I was maybe eight, or nine-years-old, and it was an early weekend morning and I was hungry for French toast. I did what most children would do — walk into my mother’s room to kindly/demandingly request her services in the kitchen. Little did I realize my mother was already being serviced by her boyfriend in the bedroom and vice-versa. It took me maybe two or three seconds before I realized I was not a welcome voyeur in this case, spun around on my heels and muttered my apologies. Needless to say, my mother was mortified and tried to deny what I saw every which way (“we were tickling each other”) and then offered to take me to see Star Wars again. I was neither traumatized, nor upset. I just wanted everyone to stop pretending and stop making me talk about it, as (at that point) I had seen much worse on cable TV.
You will happy to know that such a formative experience didn’t warp me, and the silver lining of the episode was that it inspired me to learn how to make my own French toast. That said, having a child (or children) walk in on a parent or guardian engaged in sex can be quite rattling for both parties, and depending on the age, maturity, and circumstances, the appropriate reaction can differ.
The first bit of advice for parents to take would be to put your embarrassment aside, and try to handle the situation as calmly and honestly as humanly possible. A lot of your child’s reaction depends on how much accurate and age-appropriate information they have on the subject of sex in the first place. If the child in question is a toddler, they may have zero frame of reference for whatever act of love you might be engaged in. If they are older, and have had conversations, or exposure to such conversations, then you might want to dial up the conversation a bit to speak frankly about adult intimacy and expressions of love.
Likely the best tact is to ask them what they saw and invite questions or offer reassurance about what has happened. But don’t push it too much. If your child doesn’t want to talk about it, just leave the proverbial door open for discussion, as children tend to process these things gradually over time. In the meantime, make sure you set up well-understood rules about barging into rooms unannounced, knocking, and how adults need private time together, and if need be…get a lock.
To gather a different perspective on the matter, here’s a humorous take on the subject from the (adult) child’s perspective (above).
Have you ever been walked in on? If so, how did you deal with it? Were you cool and collected or did you handle it less than ideally? Have you had an experience seeing your own parents going at it, and if so, did it have a lasting impact on you? What advice would you give to others, whether they are adults or children, on the matter?