It’s not every day I find myself talking to my boys about consent, but IT IS every day that I find myself practicing the values of consent I expect my children to adhere to throughout their lives.
Kindof a heavy statement… so let me break that down for you.
I am not expert. I don’t know how to explain to my four year old boys the complex and varied experiences of consent. But as Dr. Ford came forward and her testimony coupled with the #metoo movement remained at the forefront of people’s minds and particularly survivors’ daily consciousness, I found myself bearing witness to a wide range of sexual assault experiences including adults sharing that as boys and girls, as young as four, five and six, they had been victims and/or perpetrators in relationship to classmates of the same age.
As I read, heard and carried these stories, Leonel and I found ourselves realizing we needed to talk to our boys about consent. Even at four years old. We needed to figure out some way to begin the conversation, to begin setting boundaries for them, some understandings, limited as it may be. We settled on comparing their bodies, the sacredness and “ownership” of their bodies to their particular stuffed animals.
Now stay with me here…
Our boys share everything. And when I mean everything, I mean everything. In this house of twins there is only one thing that is “just their’s” and which they do not have to share with each other or any other children who might come and play. It is their stuffed animals, Gerry (the giraffe) and Alfonso (the elephant). So one day, as we sat down for breakfast, I told them that their bodies are like Gerry and Alfonso. They are their’s alone and no one gets to touch them without them saying it’s okay.
But that’s not enough right?
I also had to tell them that everyone else’s body is exactly the same. They don’t get to touch other kids, adults, anyone with out them saying it’s okay. And if someone says “stop” or “no” you stop touching immediately.
But that’s not enough either…
…because even if someone says you can touch them, you DO NOT get to touch them on their lips, tummy, bottom or penis area (yes, we use the word penis, so that’s what I said).
But that still wasn’t enough…
…because they do kiss us and their grandparents and they do still need help getting their bottoms wiped sometimes…so there are of course exceptions to these rules.
Whew. Just whew. That was how I felt at the end of “this talk.”
But we had the talk and we’ve returned to it a couple of times and when they say someone touched them or they tackled someone at school we enter into that conversation more deeply. We try to normalize talking about touching and if “it felt okay” or “didn’t feel okay.” Yet, what has surprised me most, isn’t how hard it is to talk to my boys, but how hard it is to hold myself to these same standard as a parent. Step one: hold the boys to these standards even at home and between each other and Mom and Dad. Even though they are twins, even though they have been touching probably every day of their lives, when one says “no” or “stop” they other one is required to listen and cease their behavior immediately and sometimes I’m the one who has to make sure that happens.
Step two: and this one is even harder, is that as their mother remembering that I have to ask them for a hug, for a kiss and when they say “no” to accept that answer without cajoling or shaming them into giving me the hug or kiss I crave. This.
This. Is. Hard.
To confront my own bad habits around consent and what I think I am entitled to as their mother because I bore them for nine months, or because I know they are just playing as they say “no” and run away. Nope. It doesn’t work like that and it can’t work like that. I HAVE to confront my own practices, my own behaviors that continue to perpetuate an understanding of consent that conflicts with how I expect my boys to behave in the world.
This is hard hard work friends and I’ll be honest, I get it a wrong more times than I would like, but then I say “I’m sorry” and tell my boys that how I treated them was inappropriate and no child or adult, not even Mom, has the right to pressure them into sharing their body. It’s their’s, just like their stuffed animal and they never ever have to share. No, means no…even to Mama.
So, as usual, when I am trying to better understand and have new language for a topic, I turn to books. And the book I bought was “C is for Consent” by Eleanor Morrison. It is a good book, but it’s more for adults than kids. It does an excellent job breaking down this new paradigm (and yes it IS new for many people) that adults don’t have access to the bodies of children even when every intension is good. If you have been struggling to get this shift working in your extended family or community (church people can be notorious about this) then this book might be a great gift to those adults. It would also be helpful for 8-12 year olds. I haven’t yet found a good little kids book yet, that is directed at them and the interactions they experience, but I have a couple marked in Amazon to check out. If you have any suggestions, or found ones that worked well with your kids, please let me know!