In the wake of the unsettling and all too common sexual abuse scandal of yet another famous figure, and the #metoo campaign that entailed, we’ve been forced to face the harsh reality that sexual abuse, lack of respect for others’ bodies, and ignorance of physical consent are rampant problems in our society. As the mother of two girls, this issue both frightens me and and gives me pause. I pause to think – how did we get here, and what can we do about it?
If you ask ten different people, you would likely receive ten different answers to these questions. There are many reasons, multiple hurtles, and, hopefully, a bevy of solutions. Where I am in life, though, I look at the issues through the lens of a parent. I look at what we are teaching our children and how seemingly innocent actions can inadvertently reinforce unwanted behaviors or ideals.
When it comes to parenting, and life, I’m learning that it’s the seemingly small choices that, over time, add up to life lessons. What we model for our children in our day to day decisions regarding respect for their bodies and others’, as well as the notion of physical and emotional consent, are the ideals they will carry with them when they face crucial situations in the future.
There are many ways to teach these lessons and empower our little ones by respecting their bodies and boundaries. I am no expert, and I by no means wish to claim that my way is the “right” way. I’m aware that, to some, my ideas might seem extreme, or a little too over the top. That’s fine. We are constantly refining what works for our family and our children, just as each parent has to do for their own.
Yet, I write this as a reminder to my children, as well as myself, that each day I will strive to respect their bodies and their right to consent, so that they can carry these notions forward in the future.
Dear Fierce Daughters,
I grew your beautiful bodies in my own, and for that reason I want to both protect and empower you. As you will always be a part of me, I promise to treat your body and spirit with the same care and respect that I would want others to treat me. In doing so, I hope to teach you to do the same.
I will respect your preferences to be held and touched only by those you know and love. I will not pass you off to others when you look at me with quivering lips and tears in your eyes. I will hold you close and embrace your desire to be near your safe haven.
I will not shush you and tell you it’s ok, stop crying, be quiet, when in your world it so clearly is not ok. I will listen to you, between the words, to discern what your little body is telling you. I will comfort you the best way I know how, allowing you to trust your body and express your emotions.
I will give you space when you need it. When you push me away I will remain by your side, but I won’t force words or actions from you. I trust your tiny heart to know how to remedy a tough situation. I will lead and guide, but allow you the space to choose how to use your physical and verbal affections.
I will not force affection from you. I will not tell you to hug or kiss grandma or a friend or a stranger you’ve just met. Or even myself. Even when it breaks my heart that you won’t give me a goodnight kiss when I tuck you in at night. Even if all I want to do is squeeze you at the end of a long hard day. It’s your body and your choice. And it feels so much better to receive the affection you give willingly, filled with love and joy.
I will not tickle you until you laugh so hard you can’t breathe or mutter stop. I know tickling will make you laugh, that’s the point. But I also know that the laughter that comes from tickling can shadow your true feelings and ability to tell me no. I will work harder and choose different ways to gain your giggles.
I will not stand idly by while others, unaware of our ways and just trying to have fun, tickle you. I will put myself in the awkward situation of having to tell a well-meaning friend or family member that we don’t do that. Hopefully this will help you avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations to come. Hopefully this will teach you how to use your own words to stand up for your own body, even and especially if it’s awkward.
I will try at all costs not to force your body into places or positions or clothing that you don’t want to go. When possible, I will respect your choices and your timing. When it’s not possible, due to safety or time or circumstances, I will strive to always handle your body with calm and your emotions with gentleness. I am listening, even when I can’t always accommodate.
Your voice still matters. Your choice always matters.
Love your fierce advocate,
I write these words to my daughters because, at this time, I only have girls. Yet, if I one day have sons, I believe it will be equally important, if not more so, to instill these same values in them. In order to change, our world needs girls and boys who know what it means for their bodies to be respected and to respect in return. We need young women and men who grasp consent because they’ve always been given a choice and a voice.
It starts young. It starts with us. It starts with the seemingly innocuous choices we make for our children everyday. So maybe, hopefully, it can end with us too.