Would you like a sandwich? Talking consent with my son.

I’m not one for hiking.

I love nature and all, but I don’t go out of my way to roll in it. I typically go for meandering walks with my three boys and little dog in tow. Last Friday, we decided to go to the Ledges at Fitzgerald Park after school. Again, not because it’s something we typically do but because school is almost out for summer.

I’ve been asking the boys to contribute to a list of things we’d like to learn, places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to try while enjoying their summer break from school.

In preparation for their return home, I’m shoving things into the tiny spaces of my calendar. I’m building even bigger fences for my beautiful lines in the sand and readying my home for the storm that is three growing boys. I know they haven’t exactly been away at boarding school but for 6 blessed hours a day, they’ve been at school.

It kind of feels like I’m battening down the hatches.

I’ve got lots to say about preparing my nonprofit entrepreneur life for the challenges of summer break but today, I’m going to talk about the Duggars.

More specifically, the topic of consent.

Even more specifically, that time I had an awkward conversation with my 11 year old son while hiking the ledges about consent, sexual assault, sex and sandwiches. Not exactly in that order but all of those things were discussed. Stick with me here.

As with most problems, it all began with NPR. I’ve been really into podcasts lately. I listen to them while doing dishes, walking to the office, folding laundry, pulling weeds. You name it. If there’s a quiet span of monotonous work, I’m listening to either The Moth, Being Boss, Invisible Office Hours, On Being…you get it.

At around the time that the past crimes of Josh Duggar were being splashed across the web, I had just listened to an episode of This American Life called Birds & Bees.

The byline had read:

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.

Okay. Sure. Let’s give that a listen.

It was thought-provoking and the individuals interviewed brought insights that made me consider my own language regarding these topics.

Especially the segment that detailed the experience of a facilitator teaching consent on a college campus. There were many moments where male students were very vocal about their confusion about what consent means. Honestly, it sounded to me like one of my kids looking for away around following the rules.

It’s cool. That’s often how developing minds expand.

You can listen to the podcast (highly recommended) but basically, they wanted answers to questions like;

What if she said yes earlier in the day?

Wouldn’t checking in ruin the mood?

What if we’ve both been drinking?

Scary stuff. As universities across the country work to educate men on how not to rape rather than teaching women to prevent rapes from happening to them, these questions were indicative of just how much more work there is to do.

Fast forward to Friday morning. Josh Duggar sexually abused children in his own home as a teenager. Some of the girls he victimized were his own sisters.

You’ve probably read the headlines. Unless you’ve decided you’ve had enough terrible news about teens sexually assaulting other teens or children and adults covering it up and/or blaming the victim. I know I’m pretty tired of this story.

Exhausted in my bones.

Here’s where this story hit me.

The Duggars practice a faith that I disagree with but they are clearly parents who are trying to raise Godly people. Does their definition of Godly and my definition of Godly align?

Girl. Nah.giphy

But they love their children and they have invested their entire lives into homeschooling their children and separating them from the immoral, sinful world chocked full of people like me. People that dance, drink, get tattoos, accidentally swears, works outside of the home, don’t have a particular church called home and allow children to watch superhero movies that are rated PG13.

If there’s a slippery slope, I’m surfing that bitch with wild abandon.

As I’m reading the stories, I’m getting scared. I’m thinking if these people can’t raise a son that can honor the bodies of little girls in his home, including his beloved sisters, than how the hell am I going to raise 3 sons to be good men?

This is where my mind was at as we stepped onto the trail at Fitzgerald Park. I’m not saying this was a correct mindset. I’m just being completely honest and letting you into my mildly over-reactive brain.

My oldest son held my hand as I turned to him and began to tell him about Josh Duggar.

Yes, I have a tween that will still hold my hand. BOSS.

I explained what Josh Duggar did in language I decided was appropriate. I expressed how saddened I was by the story. I used the word sex but I didn’t giggle or blush.

I was a total adult. Then I asked him,

Do you know what consent is?

He said he didn’t know that word.

Well, let me give you an example. If we were home right now and I asked you if you wanted a sandwich, what would you say?

He shrugged and said, “I’d say yes.”

You just consented to a sandwich. You could have withheld consent by saying no and you can withdraw consent at anytime if you change your mind.

He understood. Phew. Now on to the tricky stuff. I explained the podcast I’d heard and the questions the college students had asked. I said,

Some people think that if someone gives consent they can’t change their mind later. They can’t withdraw it after it’s been given. So if a girl says she wants to have sex and then changes her mind….

And then my son interrupted me to say,

Well, that’s silly. What she says now trumps what she said before.

YAHTZEE!

Collect yourselves. It’s too early to celebrate. I had follow up questions and concerns.

I’m so glad you feel that way. I just worry. You know? I do the best I can to make sure that you and your brothers understand things like this. I try to have the important conversations with you but if people like the Duggars with all of their focus on holiness can muck it up, what can I say to make sure you guys understand.

Mom, I don’t know. I mean, you’re the parent.

Damn. That’s true. A point that makes the reaction of the Duggar parents all the more maddening. As parents, your job is to not only teach the lessons. Your job is to hold your children accountable when they break them. It’s not easy but it is necessary.

Also, can we just agree that modesty cannot be the scale by which we measure how much our children deserve to be sexually assaulted? Instead, let’s send the message that your judgement of an individual’s morality is not grounds to associate their being with a lesser value.

Let’s agree that even if you think someone is behaving immodestly – totally using Duggar language here – you still don’t get to sexually assault them and blame them for your disgusting, criminal behavior.

No one deserves to be sexually abused or assaulted. Ever.

WORLD, WHY CAN’T WE AGREE ON THESE SIMPLE IDEAS?

There’s so much more about this that bothers me but I thought I’d focus on a conversation that can benefit our families and our communities.

Consent. Teach it. Add it to the list of things you plan to teach your children about this summer. Use metaphors like sandwiches.

Or the next time a little girl says she doesn’t want to be photographed, don’t. Show her you deleted the image and thank her for telling you how she feels. Recognize that she owns her body and the right to opt out of you taking pictures of it.

Or the next time a teen cringes at being hugged, step off. Better yet, start by offering a high five or a hug. Give options. Not everyone wants a hug from you. It’s true!

The next time you witness your child stepping into a friend’s space without consent, teach them to check in while the stakes are just Legos and unwanted squirts from a water gun.

It is so very important.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – I really enjoyed this post about teaching consent to children. Check it out and then share one of your favorites in the comments.

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