I know that title escalated kinda quickly, but it’s relevant. As a conscious parent I pride myself on the flexibility of my moral compass and the impeccability of my ethics. Rules are guidelines, and free will is paramount. The topic of free will and autonomy gets a little dicey when dealing with the supreme self-centeredness of children. They’re at times, spiteful and petty when they don’t want to share or play nice. Often it’s for no good reason other than “I just don’t want to”. Now it’s rather easy to want to make my children share or play nice when they don’t feel like it, but we have to stop and consider what we are setting them up for in the future.
See a lot of the problem of sexual consent as adults, comes from the forced sharing and playing nice we are subjected to as children. You may not realize it, but it’s true. It’s a big struggle for me because my son is the youngest. His personality is strong and he is demanding of his sister’s attention. Sometimes, she just doesn’t feel like doing what he wants her to do. He throws tantrums, they’re annoying. I want him to stop whining or yelling, and so my first inclination is to make her do what he wants her to do.
Thankfully, when this happens I do stop and consider what I would be really teaching her in those moments. It’s perfectly fine for her to not want to play with him. It’s also perfectly fine for her to not want to continue playing, even though she just was. We have to let our children say no, without guilt and without shame. We have to teach our daughters that it’s not okay to be bullied into doing something she doesn’t want to do. We also have to teach our sons that it’s not okay to bully others into pleasing them either.
What I try to do in these situations is to allow them to have their no’s, even if it upsets someone. I do talk to them about how ultimately, we feel better when we are kind to others. I try to offer them the choice however, and not force them to give or share when they really don’t feel like it. I try to teach them about negotiating and cooperating. It’s hard, but the foundation of clear consent and autonomy starts when they’re little. I’m aware of this. I hope you are too.