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.
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?
HINT: 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 and 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you ask a question, anticipate and respect the answer. We can become more thoughtful of our questions.