My three-year-old loves playing with other kids, probably because he spends the majority of his time with me and his one-year-old brother, and that isn’t always a recipe for good times. He craves interaction with other children, and would probably live at the park if I let him. He has no problem approaching unfamiliar kids at the playground and eagerly trying to partake in whatever game they are playing.
Mostly, the other kids are receptive to my son’s friendliness and happily welcome him into their space. But, sometimes, they don’t want to play with him. Maybe they are too entrenched in their imaginative world to adjust for a newcomer. Maybe their game is too advanced for a three-year-old. Maybe they just don’t want to play with him. The reason doesn’t matter. They have every right to say no to my son. No explanation necessary.
As a boy mom, I feel it is my duty to instill the importance of consent early on. I know, I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure my oldest is a heterosexual, cisgender male. Meaning, before long he will be in situations with heterosexual, cisgender females, and in those moments, I hope he will remember the lessons he learned as a boy.
Those lessons are as simple as accepting rejection on the playground. When my son asked a girl if he could join her game of hide and seek, her answer was “no.” No “I’m sorry,no “maybe later,” just no. My son was understandably upset, which made the girl’s father upset. He apologized profusely, explaining how his daughter is usually much more inclusive. I shrugged it off, smiled and assured him my son would get over it. Which he did. He quickly moved on to another activity and was happy.
I moved on as well, until I overheard the dad asking his daughter why she said no. My heart sank a bit because here was yet another example of a female being compelled to justify her decisions. She wasn’t being mean or a “bad girl,” she just didn’t want to play with my son. The reason is irrelevant. She didn’t owe her father, me, my son or anyone else, an explanation. She wasn’t being rude, or a bitch, or whatever other derogatory word we deem necessary to bestow on females when they don’t act “right.”
I am unfamiliar with this girl’s home life. I have no idea how often she is told to “be nice” or “act like a lady.” Her father may have just felt bad for my son and wanted to ensure he was instilling her with kindness. There is so much cruelty among kids, and I can certainly respect efforts to cultivate compassion. However, in the name of teaching tolerance and inclusion, are we diminishing our kids’ ability to stand by their decisions? Are we sending mixed messages when we force kids to play with one another?
I have no authority on the subject of raising daughters. I can only imagine the enormous responsibility such an endeavor entails. I recognize having boys affords me a level of comfort those with girls may seldom feel. Putting it bluntly, I know girls are more likely to be sexually assaulted. I know my boys are more likely to be perpetrators than victims, though it pains me to say it.
I know that while you are hoping your daughter will always be safe, I am hoping my son will never cause her harm. While you are teaching her self defense, I am teaching him to honor her self respect. While you may dread the day she starts dating, I look forward to sending a gentleman to her doorstep.
And, if she ever says “no” to him, that will be enough.