entire family will prosper.
You’ve been on the straight and loving path for six months, but what you are going through now is proof positive of what we all know: Cruel words and actions are powerful, and their effects seem to last much longer than everyday kindness.
Instead of cutting and running (again), you need to work with your partner, so that she can learn to trust you. Understand the depth of her hurt. Communicate with her — and the kids. Apologize to all.
She should not continue to punish you. Your family will grow healthy if you all exercise gentleness and forgiveness.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your supportive answer to “Camera Shy,” who was being pressured by her boyfriend to submit to a nude photo. One additional aspect of this: depending on her age, a nude photo could be classified as child pornography, and could get her boyfriend arrested.
DEAR AWARE: Thank you for the addition.