If nothing else, this unprecedented election has spurred a lot of conversations. Many times, these talks include subjects that we may not have expected to have with our kids. At least not yet.
For me, these conversations start at home with my four young sons. They are being raised in a home where feminism, racial injustice and political power aren’t rare topics of conversation. But earlier this week, I realized how generalized some of those conversations have been. In some instances, the generalization has been appropriate. The boys are young, and they aren’t ready for all of the gory, complicated details of every injustice in the world. In other instances, I haven’t been specific because nobody forced me to be.
But with the recently released video of Donald Trump’s profane talk about women (and more recent stories about allegations of forcibly groping women), I can’t take the easy way out anymore. There are some things I need to say, and some things they need to hear.
My oldest son stayed home from school the day after the second presidential debate, with that nasty cough that’s been going around. After we dropped his three brothers off at school, I did what so many parents before me have done — I used the car to have the hard conversation with my 10-year-old. He was a captive audience, and there wasn’t anyone there to distract him or overhear things they shouldn’t. After watching the debate as a family, I knew this was my chance.
I started with a question.
“Sweetie, so last night’s debate. Uh, so, uh, were there any words you didn’t understand or things you wanted to ask me?”
“Nope, I pretty much understood it all.”
“Um, okay. So, have you heard anything about the things Donald Trump said about women?”
“Oh. No, I don’t know what he said, but I guess it wasn’t good.”
I took a deep breath and jumped in. I used words such as power, sexual assault, victim, abuse and then the big one, consent.
As we talked, I realized this is the first time we’ve discussed consent in plain terms. And to be honest, as I said the words, I hated it. These words put the heavy burden of sexual ethics on my son’s shoulders. And I didn’t want to do that to him. Not yet.
But on the other hand, I’m grateful. Since my sons were babies, I’ve talked to them about their bodies and the privacy they’re entitled to. They know that they are in charge of their bodies, that absolutely no one is to violate their ownership. No one is allowed to touch their private areas, no one is allowed to see their private areas. We have dealt seriously with any violations of body boundaries, even in the context of the antics of brothers.
No one — and we mean no one — is allowed to make them uncomfortable about their bodies.
As I think about it, I know that what I’ve really been talking about all these years is consent. At least, the foundations of consent. From the beginning, I wanted my boys to experience frank conversations about their bodies, so we taught them correct anatomical names for their male parts and used every diaper change to remind them that “no one touches you here but mommy and daddy, when we change your diaper.”
Shame starts early. So I started fighting shame early. I’m not willing to sit idly by and allow secrecy and fear into the hearts of my sons if I can help it, so we’ve talked. And I’ve kept a straight face when they’ve asked frank and naive questions. I’ve been as honest as I can be, even when I really wanted to give the easy, fairy-tale answer. I hoped that by creating an environment free of body shame, my sons would value not only their own bodies, but the bodies of others.
Despite my early conversations and my good intentions, though, I had never said the word “consent” to my son until this week. I had never spelled it out to him — what it means, what it sounds like, what it looks like, how critical it is. But this time I did.
And in his sweet, innocent way, he assured me that he wasn’t even going to have sex. So, I said, “Well, your friends might,” and we continued the conversation.
I don’t know for sure that we’re doing the right thing, that we’re not scarring him forever. But honesty breeds honesty. I’m counting on that as these sons of ours grow into teenagers and men, praying that they’ll know they can come to us. That we’re a safe place for their words and thoughts and questions, and even their failures.
This week we had a conversation that needed to be had. And now that we’ve had it once, I know we can have it again and again and again.
All thanks to that tape of Trump talking about what he does to women.
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