I’ve written previously about my prior concerns about sleeping naked that arose after we became parents. This was one of many things I was very deliberate and deliberative about in that realm. Given the lack of substantive examples of healthy parenting from my own childhood (and my wife’s was even worse), I sought answers to these pressing concerns doubly hard.
I really felt drawn to the idea of fostering a relaxed, laid-back environment for my children that instilled discipline where it mattered but facilitated freedom where it didn’t. Christian parents I’ve encountered as an adult have been all over the place with methods and goals, and not all would hold to such an ideal. Some have even been offended when I asked for input on specific issues, interpreting them as an invasion of privacy. But I still sought answers.
Searching for an Answer
One specific area of concern was clothing requirements for children. Not when they go out in public; I’ve got that pretty well covered by biblical teaching on modesty. I’m referring to how modesty should be applied within the home, when the “audience” is the immediate family and the culture is completely relaxed. Basically, what parental requirements (if any) should I have for my children’s attire when it’s “just us”?
I searched the Word for instruction, I prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit, I asked the peers that would answer, I read online anecdotes, and I studied relevant books. I dug deep, far, and wide, searching for the answer based on the four-point method I use for discerning truth and boundaries (Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition).
Scripture seemed silent on the topic. Much like in the other aspects of parenting, it gives clear guidance on overall direction and suggests the use of some key strategic tools like discipline. However, the details of implementation in specific use cases seemed to be at the discretion of a discerning parent-led by the Holy Spirit. When you think about it, this approach makes sense since cultures vary so greatly and Scripture applies to all. But my first stop on the ole quadrilateral left me without a specific answer.
My second step was reason. I had some ideas I’d established through logic based on some key principles and goals including:
- fostering a positive, shameless body image;
- building a profound sense of self-respect;
- instilling a godly reverence for marriage; and
- teaching a posture of loving deference to others.
Mostly, though, my reason was still formulating its position. It saw the need for more input.
Third, my experience was limited in my own life, but I could draw from others. And I did. This offered my reason some input that would help to guide me.
Most disappointing, though not terribly surprising, was the final step. Christian tradition was full of opinions, but they weren’t terribly helpful. Most evangelical influences seemed to lean toward a very strict, almost Victorian approach, but this approach was continually built upon foundational presumptions that I consistently disagreed with because I found them contrary to Scripture and reason (despite aligning with much of the church’s long-standing dogma).
So, it was up to experience to inform my reason. My own background was limited to an only-child environment, so my childhood offered little insight relevant to the multi-child home I intended to lead. For what it was worth, I spent much of my childhood and teenage years in underwear, but I doubt that was the result of any strategic parental direction. And certainly, if it was, my parents never shared their hypothetical strategies with me.
With little to glean from my own life, I began asking around. It seemed like the general consensus agreed to a point, though there were some unique perspectives (I’d call them outliers, but my research wasn’t nearly scientific enough to warrant proper labels). Most seemed to agree that up to a certain age — between nine and thirteen usually, depending on the responder — the home environment was generally relaxed. Mixed-gender kids bathed together, ran around the back yard naked or in their underwear, and unwound in as little or as much as was comfortable. One Christian parent that had worked in the psychiatric field for most of his life explained his primary concern about his now-grown daughters’ attire had been hygiene — they had to wear a minimum of underwear when lounging about just to stay clean, but otherwise, he was unmotivated by his expertise to establish any special requirements. They would naturally and individually draw their own boundaries if they needed them, he explained.
I also read some really interesting books. One in particular, The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg, offered some fascinating historical insight about the way young girls’ body images had transitioned through the twentieth century. This book spoke my language: “By age thirteen, 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies,” Brumberg writes, adding, “By seventeen, 78 percent are dissatisfied.” That was exactly what I wanted to avoid! And I knew from experience that boys went through self-loathing and body image hatred, too. She explained that “children who grow up in an environment without shame are better prepared in adolescence for changes in their own bodies and for making distinctions among the barrage of sexual stimuli that popular culture directs at adolescents.” That was precisely the sort of intentional parenting based on principles I was looking for.
Yet this adolescence really concerned me. If I let my seven-year-old son wander through the house without any clothes, few would think twice (unless it’s during Thanksgiving dinner, of course). But If I still let him wander so bare at thirteen or fifteen, wouldn’t people call me a pervert? So powerfully fearsome was that stigma that I was genuinely mortified of such a perception!
And my parental interviews were so varied in their answers that I still didn’t get much certainty. If they knew I did such a thing, some might not call child protective services, but they would certainly keep an eye on me. Meanwhile, others wouldn’t have batted an eye, so long as it wasn’t in their presence.
I had input, and it seemed to reinforce the direction I’d been feeling led to go, but there was enough uncertainty for me to still hesitate out of fear.
Scripture Speaks… Sorta
It was in the midst of this uncertainty that I came across an indirect insight from the Bible. It turns out Scripture’s not completely silent on the subject after all, though it’s a glancing blow at best.
In Ezekiel 16, God reveals a metaphorical example of Him assuming the role of a Guardian and Caretaker for a newborn girl who symbolized Israel, His future [adulterous] bride. His premarital role (seen in 16:4-8a) was not unlike that of a parent, albeit a far more perfect Parent than I could ever hope to be. He cared for her, cleaned her, protected her, nourished her, and empowered her to thrive, full of vibrant life. His guardianship was exclusive, and he tended to her in a manner that resembled the loving parental adoption of an orphan.
In this arrangement, God allowed His metaphorical child to remain “naked and bare” (‘êrōm and ‘eryâ respectively, both words rooted in ‘ārâ, meaning to lay bare or expose) throughout her childhood.
He eventually changed His tune, though, once her body had completely grown up (gādal). His specifications for her maturity were fourfold. First, she’d taken on the beauty of a perfectly formed jewel (‘adî). Second, all her body hair (‘sē’ār) had spouted and grown (sāmah). Third, her breasts were fully formed and developed (kûn). Fourth, she was old enough (‘et) for, ahem, marital love (dôd).
It is at this point of physical maturity that her Guardian becomes her Husband, and now He clothes her as a King who would make her His queen. The account of His perfect parenting concludes with an overt reminder that she still had been naked and bare.
To be sure, this Scripture wasn’t intended to be instructional, at least not in this light. The whole passage is clearly symbolic and is addressing an ancient nation in a specific era about a specific sin (idolatry). Yet despite all that, I think it’s telling that God was unconcerned about His ward’s nakedness until she was transitioned from ward to wife. I don’t think this is explicit instruction to require nudity from my children (that would be weird, if you ask me), but it does show me that I might not be way off base if I feel led to have a relaxed “liberal” stance in this area.
With that encouragement, I felt at peace with my spirit’s leading for the first time, and over time I was able to set aside my previous cultural fears. The Word has a funny way about strengthening your resolve, doesn’t it?
So, what? Is the Osgood family a micro nudist colony? Hardly!
Much like our unconcern about parental exposure, we are simply unconcerned about childhood exposure. Nudity itself simply isn’t sin in our home. We’re open and frank about our bodies as an example to them in hopes that they will return the favor up into adolescence when body image is so at risk.
As for that adolescence, it’s not all that different from the childhood in general. If they’re comfortable, and they’re not making anyone else in the family uncomfortable, then I’m comfortable.
If that means they’re wandering around naked or in a towel on occasion after a shower, that’s fine. If that means their typical loungewear is just a pair of underwear, I’m good. And if that means they’re fully clothed at all times because that’s what’s comfortable, that’s cool, too. The point is that it’s comfortable for them and for the family.
Family comfort takes on a bit of consideration with mixed-gender siblings. In childhood, it really doesn’t matter much; it’s all pretty much the same. Yet while adolescents often naturally begin to value a higher level of privacy as they seek independence, some are less private than others. This can (possibly) make fellow adolescent siblings — particularly those of the opposite gender — uncomfortable.
I see this as an excellent teaching opportunity about respecting and valuing others. Mom and Dad, we’ll explain, have been demonstrating this. “In fact, before you kids grew up, we went around wearing a lot less a lot more often but we reined it in when we saw it making someone we love uncomfortable. And we miss that, but we’re valuing others before ourselves.”
Then we can explain the Scriptural teaching of putting others first. If the discomfort goes away (or the appropriate kid goes off to college), then we can settle back into what we’d prefer, but until then, we’re being respectful out of love.
A Note on Intimacy
All of the above is based on the intimacy inherent in the immediate family. When we have guests, this respect-out-of-love dynamic takes on a new application.
The youngest children will do what they do, and if my guests have a problem with a four-year-old running out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a hand towel tied around his neck like a cape, screaming “I’m super towel man!” …well, if that bothers them, perhaps they’re too uptight for us anyway.
Older kids, however, will take their cues from Mom and Dad. If we dress up, they do too. If we hang out in pajamas or something similarly relaxed because we’re close to the visitors (like family or intimate friends), then it’s clear to our older kids that a relaxed tone has been set. They’ll be expected to follow suit.
The older they get, the more this gets explained, teaching that intimacy and audience play a huge role in things like modesty. And that leads into discussions about the nature of intimacy and its supreme expression — marriage — and the privilege, vulnerability, and reverence such intimacy entails.
In the end, I believe (and pray) that this will help lead my children to become spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and relationally healthy adults. My hope is that they’ll have a body image built on confidence rather than shame and fueled by frank honesty rather than awkward avoidance.
They’ll learn a lot along the way about respect for self and others, intimacy, modesty, physical development, marriage, aging, sexuality, and most of all what God has to say in each area.