This is a particularly auspicious time to be raising a boy-child, eh parents? I really think it is. We're experiencing some of darkest days of humanity in American society, but there's also this feeling of a cultural shift about to happen. Maybe it's inevitable anyway, but I'm not going to take the chance that everything will topple and right itself without consistent and concerted effort. The time is nigh to take the patriarchal bull by its horns and steer it into the pasture where entitlement is a thing of the past, and I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to participate in that drive. There are lots of ways to do this, whether or not you have kids at all, let alone sons, but in my situation, the best way I can really help effect change is in the way I parent the next generation. My son doesn't watch the news yet, and doesn't even know who Donald Trump is, really. But he's a very young and impressionable guy who has been born into the most historically privileged subset of our country, and appreciating that early on presents an opportunity for Mike and me.
Because I am who I am (a hyper-vigilant sex-positive, pro-education pragmatic feminist, Hi.) I've been having conversations with HR about consent--or at least I've been drilling into his little noggin before he could reply--when touching is ok and what kind of touching and who is allowed to touch and all of that deeply unpleasant and horrifically necessary stuff. I don't give too much information, not more than I think he's ready for, just sort of build it into teaching moments when I can. We also talk a lot about personal space and how if someone doesn't want to be touched, you stop. It's a challenge in many ways, one being that I don't want to plant a fear of something that hadn't occurred to my sweet boy. Plus how do you even explain "entitlement" as a concept to a six year old? You do your best, I guess. It's better to just get it out there and open the lines of communication than never bring it up and then, oops, "boys will be boys." Not. On. My. Watch. (My parenting motto, apparently.)
If you are one of HR's chosen, you already know that he is SUPER physically affectionate. If you're watching a movie or reading a book with him, he's on your lap or snuggled close to your side, it's the way we are in my extended family, and he seems to be carrying on the tradition. He hugs and kisses me voluntarily all the time, even in front of his friends. I would hate for him to lose this tendency, I cherish it so, and I don't think any of our conversations have made him hesitate with reciprocal affection. But can I just be cool with the feeling that it's instinct, that he's internalized by now when this is OK? He's never been one to be open to strangers, and maybe the tendency to touch people naturally comes out as a symptom or by-product of security, I just don't know how much to assume.
I have to say, and it's something I never thought I'd say, but leading by example has been one of the biggest challenges. Because my dude is so small and cute and delicious, it's hard to not just pick him up and squeeze him whenever I want, or pinch his bum, which I've recently made a very deliberate effort to stop doing. It's an innocent expression of love for my little boy, sure, but I'm not entitled to it. His body is his own and he calls the shots. If I don't respect that boundary now, why should he respect anything ever? There are many ways that I have no problem being a hypocrite--for example, I don't plan to give him permission to get drunk when he's a teenager just because I did-- but this is one place where it's important to me to be consistent and principled.
I also want to say, in case it's not clear, that I do believe that girls need the same conversation and treatment. Obviously they do. But if you were raised up a woman you know that you've always gotten extra conversations, you've had things pushed onto you that the majority of boys never heard, and you were generally put on the defensive and made responsible for their actions because of this, and it's utter bullshit. Talk about consent to all of your kids, people, early and often. Both giving and receiving. There will never be a better time than now.
Of course after everything I'm still scared I will have failed in some way (I am certain I will have failed in some way as a parent because that's part of the gig), but I do think we're doing our best to raise the kind of human who knows the goddamn difference. He will never ever be guilty of not knowing better when it comes to matters of consent, and if he still violates that, it will not be out of ignorance. I hope for a higher standard for him than that bleak coda, I'm just saying we are taking every opportunity to try to have everything covered in this one area.
Our boys and girls deserve better than what's being passed off as the norm. Ignoring it is a huge disservice to the promise of the rising generation.