I didn’t grow up in a naked house. This is not to say that my childhood was particularly reserved or that my family was prudish in any way, rather that ours was a house where doors were shut when people were in the bathroom, showers were taken individually instead of communally, and kids and parents all slept in their own, separate beds.
I never really thought much about it until I had kids of my own. Before having kids, I had grown older and lived on my own, all the while maintaining a pretty open and free philosophy when it came to my mind and body. What I mean to say is, that I really enjoy being naked. I spent a good part of my pre-motherhood years walking around without clothes in the various places I lived, and even in various places I didn’t.
And then I had kids, first one baby and then another, both boys. I don’t remember being particularly concerned about my sartorial propriety when they were very young, but as they got older I became increasingly, though not exactly neurotically, conscious about changing behind closed doors and reminding them to use the bathroom privately. And to aim into the toilet better, but that’s a different story altogether.
And all of this was fine. But then, as my kids got older and I started talking to more and more parents in my progressive Brooklyn neighborhood, I realized that my parenting choices were, in this regard, viewed as archaic in the world of attachment parenting and co-sleeping. It suddenly seemed like family vacations to nude beaches were similar to wearing your child in a sling—just another way to establish an irrevocable bond.
I found that the nudity norm was not where I’d thought it was. That instead, while pushing their children on the swings, parents would casually reference skinny-dipping with their kids, family bath time, and co-sleeping well past toddlerhood. I would nod my head, partake in these conversations, and cringe inside, mentally filing away all of the images—oh, the images!—so that I could share them with my childless friends and see if they think it’s normal to be a naked family.
Instead of being comforted by the assurances that my childless friends have provided, namely, that I am not a complete prude, and that it will not be my children who will be in therapy recounting tales of reaching for the soap in murky bathwater and coming up with a handful of Daddy, I am still uneasy. Maybe it is not that I am a prude exactly but, instead, it is that I have not given myself over as whole-heartedly to parenting as the naked parents have.
What these families seem to have that I do not is a more complete acceptance of what their life is now and they have no desire to compartmentalize who they are, in all their relative glory, whereas I feel a real and almost tangible need to keep some things private. I think that part of this has to do with being a single parent and investing so much of my time and my identity in my children. When it comes to things that I can keep private, I happily do so. There’s only so much I can share. But even though I realize that I am not comfortable with being too open around my children, I can at least refrain from wincing anymore when I hear about other people’s family vacations to nude beaches. Boundaries with regards to privacy can, and will, be drawn in all sorts of unfamiliar ways. Who is to say what’s normal? I mean, we all scar our children one way or another and whether it’s by making them overly familiar with every hairy patch of their parent’s middle-aged bodies or by forcing them to watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels over and over again until they have it committed to memory, we’re all just trying to get the job done.