Q. I've made a habit of taking my 15-month-old son into the bathroom with me to play while I take my shower and get ready in the morning. Consequently, he sees me dressing, undressing, and showering. At what age does it become inappropriate for a son to see his mother without clothes?
A. I'm impressed that you've found a way to meet your own needs and still attend to your son. Many of us spend months with greasy hair because we can't manage to shower and keep an eye on our kids at the same time.
When does this efficient system become inappropriate? That is largely dependent upon your own beliefs and attitudes about nudity and children. If you feel uncomfortable with your own nakedness in your son's presence, you should find another plan, because your son will sense your awkwardness. If you continue to go about your morning routine as if your clothing status were irrelevant, it will remain irrelevant to him for quite some time. He does not yet have the notion that one part of the body is any less acceptable for viewing than any other.
This means, of course, that you should be prepared to answer any questions that your son may come up with as time goes on, matter-of-factly and with little hemming and hawing, about names and purposes of body parts. If you have been relaxed about showing your body, your son will see no difference between inquiring about your elbow and asking about your breasts. If you get embarrassed or avoid answering the question, he may begin to feel that there is something shameful about that body part, or that he has done something wrong. Instead, predict your own responses to such questions, and if you think that you'll feel uncomfortable, you may want to change your morning routine before he gets to the age (usually around 2 years old) when he becomes verbal and observant of differences and similarities.
If you are happy to answer your son's questions (and you needn't provide the full biological story; the basics are fine), then you can probably continue to be naked in front of your son well into his preschool years.
If, at any point, your child shows discomfort with your nakedness or starts to ask for privacy for himself, you might want to consider a little extra modesty, even if it's simply putting a towel around yourself and going into another room to dress. But by then, he will have developed an array of distractions to allow you shower time while he's nearby in a childproofed area.
Anita Sethi, Ph.D., is a research scientist at The Child and Family Policy Center at New York University. She has two sons.