I remember when I found out I was having a daughter, I was thrilled… and I was worried. Like most women, I didn’t need #MeToo to make me aware of every woman’s experience. How do we keep our daughters safe in this world? How do we raise our sons to be good, respectful men?
I’ve put a lot of thought into how I raise my daughter and my son so that #MeToo won’t be part of their experience. And I know, boy do I know, that I can do absolutely everything within my power and it can still go horribly wrong. But we have to try, right? Isn’t that what parenting is? Pouring all our love and wisdom and hope into these little people knowing that they will make their own choices and live their own lives.
This is a hard post to write. I’ve deleted it three times. But it’s important. We have to find ways to parent so we stop sexual harassment, assault and rape. So let me say this — I offer these strategies as a way to strengthen our daughters so that they can fend off unwanted sexual attention. It’s not their job, they shouldn’t have to and if they don’t say a word, they still shouldn’t be harassed, assaulted and raped. I know. I’ve lived it and I’m sure you have too. I’m not blaming anyone or saying that you should have used these strategies. The first unwanted sexual attention I received was when I was fourteen-years-old from two nineteen-year-old guys who worked at the summer camp I went to. I wish I’d said something, I wish I’d told someone. But I didn’t and I don’t blame myself. I was fourteen. I have nothing but compassion for the young woman I was and the experiences I had. None of it was my fault. It shouldn’t have happened. But it did and unfortunately, it is still happening. And if #MeToo applies to you, none of it is your fault. I want to raise a son that never ever treats a woman the way many of us have been treated. I’m putting a lot of thought and energy into raising a good son. And because I know the world will not change overnight, I’m putting a lot of thought into raising a powerful daughter.
Here are five strategies I’ve been using to raise a son who will never disrespect a woman and a daughter who will scream and shout and raise hell the minute a man touches her where he shouldn’t, or says something inappropriate.
My kids are still little — four and six — so the types of conversations we have are simpler than the conversations we’ll be having when they are teenagers. But we are talking and we’ll keep talking and hopefully, that will help.
1. Consent. I don’t use the word consent but I do make sure my kids understand the concept. I often ask, “did you ask him/her if that was okay?” or “Did he/she say you were allowed to play with their toys/wear their shirt/etc?” I make sure they know that they need to ask each other and their friends for permission. When we are rough-housing or playing tickling, the minute one of them says stop, we stop. Even if they are laughing or joking — we teach them that their words have power and we respect their boundaries. When the kids are rough-housing, I set the expectation that they need to check in with each other and to speak up if they don’t like something. I also never push them to hug anyone they don’t want to and I teach them that their bodies are their own and they have control over them.
2. Speaking Up. I talk with my kids about speaking up and the importance of using your voice when you’re feeling uncomfortable with something. Something that’s happening to you or something that’s happening to someone else. I want my kids to not only be safe and respectful of others but to be allies to those in trouble. So many of us were raised to not make others feel uncomfortable, even when they are making us feel uncomfortable. That has got to stop. I want my daughter to feel comfortable to speak up for herself and I want her voice to carry the power of a thousand women. Right now, she is a force to be reckoned with — she knows who she is and what she wants. It’s my job not to quiet that powerful voice.
I teach my son to really listen to people, to stop when he hears ‘no’ or ‘stop’, to watch for non-verbal cues that someone is uncomfortable and pay attention to them. As my son grows up, I want him to be comfortable speaking out — to use his male privilege to stand up for a woman who may need his support if she is being harassed by men. Speaking up takes courage and I want my children to have courage, to be able to take care of themselves and others. When I notice them speaking up for themselves or others, I tell them how proud I am of them.
3. Be respectful of others and expect them to be respectful of you. I want my son to be respectful of women, to see them for people and not sex objects. I don’t let him watch shows that are in any ways sexualizing or demeaning women (sadly, they exist, even at his age). I encourage his friendships with girls and I’m thrilled that he has a sister because this increases his ability to understand and respect women.
Our conversations will get more complex as my kids get older but right now, my kids know that they need to be kind, to listen to and respect one another and their friends. They also know to speak up or walk away and get help from an adult if someone isn’t treating them well. We need to teach our kids to respect themselves and it starts with not putting up with bad behaviour from their friends, siblings or kids at school. The only woman I know who doesn’t have a #MeToo experience grew up with a mother who drilled it into her daughters that they shouldn’t put up with shit. Ever. It worked. When she told me that, I knew I needed to spend as much time teaching my kids to stand up for themselves as I spent teaching them to be kind to others.
4. Lead by example. Show your kids that you respect them by truly listening to them. Treat your kids well — help them set boundaries and respect their boundaries. Treat your spouse or co-parent well. Set and keep good boundaries. Do not put up with unwanted sexual attention or any situation that makes you uncomfortable. Your children watch everything you do and how you react to situations. You’re teaching them how to live by the way you live. If you see someone in trouble, offer help. Speak up when you see something that isn’t right. Then explain to your kids why you spoke up. We need each other. We need a world where we can see the good in people and where we can be our best selves. When we can show up and be our best selves, our kids will learn to be their best selves. I always tell my kids that people are good. I believe it. And I live it.
I wish we lived in a world where this post wasn’t necessary but until we do, I hope you’ve found these ideas useful. What about you? Any thoughts on parenting our children so that #MeToo is a thing of the past?