New York, NY (TFC) — Raising children is one of the toughest jobs in the world and no two children are alike. Being a mom is a constant race to adapt to my child’s latest stage of progress all while trying to affirm who they are as they evolve into adults. Obviously, the world is a constant influence and it is a struggle to keep the world from ruining the innocence of our children.
I have daughters and I worry constantly about how to keep them safe in a sexist world. Domestic violence and sexual assault is only the tip of the iceberg that a young woman endures as they grow up. How do we protect our daughters from the vast and sometimes cruel world? How do we mentally and physically prepare them?
I grew up in a strict, religious and hetero-normative household which is quite common. I reflected on this while determining how to raise my daughters to become independent and strong young women and came to the following conclusions.
Two of the core concepts I encourage in my home are bodily autonomy and critical thinking.
My children have full control over their own bodies. I do not force them to hug or kiss friends or family members if they choose not to. If they are overly affectionate to someone who is not reciprocating (ie: the family dog or their cousins), I use it as an opportunity to remind them that they should not force themselves on anyone else. No literally means NO. Ultimately, they are learning that “no” is a full sentence and that there should be no confusion as to what they are saying. I’m hoping that this line of thinking will help them stand firm when they’re older in situations where sex, or any type of physical engagement is a variable (as a backup, I also enrolled them in martial arts classes). In connection to discussions about bodily autonomy, we also have conversations about bodily functions and sex openly in hopes that when they are older, they won’t feel confused about themselves.
When my daughters were much younger, they would come to me with a problem and I felt that it was my job to solve it for them (fought with your sisters? TV isn’t working? Toy broke? Mom to the rescue!). I realized a few years ago that this line of thought was problematic. When my youngest entered elementary school, she expected others to solve problems for her and was sorely disappointed when she realized that those around her were not willing to cradle her through her problems.
My partner pointed this out to me and we decided to change our system. Lately, my partner and I help my daughters identify contradictions and attempt to guide them through a basic process of critical thinking to resolve the issues for themselves.
We ask them to identify the problem, analyze the components that created the problem in the first place, assist them in considering the possible resolutions and encourage them to test the ideas. If the idea fails, they’ll return to us and we’ll start over again. This method has slowly helped my daughters to become much more self-reliant which is a habit I hope they’ll maintain through adulthood someday.
Bodily autonomy and critical thinking are vital components to self-reliance and safety. These two things have made me feel much more solid in my own adulthood.
In additional to those two key pillars, I also try to speak to them about race and class so that they grow up aware of the world around them. They may not understand everything we discuss but the familiarity of the topic and exposure to the concepts are something I hope will linger in their minds as they grow up. My partner and I also discuss politics and socio-economics around the house often and I can see that the topics don’t always interest them but the moments where they’ll ask me why I’m going to a protest or why I’m working on a political project, makes me feel like the exposure for them was useful. We in no way force our ideologies on them; we’ve exposed the girls to many lines of thinking and will continue to do so. We hope that they choose to follow the best route for themselves and contribute positively to society in their adulthood.
Lastly, I discuss LGBTQ inclusively in our household.
My children have come home from school with comments that are semi anti-LGBTQ for which I’ve confronted them about. They’ll admit that the comments that they made are influenced by their peers and that they don’t fully understand it. Their peers are largely influenced by hetero-normative culture. I remind them that being different is not weird. I remind them that people we love are from the LGBTQ community, and have undergone many hardships because of it. I tell them that we should in NO way add to the harm but rather love and support them the same way those wonderful people love and support us. For all the lessons I try to instill in them, it boils down to simply respecting people.
I remind them often that different is not wrong but rather something to be celebrated and if they choose to love the opposite sex or the same when they’re older, identify as trans or queer, that they would in no way be wrong for doing so and that we would support them whatever they are, however controversial.
I think as a parent, that’s the best thing I can do for my daughters.