Friday, 20 February 2015

Controversy Corner: Consent

As with all babies, my three month old daughter is currently completely reliant on me. I have to nurse her and change her diaper several times a day, bathe her several times a week, and carry her from place to place. Every single day I am building her trust and proving to her that she can count on me to protect her, to care for her, and to respect her needs and wants. Right now, she doesn’t have much of a say in where she goes or who holds her, but I am already teaching her about consent. I want my daughter to know from the earliest age that she is in charge of her own body.

In my opinion, consent is not something we simply teach our children like math or reading, it is something they learn through experiencing respect and feeling empowered from as early on as possible. Right now, this just means that I tell her what we’re going to clean next in the bath, or when I’m going to put lotion on her tummy or toes. Even if she can’t understand the language, I let her know in advance of my actions and I pay attention to her cues. I have to clean all the residual poo off of her body, obviously, but if I can accommodate her, I do.

As she grows up, I am going to continue to take her cues and respect her feelings about physical contact and this means - and here's where it gets controversial - that I will never insist that she hug, kiss, or even high five someone if she doesn't feel comfortable. No matter how much I want a picture of her with a mall Santa. Even if that person is someone as close to her as her Grammy who she doesn't get to see very often. I am prepared to have to explain this decision as feelings may be hurt, but I want to make sure that she is always fully aware that her body is her own.

Just as a woman does not owe a man sex because he pays for dinner and a movie, a child does not owe a person a hug and a kiss just because they are related to them. I want to be clear: This has nothing to do with an anxiety about hidden pedophiles in our everyday lives and allowing my child to keep her distance until she feels comfortable with an individual is not an accusation of bad intentions. You or I would feel awkward and potentially distressed if we were forced to embrace a stranger on the subway, someone whose scent is unfamiliar, or whose history we do not know. Friends and family members who do not visit often are almost strangers to a child, and it is natural for them to feel uneasy in their presence. A few minutes (or maybe hours) of conversation and child-led bonding will most likely lead to a hug, or at the very least a fist bump.

It is important to me that my children are comfortable telling me how they feel, or telling others when something is not okay with them, and I don't believe we can inspire this kind of confidence by over ruling them in some cases. If we want them to know that "no means no" then we must respect it at home.

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