I remember when my husband had The Talk with our firstborn (Yeah, that one). It was awkward, not fun, and… awkward. As soon as he said the words, “When a mommy and daddy love each other very much…” I wanted to go hide under the covers and pretend that my gangly preteen son was still a chubby, clueless toddler.

When he finished, I thought Phew. Well, I’m glad that’s over! One child down, three to go!

I laugh with you now at my naiveté. I truly thought you had The Talk, and that was it. Our offspring would express understanding, gravely thank us for sharing such deep truths with them from our profound store of wisdom, and there would be no need for more awkward questions or conversations. Little did I realize that it was only the beginning.

Over my 21 years of parenting, I’ve learned that the ongoing conversation we have with our children is more important than any one-time “talk.” And not just in the area of learning about the birds and the bees.

This is how we treat others...here is why we are kind and patient with elderly people. This is why you walk slowly with a little one. Here is why you should speak kindly to your brother…be helpful to a sick sibling…reach out to strangers…care for the homeless, needy, and lonely. This is why you should wait for marriage for sex, why God cares so much for us that he gave us these guidelines...and on and on.

It’s the laying down of principles and thoughts ever so slowly, building with time, adding deeper truths as their age allows them to handle more.

Deuteronomy 11:19 has been overused by the homeschooling community to prove its point about the need to be present with our children, but it is still a wonderful guideline for parenting. How better to discuss the great mysteries of life than as you ‘walk by the way, rise up, lie down,’ live?

My sixteen-year-old daughter recently had her nose out of joint about riding with a carpool to her volleyball practice. Knee deep in unpacked boxes from our recent move, I could not figure out why she couldn’t be agreeable about riding with a teammate and her mother.

“Because they just turn the music up loud and sit there, and they don’t…talk.”

As good as this made my mommy heart feel, I realized it wasn’t just me talking that she appreciated. Apparently, it’s also me listening that is a crucial factor. It’s difficult to have a conversation if one (me) is always talking, directing—dare I say it? Lecturing.

I must listen. Take the time to understand and respond to the nuances of each child’s heart. Only then will they care what I have to say. This quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt rings through my mind: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Is that more true anywhere than in the parent-child relationship?

So the conversation continues. Little questions and truths we touched on briefly that were perfectly age-appropriate when the children were ten years old (God’s perfect plan is for us to wait for sex until marriage) become bigger questions as they become mature teens: Why wait? Should I marry young? Why or why not? My friend’s mother put her on the Pill. All of my teammates talk about sex constantly—how do I respond? My friend was molested—what should I do? What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I guarantee that if you parent long enough, at least one of your children will come up with a question that will bowl you over.

And the most important part? You do not have all the answers. Try to pretend like you do and they will call your bluff. So how to approach these conversations about sex and life as our kids grow older?