Parents, along with anyone else who has had to take care of another being, know that care work is a combination of what you’d like to do and what you’re capable of. While we would love to have all the patience in the world for our children, there are days where we just can’t listen to one more round of kid arguments. Sometimes we are just stressed and get a little less patient with what they want and the way it opposes what we want or what needs to happen for the day. Some of us live in this area. I am in no way judging where you are in this spectrum. It varies on a daily basis in our house.
On the side of what we’d like to do, there is a behavior that we strive to model for our son. It is asking for and waiting to receive consent when handling his body (such as bathing). I know how much he hates to wash his hair, so I ask first. If he isn’t absolutely gross and doesn’t want it washed, it doesn’t get washed. When it is absolutely gross, some convincing takes place. I’m not sure how this is going to play out down the line, but I hope that it causes him to be aware of the importance of asking for and receiving consent to do things with people. While it doesn’t always work out great with a three year old, we hope that we will all get better at respecting each other this way.
This is the best way that I have of modeling behavior that may distance my son from rape culture. Since kids learn more from watching and listening, my best hope is to model it first and reinforce it with teaching. But teaching still needs to happen and it needs to happen everywhere. We need to really start to teach and model for our children that consent is an important thing to obtain when dealing with other people. Consent to an interaction is the most important part of that interaction. Without consent, the other person could be going through a number of things that begin with having anxiety and end with violence and death. This is a pretty big spectrum when you consider that many boys don’t give consent to taking a bath on the mild end and that no one consents to being murdered as the opposing extreme. Nonetheless, consent is an important thing to learn to look for and respect, and not just assumed consent based on mannerisms but clear consent. Look for consent that is clearly given, not somehow deduced based on other behavior or mild nod.
It is also an important thing to learn to give. Giving clear consent can open all kinds of possibilities to any person. When the person that you are dealing with knows that you are all in or just tipping in a toe, it can make a huge difference in how the interaction is set up. We also try to teach our son to give a clear consent so we know exactly how far he is comfortable to go with something, but he also learns that sometimes there is no going back. We took him to Disney World last month and went on Pirates of the Caribbean, which he had been on before and enjoyed. This time, he got ten feet into the ride and decided he didn’t want to be in it anymore. There was no going back, though. We had to finish the ride because we were not in a position to just jump off of it. Sometimes you have to consider consent a little harder before you give it because sometimes you can’t count on removing it. This is not a fun lesson for him to learn but he also learned to be brave and deal with fear in this particular instance. If we were talking about something that could possibly turn sexual, it would be a whole different conversation.
That is another lesson that I hope he learns one day about consent. There are things that you will consent to and change your mind but cannot go back. There are things that demand an immediate reversal too. How are we supposed to tell the difference? How are we supposed to teach the difference? Consent has become a consistent and growing learning curve in our home. It is a focus that is very important to us. I truly believe that it starts in everyday life first. It is a habit. Learning to recognize and ask for consent correctly is a skill that must become second-nature. It must be practiced in our world that tends to respect authority and control more than acceptance and consent. Learning to give consent to everyday situations and to relay to someone the degree of consent that you are giving is also very important. We need to take a more concerted effort to teach our children about this and make it definitively tied to sexual activity before they begin engaging in those activities. We need to teach them to ask how consent was given, instead of how someone refused, which is the current question for rape victims.
I hope that the Affirmative consent law grows and takes over our conversation about sex and rape. Reading about this law and policy is what had reshaped our dealings with our son to the consent requirement we currently have. Hopefully, he will learn to always look for clear and enthusiastic consent to everything he does in life. Hopefully this behavior will be infectious to those around him. Hopefully, having the conversation with him in this manner will cause him to never question a victim or survivor about their actions instead of that of the perpetrator. Those are conversations that are still down the road for us, but this is where we begin. I hope others will join us.
And I hope they realize that giving and obtaining consent are equally important to all genders, not just one to another. I only have a son, so I can’t speak to what I would do with a daughter without having expectations that may not be reasonable and I just don’t know it yet.
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