Teaching my kids about consent in a world that never asked for mine

I am undone. The collective trauma caused by sexual assault is too much to bear. As people share their stories, memories I’ve repressed or normalized over time come rushing back to the surface, forcing me off-balance, leaving me breathless. As my sisters, mother, friends and loved ones tell their stories, our unwanted, unwelcome connection is revealed: none of us ever had control over our own bodies. Not really. No matter what they told us in sex-ed, or what my parents taught me about consent, I didn’t stand a fucking chance.

Even now, at 37 years old, I’m still striving to gain full autonomy over my body and reconcile past abuse without blaming myself or normalizing it as “no big deal”. Even now, I don’t share full details about my experiences because one of my abusers is still in my peer network. Would telling that particular story reveal his identity? Would he ever recognize his own actions as assault? Would our mutual friends?

Dr. Ford is currently on television, giving testimony about her own sexual assault in front of a panel of men. I feel rage; for Dr. Ford, for myself, for all of you. But we press on, right? Because we have to. Because that’s what we do as survivors. We have no other choice.

Assault

I’m really struggling around how to process this collective trauma as a parent. We live in a white supremacist, patriarchal society that protects and prioritizes the Brett Kavanaughs and Brock Turners of the world. I was not spared from abuse even though I was taught consent, but that’s because men didn’t always ask for it nor did they heed my requests to stop. So can we do better by our children? What control do I have as a parent in interrupting this horrible, misogynistic society we find ourselves in?

The answer is, I don’t know. I so desperately want to build a better, less toxic world for our kids to thrive in, not just survive. I know so many of you do too. So we work hard to teach our children, who are 6 and 4, about consent.

“Whose body do you have control over?” – My own.

“What do you do when someone says stop?” – I stop immediately.

“What does consent mean?” – It means permission. 

“Did you ask me if you could pat my butt?” – Oops, I didn’t. Can I touch your butt? “No.”

“Did you ask me if you could call me Mr. Butt Face?” – No, can I call you Mr. Butt Face? “Sure.”

Our kids know the first three call and response mantras by heart, even though they don’t always practice what we preach. In fact, it’s an ongoing struggle to teach them about boundaries. The last two examples are ways we try to remind our kids that touch and silly or rough play require consent, even amongst family and definitely with friends and neighbors. We are going through an EPIC butt/poop/potty talk phase with our 6-year-old. It quite honestly drives me bananas. But we’re trying to meet him where he is and require he asks for permission from others to engage in silly talk and any sort of physical touch.

Like I said, it’s a struggle. Every day we have to prompt them, remind them, model for them, dole out consequences. I don’t feel successful in this arena at all, if I’m honest, but I will not stop trying. I refuse to sit idly by and allow the seeds of misogyny and patriarchy to go unchecked and unbothered with my kids.

Y’all know action breeds hope for me. If we take our collective trauma and transform it into collective action with our children, do you think we could change the world? Do you think we could dismantle our toxic, white supremacist, patriarchal society? I have to believe the answer to be yes. Otherwise, how could I bring children into this world?

Today, this is what I know to be true: I believe survivors. I believe you. I believe in us and our ability as parents to be change agents. I believe our kids can learn to do better, to not feel ownership over other people’s bodies, to maintain their own bodily autonomy. I believe we can win. But I also believe it will take all of us. We all need to put in the work, to have hard, messy, repetitive conversations with our children about consent, and boundaries, and power, and privilege and abuse and misogyny and white supremacy. Kids cannot overcome systems we do not allow them to see. Step one is shining the light to let them see.

In solidarity.

For more ideas around teaching kids about consent, read this article

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