We are daughters in our families. While this is not our entire identity, it is a title we cannot run from. Being a daughter in someone’s house can mean so many different things. It would be so valuable if being a daughter in a family meant being celebrated, championed, and honored.
Consent should be present, not wished for
Instead, so many girls find that being a daughter in a family means that the judgment of others is welcomed before compassion. As soon as we walk into the living room in new clothes, or express any sort of individualism outside of the family’s comfort zone, judgment can be found, waiting for us. Being a daughter means listening to comments being made on our weight, height, or hair before we have even left the porch. And being a daughter in a family is when most young girls learn about consent. Every time there is a father, uncle, aunt, or mother who touch her in any way; through a hug, a pinch, a squeeze to her midriff, or a ‘love tap’ on the butt, you are telling her that her consent does not matter.
You are telling her that men will still do whatever they want, regardless of how she feels, even though she is visibly uncomfortable or even verbally against it. Your desires and your impulses are more important than her being comfortable in her own home and around her own family. You are also informing her that in the world beyond her front door, it will take more than words of consent or non-consent to get her message through to people. If you have ever wondered why young girls hold on to their anger, I do not.
Any father who takes part in that teaching does not actually respect women. Placating your wife’s feelings, and paying the mortgage so that your daughters have a roof over their heads, is not the same thing as respecting them.
How to teach consent through actions
Making sure that all of the women in your life feel safe, at ease, un-triggered, listened to, and loved – that is respecting women. When they say no, listen to them. Recognize boundaries being set, especially by children. All of this is respect. And it is a great way to show your compassion, your understanding, and your love.
Having consent education early in your child’s life is essential to having a thread of communication with them. This education can include teaching your children the anatomically correct names for body parts, for all genders. That way, when your child is talking about their own body, you all share the same vocabulary, and there is no question as to what they are referencing.
Let’s normalize children setting boundaries
Allow your children to have control over their personal space. Every human should have the right to say whether they want to be touched, via hugs, kisses, or otherwise. This includes contact they have with their own family members. It’s not a personal attack on you if your child doesn’t want a hug. It doesn’t mean they hate you, or that you make them uncomfortable. Sometimes, it is less about you and more about what your child wants at that moment or what they are comfortable with in general.
As they get older, have conversations with your kids about the setting of boundaries and the expectations that they hold. Boundaries set by people should always be respected and discussed. If those boundaries are not being upheld in the home, you will give your child no reason to think that future partners or friends should respect them.
This is not a ‘one chat before bedtime and we’re done’ kind of talk. This will be an ongoing lesson for everyone involved, and it should be. Your child should feel just as comfortable approaching you with new thoughts and feelings when they are seven, as they are when they are twenty-five. When they say what they want and need, it is your responsibility to take that seriously and take them seriously.