Today I was in the middle of responding to a text message from my husband when my son started climbing all over me and horsing around. He was happy, laughing and having a grand old time. I asked him to stop but he was in his own world thinking it was just a game. I quickly thought about how often this very thing happens to us throughout our lives, people violate our boundaries and have no regard for what we want (or don’t want) in the name of playing around. My son is two and a half years old but his age is no reason to put off starting a lifelong conversation about consent.
I gently told him that mommy didn’t like what he was doing and that I had asked him to stop but he hadn’t. “No means no,” I said to him. He looked at me and apologized then went on to play something else. It was such a quick moment but I have no doubt that it was an important one. I don’t believe that we should wait to start speaking to our children about consent. Consent encompasses a lot more than just sexual situations. It means that we regard everyone as fully human and respect their likes and dislikes. It’s about taking feelings and preferences into consideration. Consent means that my son is never under any obligation to show affection to anybody. Even to me.
Sometimes I ask him for a hug and he says no. I don’t try to guilt him into giving me a hug. I simply shrug it off like it’s not a big deal, because it’s not. My son comes up to me and gives me hugs and tells me he loves me all on his own. There is no need for me to feign hurt simply because he decided in that moment that he didn’t feel like hugging me. If we manipulate our children into showing affection they will think that it is okay to manipulate others into showing them affection as well. Affection should be freely given, not coerced. Naturally, I don’t encourage him to kiss and hug family members unless he wants to. Saying hello is enough.
I remember growing up and being made to make physical contact with people who made my skin crawl. It was considered impolite not to. The social anxiety that this caused made me dread seeing family. I just didn’t want to hug and kiss people. I wish back then I could articulate this and furthermore I wish that I believed my parents would even care. Now I’m of the mind that when it comes to MY feelings you can fuck your feelings. We are almost universally socialized to take other people’s feelings into account over our own. In some cases it is down right dangerous to offend someone or piss them off. Women have been killed by men whose advances they rejected.
So here is where I am at with consent. I will respect my son’s boundaries (although he’s not getting out of baths and naps!) and expect him to respect others’. This education has to start at home and it can’t wait. Children are never too young to start learning to respect and be considerate of others. Empathy, especially in boys, is important to nurture. No toxic masculinity here, that is trash.