Q. Recently, our 2-year-old daughter came into our room while we were having sex. I made up a story about what we were doing, and she seems to have forgotten about the incident -- but I sure haven't. Have we traumatized her? Is she scarred for life?
A. Don't worry. The most important thing for any 2-year-old is to feel loved and safe, so if she seems to have forgotten the incident, she's probably fine. If anyone's upset by this experience, it's more likely to be you than your child. You're clearly still feeling guilty, and it might be worthwhile to figure out why. Think back to your own upbringing and the lessons about sex, love, and marriage that you absorbed -- directly or indirectly -- from your parents. Did your mother swat your father away every time he tried to put an arm around her, or did she and your dad hold hands and giggle at the movies? Was sex something that was talked about or a subject that mortified everyone? Whatever adult models for sexual relationships you had as a child are still lurking inside you. Only you can take them out, dust them off, and decide if they're worthy patterns to pass on to your kids.
As for your daughter, "there isn't any need to make up stories if your child catches you in the act," says sex therapist Sallie Foley, coauthor of Sex Matters for Women (Guilford, 2002). "Gently tell your daughter that moms and dads need private time to cuddle, and send her on her way after a reminder about the need to knock if the door is closed. Better yet, invest in a lock for your bedroom door to spare yourself from any more embarrassing moments in the future."
Holly Robinson is a writer who lives with her husband and their five children north of Boston.
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Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2005.