Tagged Denise

Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

1

While writing a few weeks ago, a photograph of Perez Hilton showering with his toddler came across my newsfeed. (Technically, I was taking a break from writing and scanning Facebook. Writer’s downfall.) Anyway, I struggled to move beyond the obvious questions, like, Why should I care when victims from the latest mass shooting remain in the hospital? and Why is this even news? Why would he post this? I stop and take it in. They look happy, like they’re having fun. Father-son clean-up time. In our home, there were many times whoever was going into the shower took the dirtiest toddler for a quick rinse-off before dinner. Universal commonalities of parenthood.

I read the comments. (Ugh! Why do I do that?) Some people were outraged. Mortified. Scolding. Outspoken, in a way only the internet allows, because a grown-ass man shared a shower with his son.

Finding Balance in a Media Saturated World

Let me acknowledge something. I’ve worked in environments where it’s frowned upon to discuss showering with your child, sleeping with your baby or letting your child run around naked. I worked where these activities waved red flags of inappropriate adult-child behavior. I’ve been among sexually abused adolescents and adolescents who were perpetuators of sexual abuse. It’s not pretty. It’s humbling and it’s a million other things all at the same time. I know these photos can spark the dark things in life.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.11.42 PMBack to Perez’s shower posts. Granted, they weren’t the most well thought-out in Instagram history. They were, however, mild compared to other instagramming celebrities. They appeared authentic moment-capturing posts of a day-to-day parent living in a selfie-riddled world. Could they trigger those living in fear of an adult hurting a child? Absolutely. People who fear abuse happening again; individuals who fear they themselves may be tempted to abuse a child in a shower; and those living in a world of generalized constant fear could easily and grossly be triggered by that photograph. Sometimes, fearful people live shackled by rules. Rules including: Thou shall not shower with your toddler. And, thou shall scorn and judge all those who do, for they most certainly have evil intentions.

Somewhere, we have to step back. We have to take ourselves from the centricity of every post, every photo, every story on the news. We can relate it to our lives, without making it our lives. Relating to others makes their lives relevant, meaningful to us. We have to be mindful of where they stop and we begin. We also have to tend to our needs and identify and understand our triggers.

Somehow we’ve got to find the good in others, for it most certainly exists. Check your surroundings. If you hear a meow and you’re not in Africa, a zoo, or a big cat refuge it’s probably not a lion. It’s most likely a common domestic house cat. If you live in San Antonio, it’s probably a feral un-neutered stray. You definitely don’t need a high-powered rifle or bow and arrow to shoo it away. Don’t let fear become negative judgementalism, leaving you in fear for your life and the lives of everyone else.

No doubt, terrible things inhabit our world. I believe we’re called to speak up and protect the lesser among us. BUT, not everything is horrid. Not every white van wants to kidnap you. (Women understand this, men may not – another post lurks here.). We can be mindful of our surroundings walking to the car at night, without frantically running in a chaotic panic only to lose our keys while fumbling in the parking lot darkness.

When I walk across our pasture, sometimes I get stickers in my socks. Sometimes, I find beautiful, tiny things. Some of the beautiful tiny things have pointy sharp edges. I don’t stop walking and I don’t quit looking. The beautiful things I find are worth it.

This teeny little sharp bud is smaller than a babies new tooth.
This teeny little sharp bud is smaller than a babies new tooth.

We pay a hefty sum for constant media and never-ending connection into all the world’s multiplying minutiae. Within this sum, we lose something valuable. It’s conscious work to see things for what they are. Instead of a photo of a smiling dad and an impishly grinning toddler in the shower (all parts, but smiles covered), do we, instead, see a pedophile? Do we see a toddler at risk for becoming (gasp!) gay from showering with his father? What are we seeing? I’d really like to know.

I see a dad, a happy (and squeaky clean) toddler. That’s all.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.25.36 PM

There are and will continue to be movies of the week; best-selling books; heart-wrenching recollections from a best friend who, as a child, suffered at the hands of an adult; and maybe our own traumatic haunting childhood memories. The dark side exists. If we don’t take care of ourselves, and seek counsel when needed, that free-reined darkness can permeate our perspective and existence leaving us seeing the world through a dark lens. What do we miss? Do our children begin to see the world through our darkened glasses? Do those dark lenses affect how we treat others? Our health?  Our soul? and so much more? Therein lies the tally of the cost ringing up a long receipt.

We need balance. Something between fear and full-on devil-may-care destructive risk taking attitudes and behaviors. How is balance found? Where is it found?

 

The alien looking planet surface on the bottom, is really a close up of one of the leaves in the above photo. #perspective
The alien looking planet surface on the bottom, is really a close up of one of the leaves in the above photo. #perspective

This brave new interactive open-viewing world calls for introspection, honesty, and mindfulness. And dialogue. Dialogue without fear. Courage to ask questions of ourselves and others. It calls us to show up — for ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and our children — show up before fear takes over. It’s begs perspective, too. We need to acknowledge of our perspective.

In re-reading my post, I want you to know, it didn’t escape me — the nonchalance with which I wrote this sentence: “Why should I care, when victims from the latest mass shooting remain in the hospital? and why is this (Perez Hilton) even news?”  And, then, I talked and talked about Hilton’s photograph and the thoughts it bore, anyway. All the while those victims still recover. That, my friends, is a whole other post whose words currently bounce off the walls of my brain.

If you love someone with depression, read this.

A Letter to My Daughter: On Depression and Growing Up

2

I wrote this after my daughter faced a second bout of depression. It broke my heart when she was first diagnosed, yet gave me a sense of power to call it by name. She identified her foe at an earlier age than I had. Determined to help her not become depression, I wrote my thoughts down. She’s become an insightful, intuitive and compassionate young adult embracing all of who she is in ways I can only dream. With her permission and intent to support others, this is shared today.

If you love someone with depression, read this.


You cried the first time I left you. I knew what you didn’t — I’d return. I held your little body as you wretched the first time. Your tiny voice begged, “No, mommy, no.” I couldn’t stop the upheaval. My hands held you, my heart broke. It would pass, I knew. But only after you went through it.

The summer before kindergarten you begged, “Please, let’s homeschool. I don’t want to go all day.” I wrestled with the decision, yet told you it’d be fine. We chose an intimate school with shorter hours. The pre-K teacher said you were ready.

I saw a flash of something. An anxious, sensitive part wary of transitions, scared of new things, and afraid to be less than the best. I stood by you, stayed at school until you settled and surrounded you with trustworthy nurturing adults. You flourished.

When you wanted to dance, fears of something new and not-being-good overwhelmed you. I encouraged and maybe pushed a little the first class. I sat outside the studio door. Uncomfortable with first tries, who could blame you? That fear, that hesitancy, keeps some from ever trying. Soon, you no longer walked or ran. Twirls, leaps and jetes (accent over the second “e”) propelled your steps. At 7, you said, “No matter what, momma, I have to dance.”

In spite of hesitancies, you’re driven. First steps can stop you, or slow you down. You want to be sure. The thing is, we’re not always sure. Sometimes, the only way to know is to try.

Do you remember your first Nutcracker audition? You went back and forth. You wanted to do it, you didn’t want to do it. I strongly encouraged you to try. I’d a feeling you’d love the stage. (The audition environment was safe, nurturing and fun with adults you knew and loved. Puhlease, I’m the furtherst thing from a dance mom.)

Finally, I said, “If you get a part, you don’t have to take it.” Freedom and control, the back door and safety net now visible. You could say no. But, to have the choice of no, you stepped outside your comfrot zone and tried. You made it, chose to be a dancing mouse. More auditions followed and you loved every moment.

It’s hard being a mom. I constantly weigh encouragement vs. pushing. Sometimes, my heart knows you should try something and I give a bigger “encouragement”. I usually read your signals and give you room and respect to dig in your heels. I listen with my heart. I help find back doors so you can walk through the front ones.

Remember kindergarten – the place you didn’t want to go? You loved it so hard you didn’t want to transition to first grade. There were tears. There was clinging. Your kindergarten teacher saved the day and you went early to your old classroom. You helped set up and she walked you to first grade. It was magic. My confidant first grader found her way through a difficult time. She came in through the back door.

Transitions are challenging. They feel so abrupt. I swear, transitioning from wake to sleep takes a toll on your little body. I know. It does the same for me. I learned to give you the right amount of “heads-up.” Too much and anxiety ate away. Too litte and it’s becomes so big, jarring and overwhelming. Just enough and it’s smoother sailing.

A nurturing guide helped you assimilate well into Montessori elementary school. But, mid-elementary, your world fell apart. Your lifelong furry companion, Kadi, died. Your heart broke. A new best friend moved into town and moved out just as fast. It was all too much for your big heart.

The part of you that came alive when you danced, the part that gets lost in a book or movie, the part that sees beauty in the ordinary is the same part that shattered when Kadi died and a kindred sister friend moved. You lost the beauty, the silver linings, the sparkles and threw yourself into dance.

Your head in my lap, you cried. You wanted to be like everyone else. Happy. I found notes saying “I want to die.” I learned you didn’t want to die. You wanted everything to stop — a break from the heaviness of unhappiness. It drowned.

I looked for a way to make it better. There are no chapters in general parenting books about such notes from 8-year-olds. My strong hands held you as I shook within. They weren’t enough. You felt alone. The absolute worst. Feeling alone in a full family.

We searched for an answer, a way through the darkness. You went to where I’d found help before — a therapist, a gentle psychiatrist. We gave the unhappiness, the heaviness, a name. We boldly and unashamedly called it aloud. Depression. This, alone, brought immense relief. You weren’t crazy, a misfit, or broken. You were depressed.

Most people bounce back from the curve balls and sadness life throws their way. People with depression fall harder, deeper and longer. They often need help bouncing back. A life line, so to speak.

Depression isn’t evil. It’s not a curse. Not anyone’s fault. It just is. I’m sorry it is, but I can’t change that. I’m sorry there are tornadoes, cancer and scary ghost stories. My sorrow won’t make them disappear. (How I wish it would.) They don’t go away if we ignore them or hate them.

Naming took some of its power and gave you back some control. Some nights, you sleep through a thunderstorm. Some, you lay unafraid and listening, knowing storms won’t hurt you safe and warm inside. And, sometimes, you crawl into bed with another who makes you feel safe until it blows over. Maybe, you turn on the light. When the storm of depression hit so big, we found shelter in good therapists and helpers.

Your beautiful curly hair (even though it’s made you cry and you’ve spent hours straightening it) is your Grandfather’s; your brown eyes and fine features are your Grandma’s. Your overbite and the sparkle in your dancing eyes from another Grandma. Your stubbornness? Straight from your dad and his dad. (Okay, maybe a little from me, too.) You ability to tune into animals? It’s easily inherited from many in our family. Your flat chest? I’ll claim that one — sigh, sorry. A risk for heart disease? Cancer? High blood pressure? All come from family members. Unfortunately, depression came from me, maybe others, too. We can’t change these things. We can face them and accept them. We learn to deal with them and when to get help. Together.

When you don’t feel well, everything goes wrong and homework sucks; when it’s hard, overwhelming and you feel you’re under a pile of wet wool laundry with no way out; depression can strike. It’s your kryptonite. Your weakness. Like a horse with an old ache from an injured leg – overwork that horse and the stress first appears in a limp or stumble in that leg. You’ll always have to remember that leg and be aware. You’ll watch for red-flags before the limp is is too bad. You’ll learn what builds it up and what makes it wobble. You’ll take care of yourself. You’ll keep the kryptonite at bay. I’ll help. Others will, too.

Do you remember the magic glass story? It was only half-full. A thirsty little child refused to drink it. It wouldn’t completely quench the thirst, there wasn’t enough. Another child came along happy to drink what was there. The second child learned the glass was magic. As soon as the child drank the water, it magically refilled.

Sometimes we need help to see the glass is half-full. Maybe it’s a chemical thing in the brain changing your perspective on the glass. Medicine or talking with a professional may help. The first step is realizing your perspective — how you see the glass. Taking care of yourself — make sure you exercise, eat well, journal, etc. may help the perspective and change the focus on the glass. You’ll learn what works for you.

Your curly hair isn’t your fault (unless you pay big bucks for a bad perm). You didn’t choose your brown eyes. Depression isn’t your fault, either. You’ve a separate life from me, yet we share many characteristics. Those brown eyes and depression remain. Individually yours and mine.

We also share people who face it with us. They’re not afraid to call it by name. As you grow up, you’ll still need them. My heart isn’t getting smaller. There’s plenty of room to love you all the way through. I’m by your side. I’m not afraid of your curly hair or your depression. (Ok, sometimes on grouchy running-late mornings, your curly bed hair is more than slightly intimidating.)

Growing up has ups and downs, emotions and hormones on every turn. You’ll soon distinguish depression from life’s normal growing pains. It can be hard, I won’t lie. Sometimes you’ll need help. Keep talking, keep hugging. Keep showing up. You’ll get through it.

Throughout your day, plant little things to make you happy. A little time for you to work out, read, watch netflix, walk on the beach, play with a dog or be with a friend.

Never forget, I am here. I can listen, lend a strong supportive hand and encourage (even push a little). You’re doing well on a difficult path. It’s getting better. Depression isn’t a punishment or weakness. It’s not caused by you or anyone else. It just is – like a thunderstorm that hits the farm up the road but leaves another one high and dry a mile away. Some struggle with it. Others don’t.

I hope for you sunshine, rainbows, and gentle ponies. But, I know there will be rain, clouds, and bumps along the way. You’re surrounded by those who love you and will lift you up. You will make it through. Coming out the other side may not be exactly how you envisioned it, but you will come through –breath by breath and day by day.

If you learn anything from me, I hope you learn to be gentle with yourself. Seek others when needed. Turn away shame. Love yourself, my child. You’re sensitive, compassionate and loving. You’re the perfect you.

Resources for talking with your kids about transgender

Let’s Talk about Sex(uality): Transgender

10

Resources for talking with your kids about transgender

Unless you’re off the grid, unplugged or under a rock, somewhere on your feed, in your paper or on your television, the news of former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner openly living as Caitlyn Jenner appeared.

Maybe you watched the Diane Sawyer interview (I haven’t) or read the Vanity Fair cover story. (I’ve skimmed it.)

I have not bathed in the details because of my mixed feelings. To be clear, these feelings aren’t about Jenner being transgender. Parts of her 65 years of life break my heart. I don’t want to be a gawker. I’d like her and everyone else to live life authentically without judgement, discrimination and objectification. Ironically, living her life publicly, may pave the way for others to live authentically.

Talking to our kids

Maybe you’re wondering how to talk to kids about transgender. That’s why I’m writing this. But, first, I decided to go to the source. My almost-teen boy.

“So, what do you think about Bruce, now Caitlyn Jenner?”

“I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me she’s a woman now.”

“Biologically, she’s not a woman.” Inside, I’m happy-dancing he used the feminine pronoun. We’d talked about transgender transitions a few days ago – including the anatomy details.

Boy, attempting to walk away and escape this conversation, fingers in ears, “Whatever. She feels like a woman, looks like a woman. I’m okay with that.”

Me, grabbing his arm, “What if it was your father?”

Boy, stopped in his steps as wheels turn in his brain, “Later, I’m outta here,” – as in ‘later dad, been nice knowing you.’

“Why is that so different?”

“That’s my dad, now he’d be my mom.” Enter gender roles, norms, society, etc.

“It wouldn’t change that he’d fathered you,” I explain. His fingers go for the ears.

“Relax. I’m not gonna talk about sex. Get those fingers out of your ears.

“He’d still be your biological father. Would that change? All of the things he’s been to you? Would it change your love for him?” I pelted him with questions.

transgender_quiz4.0“Well, no. What would I call him or her or …?” He’s concerned with practicalities.

“Dude, that’s simple, you’d ask, ‘Hey, what do I call you?’”

“Ok. That’s easy,” Problem solved, he turns to walk away. “I’ve got to feed horses. Later mom. I love you,” And that was as much as he offered. He was done.

Ever the persistent teacher, I add, “Really, you know, lots of things affect someone’s gender,” I follow him across the room pointing to the Genderbread Person “…biologically their anatomy:  you know penis, vagina, etc.; who they’re attracted to; who they feel……..” and with that, his 12-year-old brain hit Charlie Brown overload. The door opened and shut.

There you have it. Not the first time we broached it, and not the last. (I will finish explaining the Genderbread Person, come hell or high water.) In one way or another, we’d discussed sexuality, gender, and more, since he was born. What began with calling a penis a penis, continues with things that influence gender. To borrow from my favorite author: so it goes.

Genderbread-Person-3.3
There’s a lot of information in this one graphic. It’s nearly overload. That’s ok. Just consider it. We’ll talk about it in another post. Another day. No quiz.

More on transgender

Imagine attending a gala honoring your best friend: tux, and gowns required. No matter how long you look in your closet, there’s no tux. Not even a ball gown. (Hey, you’re flexible that way.) There are corduroy pants, an 80’s tie and a worn oxford shirt. She’s your best friend. She doesn’t care. She wants you there. Clad in corduroys you spend the evening feeling out of place. You leave, depressed about never fitting in. You feel worthless and judge yourself the way you believe everyone judged you. Imagine this feeling every day of your life. Every day for 65 years. That’s 23, 725 days. 569,400 hours. 34,164,000 minutes.

I’ll never know for sure, I imagine this is sort of what it feels like to be transgender – when you feel like a girl but your physical body screams boy! or vice versa. I’d guess the actual feelings are much worse. Like wearing corduroys to the gala – similar feelings on steroids and exponentially multiplied.

It’s accepted that most people form their gender identities by the time they’re 3 years old. If how they feel is aligned with their biological bodies – that’s cisgender.

For those who are transgender, born with one biological body and identifying as another, it’s the beginning of those “not fitting in” feelings. Society expects them to fulfill specific gender roles based on those physical bodies – regardless of how they feel inside. You get the picture. Maybe you begin to understand why 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide and why more than 30% of LGBTQ youth reported at least one suicide attempt within the last year and more than 50% of transgender youth attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday. LGBTQ youth are twice, TWICE as likely to attempt suicide than their hetereosexual peers. Not to mention the increased likelihood of being victims of bullying and violence.

It’s hard to find an analogy to explain the intricacies of gender to my kids. It’s not perfect, but it’s an opening to compare it to eye color.* You’re born with the color of your eyes. You can’t change it. You can wear different clothes may bring out one color or another. You can buy colored contacts. At the end of the day, you’re still blue-eyed, but you’re so much more than just your eyes.

At the end of my day, I want my children (and the world, because I dare to dream big) to treat others with kindness, respect and compassion. I want us all to see the whole person – not only eyes, gender or sexuality. We are all so much more than a sum of our parts.

I want a world where Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have adult children before being authentic. There is a poignancy in my son’s response to, “What if it were your dad?” The answer is different when it shouldn’t be. Suddenly, it’s real. It’s got to be challenging, maybe even painful for Jenner’s children. How much better would it have been if she could’ve been herself all along? The truth is, she’ll never know. Hopefully, her very public steps now pave the way for future walks of others. Not only for transgender individuals, but for those who love and support them.

So, this is way more than your basic sex ed. Or, is it?

Many of us talk with our kids about the physical act of sex. Some of us start young. As a former sexuality educator, I believe starting early and continuing the dialogue throughout childhood and into adulthood is where it’s at. The “act” of sex is a small part of a large ongoing dialogue. Like putting gas in a car is a small part of driving. It’s not the whole story. A solid foundation comes in handy when things like Jenner’s transformation take center stage over floods, wars, and earthquakes. (I’m looking at you fracking.)

Society, as a whole, recently started defining gender. Our understanding is new. Understanding leads to empathy and compassion. As Sam Killermann said, “Gender is something we all learn about as kids, but we learn a very limited concept of a concept that’s truly unlimited. ” When we consider about 40 years ago homosexuality was classified as an illness, we realize we’ve come a long way. I’m here to tell you, there are miles to go before we sleep.

How do you talk about these things with your children? Let me know in the comments. In the future, I hope to post more on gender, sexuality, and conversations with our children.

Here are some resources you may find helpful. Not all are perfect, but they’re all a good start:

18 Books to Teach Kids About the LGBT Experience

Great info for parents, educators, guardians, etc.

The Genderbread Person and more

Teaching Tolerance: The Gender Spectrum

Some jumping off questions for discussing gender stereotypes

Transgender

Parenting and Family: The Gender Spectrum

*Most experts believe there are many influences on our gender.

Sexual Consent & French Fries

Teaching Sexual Consent – One French Fry at a Time

10

French Fried Consent, Keep Your Eyes on Your Fries…

 

It’s frustrating when someone steals your fries. Sometimes it takes bold defensive maneuvers to protect them. Watch that video again. Those fry thieves are brutal!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Let’s talk about consensual sexual activity. And French fries. What do fries have to do with sex? Maybe more than you think.

Recently, our society struggled to comprehend consensual sex.  So as not to repeat this confusion, we must raise children with strong voices and an understanding and respect for each other.

Sexual Consent & French Fries

Early Boundaries and Consent

Our newborn baby cries. We respond, pick her up, swaddle, and rock. We listen. The young voice is valued. The needs, wants, desires of a newborn are important. In fact, her innate needs and wants are the same. (Here and here.)

The same baby becomes a squirming 6-month-old. On a blanket, safe from outlets, knives and scissors, we allow exploration. Boundaries.

Fast forward. A toddler reaches for a hot cup of java. Gently, firmly, she hears, “That’s my cup. It’s hot.” The mug is placed a safe distance away.

A toddler noshes on apple pieces pinched between little fingers. I reach for one. He says “No, mine!”

I pull back and quietly ask, “Can Momma have one, please?” Stubbly fingers put one in my hand, closing my fingers over it. “Thank you,” I say. Boundaries. Boundaries, sticky palms and mushy apple bites.

Elementary school. When he’s not looking, she steals greasy, steamy, French fries. “Don’t. Touch. My. Fries! Mooooooom!” Mom reminds his sister those are her brother’s fries. She can ask, but sharing is his decision. What he has is his. What he does with what he has is his choice. Boundaries.

Sometimes being family means “Please, share with your sister, she’s hungry, too.” This is the exception, not the norm for boundaries. If something is given to a specific child, respect the ownership.

For most of us, this goes against our idea of ‘good’ children. We want smiling, happy, sharing kids. We don’t want ‘ornery,’ ‘spoiled,’ or ‘selfish’ offspring. We also want young self-respecting adults who possess and understand personal boundaries and consent.

Smelly Aunt Martha wants a kiss from a pulling-the-opposite-direction preschooler.  At the next family gathering back home, we don’t want her talking about our ‘misbehaving’ child. C’mon give her a kiss. Just alittle one? Please, for momma? Aunt Martha’s gonna cry without a kiss. And, now, we’ve made a 4-year-old responsible for Aunt Martha’s feelings. Seeing the similarities yet?

Just Say No PenHINT: Twelve years later, a peer of that once-preschooler says, “Please? Just do it. C’mon, have sex with me. Prove your love.” She’s said ‘no’ three times already. Just like when she reluctantly kissed her smelly aunt, her weak voice is ignored. The other teen kissed a smelly Uncle Tom and sees nothing wrong with ignoring a voice and pushing personal desires. Where are the boundaries now?

The road to becoming a young adult with a voice and boundaries is messy and fraught with curves and potholes.  First, they must be young ones with a voice. I’m not gonna lie — it’s not always pink ponies and happy skies raising vocal children. People don’t appreciate it and it certainly doesn’t fall under the heading “Children should be seen and not heard.” We want to ask them the questions while controlling their answers. That strong adult voice? It’s needs a LOT of childhood rehearsal time.

No one praises the mom who sent Aunt Martha on her way sans goodbye kisses. Society commends a mom whose children explicitly mind her and nods approval at the mom whose child cleans his plate or gives up a beloved toy to a friend (who later breaks it – you know the story ends this way.)

At the end of the road, everyone wants well-adjusted individuals who both have and respect consent, voices, and boundaries. These don’t happen over night and the fairy godmother doesn’t magically bestow them when they turn 16 — even if you have ‘the talk’ and leave the right books on their bed. It’s a lifetime of fostering the voice, teaching boundaries, modeling consent AND respect.

A story about a girl and a pony

There was a little girl who LOVED ponies. She loved her Barbie-cute riding instructors. One afternoon, the little girl’s foot slipped from the stirrup as her cantering pony rounded the arena’s far corner. She slid out of the saddle, down the pony’s side and hit the ground knocking the wind from her body.

A diaphragm in spasms is scary. Balancing on one bony shoulder and hip, her spidery limbs flayed as her lungs heaved. She stood, caught her breath and remounted. Despite profuse encouragement and bribery, she didn’t canter again that day. In fact, she didn’t canter for quite some time. On one particular day, encouragement became pushing became too much — she dismounted, firmly placed tiny hot pink-flecked nails on her hips andA Girl and her Pony solidly stood. “I said, I’m not cantering.” Flustered, the instructors brought her to me.

I asked, “Will you canter today?”

She said, “No.”

Turning to the young women, I said, “Looks like it’s a walk-trot lesson. That’s cool.”

There was no one in the world this little girl wanted to please more than her riding instructors (except maybe her dad). Only four years old, she stood up to them – unsure of the outcome but very sure of her voice. Later, I explained to the perplexed instructors it wasn’t about the canter. It was about her voice.

Standing up to them exercised that voice. A voice rehearsal, if you will. One day she’d need that voice for higher stakes. Maybe with someone she’s crushed on who wants to do something she doesn’t want to do. I want her to say “No,” just as solidly then. Today, it’s cantering. Tomorrow, it’s something else. Same girl. Same voice.

For those who wonder, she rode months without cantering. Finally, on the quickest, bumpiest, oldest horse, she got her canter back. In her time. Boundaries.

Reinforce Boundaries, Teach Consent

Simple things in daily parenting life reinforce boundaries, consent and respect. A closed door teaches the youngest to knock before entering. Tickling is a another teachable activity – how many times is a child tickled past pleas to stop? Boundaries. My family gives one warning: “Stop tickling me now, or I’ll pee my pants.” It’s funny, all right. Until you don’t stop in time.

As important as having your own boundaries, is the importance of respecting the boundaries and consent of others. No, it won’t immediately fix all of our problems and no parent is perfect. (I’ve been known to steal my kids fries on occasion.) However, with a respectful philosophy guiding us, it’s a solid beginning.

Simple family philosophies help to build voices, respect boundaries, teach consent:

  1. Respond to your children. Acknowledge the cry, the question, the reluctance to kiss smelly Aunt Martha. “I’ll answer you in 10 minutes,” is an acknowledgement. “Let’s just blow Aunt Martha a kiss from momma’s arms,” is another.
  2. Ask permission before taking that fry. Remember,  “no means no.” (Buy an extra order just in case.) If they’re meant to be shared, set it up that way, from the beginning.
  3. Even if you’re an open-door-raised-in-a-barn family like us, the occasionally closed door teaches the littlest to knock before entering.
  4. If friends are coming over, put up hard-to-share toys. Depending on the age – be available to negotioate sharing; the protection of boundaries and the exercising of voices.
  5. If you ask a question, anticipate and respect the answer. We can become more thoughtful of our questions.
Lay the foundation to make embarrassing incomprehension of consensual sex a thing of the past.
About those fries — a stretch to relate them to understanding sexual consent? Maybe. A good beginning to understanding boundaries and consent? Most definitely.

Resources:

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

What is Consent?

Talking with Kids Openly and Honestly about Sexuality

10 Ways to Talk to Your Kids about Sexual Abuse