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'Maybe it's time to discuss our own sex life.' Sexuality and the family.

"Maybe it's time to discuss our own sex life."

"We've come to discuss our 15-year-old daughter, Linda." Ruth Cummings, a short, slender woman in her early 50's, spoke quickly. "For the last three months, Jack and I have been bickering almost daily about Linda and her high school program. It is both troublesome and a big surprise for us. We have never argued about anything, so this is not normal for us, and we don't know how to stop the bickering.

"We came to see you because you did some educational testing on Linda five years ago. You may remember that she has Down syndrome, and we were not happy with her school program. You made us realize that she was capable of doing more schoolwork than she was getting. You helped us to make sure that she got a more demanding, educational program than the school was prepared to give her.

"You particularly helped me because although Jack is interested in Linda's welfare, he has never really spent much time going to any of the school meetings. He has left these matters pretty much to me. I will say in his defense that we have two older children, Sam who's 23, and Joan who's 19 and just finished her freshman year of college. While I have been doing a lot of work for Linda, he has been there for the other kids -- you know, going to PTA meetings, athletic events, etc.

"Linda has always been very social and gets along very well not only with the kids at school but with people in general. She's entering the high school in the fall. They have a good program that will prepare her to go to work. I was very pleased with the junior high school people who worked with her. Linda and I are very excited about the fact that she will be with other high school kids. But ever since that has become a reality, Jack has asked about whether it's really good for Linda.

"I have always thought good things would happen to Linda because she has always been well-liked. From almost the time she could walk, Linda has been very outgoing. I think that has been helped by the fact she has a brother and sister who have always been involved with her and played with her.

"From the time she started school, whether it was in a classroom or out on the playground, Linda has always been eager to play with other kids, and the kids have responded well. Even when she has had trouble in school or been feeling discouraged about her schoolwork, she has always had people who have been able to help her -- whether they have been her classmates or teachers.

"When Linda and I discuss the high school program, it is clear that Linda is eager to get involved with the extracurricular activities. She understands that she is going to be in a special education program most of the time, but she has seen her older siblings at various extracurricular programs and she would like to take part just like they did. I have been very encouraging. When I talk to the high school people, they have made it clear that they will help Linda.

"I think all of this has been troublesome to Jack. Not only has he begun to take an interest in her schoolwork, he is much more interested in Linda gaining specific skills rather than being content because she gets along with people. Most of all, Linda has been talking about getting involved with the high school drama group; the same one our older daughter loved. Her hero right now is "Corky," that youngster on the television show, Life Goes On. She moons over him just like any adolescent girl would moon over any movie idol. She talks like a star-struck teenager, and it drives Jack up the wall.

"Linda is going to start school in a couple of weeks. I plan to go up to school and make sure that she is in the right programs and that the guidance counselor is making sure she is taken care of. We know from our other children that high school can be a difficult place.

"There are lots of things going on in the high school like sex and drugs and a lot of drinking too. For the first time, Jack plans to come to school with me. I am afraid Jack will get so upset with the high school scene that he will fight with the school people and hurt Linda's opportunities. When I mention this to Jack, he gets angry.

"I think Jack is afraid that with my emphasis and everyone else's emphasis on social life, Linda is going to get into trouble. Jack and I have never been able to see eye to eye on what the appropriate social life for our kids should be. At the supper table, he often goes on and on about the sexual morals of the current generation. I think our kids are afraid to talk to him.

"I have a confession to make to Jack myself. I have discussed sexual activities and behavior with both of my daughters. When Ruth was leaving for college, she came home early from work to discuss her fears about going away to school. After saying she was concerned about the academic work, Joan talked at great length about what her girlfriends told her about the sexual and drug activities at her college. Ruth told me that in the high school, she would come home from parties early if she got concerned. She thanked me for listening and called me twice last year when she was concerned about one of her friends. I began discussing menstruation and boys and privacy with Linda a few years ago.

"Jack and I have been uncomfortable about sexual issues since Linda was born, and maybe we have to do something about our own life."

Jack Cummings, a youthful-looking man in his early 50's, spoke with noticeable anguish. "I don't know what to say. I am surprised that everybody finds me so difficult. Let's start with Linda.

"I know that it's more my problem than Ruth's, but I think it is important that we have some place to talk about this problem. Ruth is right in the sense that she's done all the work with Linda. I have really spent very little time going to the school and doing things the way I should have -- and actually did for our other kids. I know it's my fault. Our children never told us about the problems until after they graduated. We knew kids were getting into trouble, but we never discussed the issues with Sam or Betty. Linda and I would talk about the high school, but we agreed that Sam and Betty would come to us if they had problems.

"It is true I now see possibilities for Linda I never understood before. But what really scares me are the social gatherings in the high school. We have always been pleased with how social Linda has been. I'm worried that she can be taken advantage of by the other kids. I was never happy when Betty started having teenage crushes on movie stars and singing groups -- but when Linda starts this I almost cannot stand it. What Ruth is afraid of is that I am going to discuss the drugs and the sexuality with Linda's guidance counselor and see what can be done. Everyone in the family is afraid I'll make a fool of myself and make things harder for Linda -- but I don't care.

"Linda has been able to learn and do things in school that I never thought were going to be possible. When you first told us that she was capable of learning more, I didn't pay much attention. But now that she will be in a program at the high school, for the first time I can see that she can actually become a self-sufficient adult. I never thought it could be done. I never believed it would work and that she would, in fact, be doing the things that other kids do. I know it may seem that I'm trying to catch up all at once, but I want to make sure she can have the skills that are necessary to hold a job.

"I remember from my own high school experience how the girls who weren't too bright were taken advantage of. I'm afraid for Linda. How do we find that balance between what the school system should do, what we should do, and how much freedom Linda should have?

"Maybe the answer will come if Ruth and I look at our own life. Things did change after Linda was born. First, we were so upset that we couldn't talk. Then we seemed to be so busy doing for everybody else we may have grown apart. I know I still love my wife and maybe we can spend more time doing for each other."

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The Cummings came to discuss their 15-year-old daughter, Linda. Linda, who has Down syndrome, was entering the high school in the fall, and the Cummings found themselves constantly arguing about her program.

Throughout Linda's school life, Mrs. Cummings had always taken full responsibility for her daughter's school activities. Mr. Cummings had been minimally involved and his wife was surprised at how anxious he was to meet with the school guidance counselor. Initially, his discussion focused on Linda's academic program. It then became clear that Mr. Cummings' major concern was about his daughter's emerging sexuality and the dangers he perceived at the high school.

All parents of adolescents have to deal with their child's emerging independence and growing sexuality. The Cummings had been concerned about their two older children but ultimately concluded that they would not discuss these matters with them. They believed that if they had concerns they would come to them. After graduating from high school, both the youngsters talked about how anxious they had been with the problems of drugs and sex that existed.

Parents of well-functioning adolescents can avoid confronting these issues if they choose to, as did the Cummings. When children are vulnerable, they may challenge the parents to consider issues they may otherwise avoid.

Both the Cummings were concerned that their daughter Linda would be less able to cope with the problems that she would encounter in high school than their older children. Although the issue of sexuality was new to Mr. Cummings, Mrs. Cummings had already begun much earlier discussing the problems of growing up with her daughters. This was particularly pressing when her oldest daughter was leaving for college and needed to discuss her concerns with her mother. Mrs. Cummings had discussed with Linda the issues of her changing body, menstruation and appropriate behavior with other youngsters.

Mr. Cummings was surprised when he became aware of his wife's discussions of these issues. However, they were able to discuss the impact of their daughter Linda's birth on their own sexual activity and concerns. They had never been fully able to go back and question the obstetrician or any other professional about what had been the possible factors in their daughter's Down syndrome. This lack of discussion extended to Mrs. Cummings' dealing with her children. She found it easier to discuss personal matters with her daughters without including her husband. It was her husband's insistence on dealing with issues directly that confronted Mrs. Cummings with trying to find a new way of becoming involved with her husband. This is why they had both been temporarily stuck arguing with each other.

Mrs. Cummings apologized and said she assumed that her husband did not want to know. She had wanted to mention these talks when Mr. Cummings began to raise his concerns. She was now ashamed that she had withheld information from him.

Parents who are committed to their child often can examine their own mutual problems if they feel they affect their child's development. The Cummings were able to turn to a long avoided area -- the birth of Linda.

The Cummings discussed with each other the birth of their daughter and how they both felt at the time. Old painful memories were verbalized and, although they were uncomfortable for awhile, both Mr. and Mrs. Cummings felt better being able to finally say what they had both thought. They were also surprised at how similar their feelings were. This gave the Cummings a chance to discuss their daughter and her future, as well as the genetics issues that concerned their older children.

When the Cummings went to the high school, they were able to discuss the problems that they had heard about from their other children. They were pleasantly surprised at how eager the guidance counselor and the other school professionals were to enlist the cooperation of all parents in dealing with these issues in a direct way. They were also impressed by how much support was available for youngsters in the regular school program, as well as the extracurricular programs.
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Article Details
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:2187
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