Last week I wrote about the first part (of three) of our sex-positive parenting: a healthy sense of body and sexuality. Today I’ll tackle the second half: safe and consensual behaviors.
Of course, because we’re so new to this game, we aren’t experts. So all this may just be a blueprint of the mistakes I’m making for my daughter to print off and hand to her future therapists. In which case, I hope she at least gets a discount on the first session.
1. Modeling Consent
I can’t resist the urge to squeeze my daughter or kiss her all over or other smothering behaviors she’s going to hate someday so I’m stealing now. Even though my toddler generally enjoys these moments, it wouldn’t be so appropriate to open the door to the pizza delivery guy and give his cheeks a little pinch. So sometimes we try to model restraint: we ask her for permission to give her a hug or kiss and then respect whichever answer she gives.
We are trying to model gaining consent from others before touching their bodies, which is a hard lesson for toddlers. Our daughter has the tendency to approach other littles her size and greet them by touching their face or giving them kisses. Most observing parents think these moments are sweet, but not all of the children are fans of being restrained by a tiny stranger. We try to teach our daughter that she needs to ask permission first and observe facial expressions for how her actions are being received. This is a work-in-progress as the other little humans also aren’t sure what they want or how to communicate it. But at least now our daughter just gets a few inches away from their faces and yells “hi!,” so…progress?
2. Expressing Desires
Of course, we’re not always so polite about bestowing our toddler with unannounced bouts of affection. But I also know the feeling of laughing while being tickled even though you want it to stop. So early on, we taught her to say “stop it” if she wanted us to quit doing something, and we listened when she asked. Often times, she immediately followed this with “more!” and the cycle repeated. Sometimes, however, she’s really done and even adds a “no like it!” By listening to this, we are encouraging her to be in tune with her own desires and to learn she deserves to have those boundaries met.
3. Teaching Socialization
This parenting thing is trial-and-error and our approach leaves room for error. For example, being open about bodily functions in the home has created some interesting conversations in public. Just last week, I was holding my daughter in a crowded elevator. The door made a squeaking noise as it opened and we stepped out. My daughter yelled “mommy tooted!” and the doors closed on the small space filled with shocked faces.
I would love if tooting in crowd was publicly acceptable. Or if it wasn’t taboo to talk about bodily functions over dinner. But that’s just not the world we live in and breaking social rules might makes others unnecessarily uncomfortable. So just like we teach physical consent, socializing our children to the world we live in is like teaching emotional consent for our public behaviors. (As long as the socialization isn’t harming anyone, of course.)
We’re still working out the kinks. Maybe our open-bathroom-door policy at home means we are going to have to back-track at some point and teach our daughter that other people need privacy. Or that specific places are appropriate for specific conversations. We’re definitely going to have to replace the giggle that follows tooting with “excuse me” someday, but for now, I’m okay with going too far in the direction of glee.
4. Practicing Safety
Recently, I found myself having discouraging reactions towards how my daughter treated her vagina. I reacted strongly when she tried lathering on lotion between her legs and later when she tried decorating herself with stickers there. I had to check in with myself—was this about my own discomfort? After thinking, I realized, no, this was about safety. It simply isn’t a good idea to do this to sensitive parts of our bodies because of infection and pain. So this is what I said to my daughter the next time it happened and I realized I would have said the same thing if she had attempted to put lotion down her ear or a sticker on her eye, she just hadn’t tried that yet.
Being accepting of the body doesn’t mean there aren’t rules about it. Our genitals still have to be wiped after we use the bathroom and washed when we shower. Food and sand don’t go there, just like my daughter has to learn it’s not okay to hit herself in the head or stick her finger up my nose. These rules are simple, but someday what it means to keep this part of the body safe will get more complicated. But “no lotion there” seems as good of a start to “use lube” as any.