Don't We Have This Modesty Thing Backwards?

I tend to get mailbag questions in bunches. All of a sudden, I'll get a flurry of questions on similar topics. Maybe it's facebook? Maybe it's some sort of hive mind phenomena? But there you have it. It's a thing. The most recent wave was on kids and modesty. And the questions got me wondering myself . . .
The two angles of most questions seem to be . . .
"How do you handle different-gender siblings with regards to modesty etc.?
My son and daughter are almost four years apart, but they both still feel very young to me. They love taking a bath together, and I never think twice about changing them around each other etc. But, my husband thinks my son might be getting too old for that... I've also wondered about possibly having them share a room some time in the future and whether or not that would be "awkward."
I know your kids don't have that big of a gap between them, but they certainly span that distance.... How do you handle stuff like that? Is it just a non-issue or do you have firm family "rules" or "boundaries"?
I'd love to hear your take."
and . . .
"At what age do you start being concerned about the length of dresses/skirts/shorts of your daughters?
This is new territory for me. When I think of dressing modestly my 1st thought as a bigger busted gal is to not show cleavage. I'm short, worrying about revealing leg usually isn't an issue. But then I married a guy that's 6'3" & my daughter has inherited his genes in the height department. My daughter just turned 3. I hadn't really thought about it until today my husband mentioned our daughter's dress seemed short. I know that as you said in a podcast you're just a person on the internet that has opinions on things...but I usually like your opinions & would appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Thanks."
So, of course, I have thoughts and we have family policies related to both issues. But as I started to respond, what kept coming to mind was how crazy and so very sad it is that this is where we've come to as a society. That as good, concerned parents, we have THIS kind of stuff to worry about when our kids are two and three and four.
Concerns like this (and we all have them) are, empirically speaking, complete nonsense.
Modesty is a concept tied to sexuality. Since little kids are not sexual, they also shouldn't have to be modest. Look at old movies from the forties and fifties, little girls are wearing dresses that barely cover their frilly unders . . . at a nativity play!
The kids and I recently read a book called Caddie Woodlawn, set in 1864, in which eleven year-old Caddie and her two-years-older and -younger brothers have to cross a river, so they all take their clothes off, bundle them up on their heads and wade across. No biggie.
But, because of pornography and the hypersexualization of the society we live in, we grownups worry that everything is sexual. Even little kids. And even if WE know they aren't, we run the risk of scandalizing our friends and neighbors who think that worrying about modesty with four year olds is protecting them, when really it's just burdening them with stuff that totally doesn't apply. From what I can tell based on my mom's collection of vintage patterns, people used to understand that little girls could run around in little dresses, and young ladies should dress like, well, young ladies.
And it's not just a twentieth century thing! Check out this excellent and informative Victorian age-appropriate skirt-length chart from Harper's Bazaar found by Claire in the comments . . .
So, fashions change, but clearly, skirts have traditionally gone from short to long as girls become women. These days, however, there are plenty of sweet knee-length and tea-length dresses for little girls, but heaven help you if you're trying to find something that will reach longer than mid thigh for your twelve year old who is already too tall for anything in the girls' section. #askmehowiknow It's just all backwards! We should be emphasizing modesty and beauty and decorum with our tweens and teens and thinking about it pretty much not at all with our little kids. So there's the conundrum. Philosophically, I hate the very idea of addressing this with my little kids. But, practically, this is the world we live in, for better and worse. So, we do address the concept of modesty with kids earlier than I think we should probably have to. I've got a blog post on that:

Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard

but here's the short version: If you're in diapers, there are no rules. Nakey anywhere anytime. Once kids are in undies, we start having rules about changing in private areas of the house, rather than public ones. The same rules apply to both boys and girls. We focus on dressing appropriately for the occasion. The girls wear bloomers and camisoles in case they want to turn somersaults or forget to sit like a lady. I think having some idea of the concept of modesty, but not a huge focus on it in the early years, creates a framework that we can build on later when modesty really is important. As for brothers and sisters, I actually think getting to be familiar with the human body in a non sexual, no big deal way is a blessing for kids in a family of boys and girls. My big kids all change the babies' diapers and help little siblings dress, and so they all just naturally know how boys and girls are different. I never realized what a benefit it was until a friend with only daughters mentioned how crazy curious her girls were. They had heard that boys were different somehow but with no brothers around, they had never been able to see exactly HOW they were different! Practically, after about age seven or so (the traditional "age of reason" in the Church) we don't have them bathe or change with siblings of the opposite sex who are older than they are. But a four year old boy in our house can bathe with his sisters. And I'm okay with occasional naked river crossings, but only if the bridge is out. ;) We have guidelines for bathing and changing, but not sleeping. My kids do sometimes sleep in the same room, or even in the same bed as a brother or sister . . . that doesn't seem weird to us.
I'm just following in the footsteps of my mothering hero, The Country Bunny. So, that's how we do it.
Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith. If you've got a question, please send it along to Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.
p.s. I am WAY behind on my mailbag. Like, a month behind. Maybe two. Between keeping up the blog, writing for Blessed is She (about the devil), the fixing up of the house we bought, and the general care, feeding, and education of my children . . . I am fresh out of time to respond to emails. But if you wrote to me to ask a question, please know that I got it. I read it. I composed an answer to you in my head. But I haven't typed it up yet. It is my sincere intention to do so sometime in the near future.