Mark Schatzker, dad of a boy and two girls
Not long ago, an elderly German man said something to me that will sound peculiar to nearly everyone: “I want to congratulate you,” he stated seriously but also sincerely, “on your children’s nudity.”
It was summer, and the German gentleman was a guest of my parents. The group of us were drinking cocktails, having spent the afternoon down by the lake. He went on to tell me that his own young grandchildren, who live in Florida, were already extremely uncomfortable with the very idea of nakedness, and he thought this was unhealthy.
I come from a long line of nakedness. My mother is half Finnish, and Finns—along with Scandinavians and Germans—do not share Canadians’ prudish inclinations when it comes to the human body. It all seems very strange on this side of the Atlantic, where we are, make no mistake, body obsessed. As a society, we seem to prize skin-tight leggings, six-packs and ultra-skimpy bikinis, but we gag at the mere thought of actually seeing something like a nipple.
I can’t remember the context of my kids’ nudity precisely, and that’s the point. My kids, who are all under the age of ten, are sometimes naked, and it’s no big deal. I’m sometimes naked, too. That’s also no big deal. What’s more, my children sometimes see my wife and me naked. Again: No. Big. Deal.
That’s not to say we encourage it. We don’t make the whole family get undressed and then have a big talk about how clothing is an abomination. There are no plans to enrol the family in a nudist colony. But nakedness isn’t discouraged, either. It’s a fact of life.
As my kids mature, I expect their boundaries will change, and I will adjust mine to match theirs. But the hope is that by the time they reach adulthood, they’re not burdened with the same sense of body fear and shame as is the Canadian cultural norm. The human body isn’t perfect, it isn’t disgusting, and it isn’t always sexual. It’s how we are built. What’s everyone so afraid of?
Jeff Hay, dad of three boys and a girl
I vividly remember the last time any of my kids saw me naked.
My then three-year-old son and I were sharing a stall in a packed washroom between periods of a junior hockey game. He went first (it was urgent). Then it was my turn—at which point he declared loudly to a suddenly quiet bathroom, “Wow, Daddy, your penis is huge!”
That was the last time any of my kids ever saw my privates. My wife still occasionally showers with our young daughter, but baths with dad have become a cherished family memory.
The bathroom incident made me realize I feel strongly about keeping my body covered in front of my kids. Maybe it’s partly thanks to getting teased in a swimming-pool change room in junior high, or feeling awkward after catching a glimpse of the Hay family jewels through my dad’s billowy three-quarter-length purple robe as a preschooler. Whatever the reason, I believe keeping covered models modesty and privacy, which I think are important values. What was cute and hilarious at age three is no longer cool as kids mature; our bodies are our own and don’t need to be on display.
I do want my kids to have a healthy understanding of their bodies and a positive body image. So I make sure we talk openly and matter-of-factly about anatomy and use the proper names. But I don’t think it’s necessary that they see mine in the flesh. I’m perfectly comfortable with my body, whether in the hockey dressing room or with my partner (I actually look for opportunities to be naked with her). I just choose never to be naked around the kids. We don’t make a big deal about it; if our kids happen to walk in while we’re changing, for example, we don’t shriek and slam the door. We get dressed as casually as possible and continue on. But if I couldn’t find clean underwear after a shower, I wouldn’t wander down to the laundry room in the buff.
Some might say I’m uptight or a prude. But I just don’t think the kids seeing my private parts serves any purpose.
A version of this article appeared in our February 2016 issue with the headline “Do you let your kids see you naked?”, p. 88.