I am getting personal here, exposing the not so wonderful parts about myself in the land of parenting. Many of my workshops pertain to how to talk with your kids about sex. It is one of my favorites, because I know full well that parents are the children’s first example of everything. We learn from our parents how to interact with the world, how to navigate big and complex ideas, what relationships look like, and more. So, I believe it to be necessary to provide a support system for parents and give them as many tools as they need. That said, I am not a perfect parent, nor do I pretend to be.
It is winter break and my kids have been fighting more than usual since they are around each other constantly. They have also determined many ways to test boundaries and have lost their ability to hear, since I find myself repeating requests about six times. Altogether, it can try anyone’s patience.
We often mimic what we have learned from our parents, continuing behavioral cycles from generation to generation. That’s why it takes great awareness and intention to stop cycles that otherwise would continue on. When not at my best, I find myself raising my voice, adding a guilt trip every now and then, then blowing up and acting like a child myself. I told you I will be exposing myself.
Here are the phrases I have heard come out of my mouth these past few days: “Because I told you so, that’s why!”, “Do as I say, right now!”, “Don’t you say “No.” to me Sir!”. Ahhh...nice right? As a Sexual Health Educator all of these phrases make me feel a bit sick inside and get me thinking. I know for certain that I’m not the only person who has uttered these phrases to their children. So are we raising our children to not have autonomy over their own bodies, minds, and voices? Are these the roots of why we are a country that has a problem with understanding consent? I understand that children need to learn about respect and be a contributor to the family by doing chores and such, and we need to keep them safe, but surely I know there are better ways.
The phrase, “Don’t say “No” to me.” is the one that gets me the most. Because we are telling them, that their “NO” doesn’t matter. The point that none of us really like, is that our children are individuals and they will not always do what we want them to do. They also have minds of their own. I believe we need to find better ways to foster this, while keeping them safe and teaching respect. Let me know your solution for that.
To take this further, another thing is that so many parents are stressed to the maximum. Either both parents or one parent works too many hours which leaves the kids either at daycare or with an exhausted parent. Money seems to be always tight for people and daycare itself has become equivalent to college tuition. Everyone has an opinion on how to raise a child and so there is underlying pressure to be a perfect parent, spouse, and worker. There are not a lot of support systems out there for families, which with all this stress to “keep up” breaks down relationships and sexuality. I am pretty sure there is not a lot of sex happening in these families, which means there is also not a lot of connection happening either.
When parents are so busy and feel like they need to be perfect at everything, the less than perfects come out, which 100% affects a child’s sexuality. It makes them believe that maybe they don’t have authority over their body with another person to really say “No”. If they can’t practice saying no at home and have conversations about that no and their needs, then where can they? If they are around authority figures who always say, “Because I told you so…” will they believe they need to do or act on something even if it goes against what they know is better or best for their well-being? You may feel this is over the top, but when you take time to think about it, all of these things go hand in hand.
Many of us are not given the language or tools to apply consent or to then express our needs and wants. Understanding consent and knowing what our needs and wants are and being able to express those are fundamentals for a healthy functioning relationship. It looks like that I need to get intentional about how I do things and find ways to change, because I know I want my children to feel like they have autonomy over their bodies and have the right to say no, just as I do.