Consent is something that we all learn about in our adult lives, especially women. My personal opinion is that waiting to teach and have our children understand the meaning of consent is waiting too long. I think that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by generalizing consent by pertaining to sexual relationships only. Girls and boys alike should be taught consent from birth.
When I was a teenager I had this uncle (by marriage) that used to hug all of the women so tight that it squished our breasts. Literally all of the women in the family except his wife (my aunt) discussed this in hushed tones in corners of family gatherings. We all anticipated it, and we all dreaded it. It was an unspoken sentiment we all shared: his weirdly tight hugs were a way to feel us up without using his hands to feel us up (which would have been obvious). In hindsight, I’m upset at myself for not vocalizing how uncomfortable I was. It was as if every woman that experienced this with him was trained to worry more about hurting his feelings or causing a scene than standing up for themselves, myself included. Simply because he was family at the time (my Aunt divorced him a couple of decades ago) doesn’t mean he should have received an automatic pass to behavior that made every single female past puberty highly uncomfortable, did it? I think not.
Why though? Why were all of us reacting the same way to those awkward hugs yet not saying a word to stop it? We were all just dealing with it. Was it because we are all Southern women and manners are a giant part of our culture down here? Or was it because women as a whole have been taught to be nice, even in situations that are disagreeable? Or was it that most people put being polite to others over their own needs, even when something strange or unseemly is happening?
Did you ever have a relative (male or female) that insisted on you coming up and giving a hug or even worse, receive a disgustingly wet kiss on the face from that person? Did your parents push you towards this person knowing you didn’t want to have this individual in your personal space? THIS! This is exactly what I’m talking about. We should never force our children to allow someone in to their personal space or engage in physical contact (again, this doesn’t have to mean sexual contact) if they do not welcome it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grandparent, aunt, uncle, Santa at the mall, the mailman, or a teacher. Personal boundaries are so important and it should be something ingrained in their little minds from the very start. This will give them a lifelong sense of self worth as well as confidence.
Something happened at Ruby’s first birthday party in January that made me uncomfortable at the time, but I didn’t say anything AGAIN! In retrospect, I’m really mad at myself for not speaking up. I will never stay quiet again in a situation like that. I don’t care who’s around or anything else. I know you’re thinking, “Holy sh*t! What the hell happened?” It’s surely not as bad as your mind is taking you, but still odd nonetheless. The same Aunt I mentioned earlier has since remarried from the awkward hugger husband she had years ago. Her current husband is a very nice and God fearing man. His life goal is to be in the ministry and have his own church. Not that any of that religious stuff matters to me, I’m just describing him. For all intents and purposes, we will call him Matt. He treats her very well and in all of my encounters with him he’s a super amicable person. Matt has no children of his own, but has blended well into the life of a stepdad to my cousin and a step grandpa to my cousin’s children. Back to the story-Ruby was having her birthday cake, and of course everyone was standing around watching anticipating cake smashing and the typical destruction of baked goods that one year olds like to do. Meanwhile Ruby is looking down at the piece of cake on her highchair bewildered. My grandmother went over in an attempt to get Ruby interested in tasting her cake, and scooped a bit of frosting on her finger and put it in Ruby’s mouth. Then Ruby realized how delicious pure sugar is and dove in. After my grandmother stepped away, Matt decided he would do the same thing as my grandmother. He walked over to Ruby, covered his fingertip in frosting, and stuck his finger in Ruby’s mouth. I was filming with the video camera, and I remember my eyes widening and I looked at my adopted Aunty Laura (a very close family friend that I have claimed as my Aunt because she’s awesome and very much a part of our family) and silently said with my huge eyes, “What the f***?” But I still said nothing, even though this action really creeped me out. First of all, we are not close to Matt at all. We see him a handful of times a year (3-4 at the most) at family gatherings. Secondly, no one knows where Matt’s finger has been. I doubt this, but it COULD have been up his ass for all I know. I mean, I’m just saying. Lastly, I found it highly inappropriate. Thinking about it now I’m so angry at myself for not saying anything because it almost feels like I allowed someone to violate my baby as I quietly stood by. It wasn’t just me either. My husband didn’t say anything as well. I was unaware that he saw it at the time, but the next day it came up and he said he also saw. I’m surprised he didn’t say something honestly. He usually has no filter.
Never again will I remain silent. Part of teaching my children about consent is to lead by example. Had I called Matt out that day, I wouldn’t have erupted in some Oscar worthy outburst. I would have been diplomatic.
My hope for all of you reading this post is that you’ll take to heart the message. Making your toddler hug go to someone they don’t want to go to or allowing some person to invade his or her little personal space is something we as parents should not condone. Not if we want our children to have self respect and grow up knowing how to set proper boundaries. This is one post I certainly hope my Aunt doesn’t read. If she does and brings it up, I will seize the opportunity to have a calm discussion about Matt’s actions.
Y’all have an excellent weekend!
This is an excellent book that helps start this conversation with young children…
Ruby’s heart shirt and velvet leggings are both from Janie and Jack