I hope it’s obvious to anyone who’s read this blog that consent is a big deal to me. A really big deal. It only makes sense that this translates into what kind of parent I want to be.
At least at the start, parenting consensually is a bit of a tightrope. You start out holding a slippery, wriggling, unbearably fragile human being who is ultimately a near-stranger to you, and you’re responsible for their well-being. Sure, many kids start showing personality in the womb, but the womb is pretty different. Your child’s needs are generally met immediately. Constant supply of nutrients, constant comfort, constant human contact, huge liquid bubble to protect from harm, etc. Then they’re thrown into a world where they’re reliant on near-strangers to meet those needs.
Non-verbal consent is possible, and I’ll be talking about that later, but it requires knowing the person. There are some things that are quite obvious. Hold a baby a certain way and the baby screams: the baby doesn’t like being held that way. You offer the nipple and the baby turns away: the baby isn’t interested. There are also some signs of what the baby needs. The rooting reflex that lets you know they’re hungry? Yeah, that’s really helpful. Most also use fussing to make it clear they need something.
Then there’s the times when you have to do something against the infant’s wishes. Giving medicine when they’re sick. Diaper changes. Doctor exams. Blood tests. Things that you need to do to check if your child is healthy or help them become healthy, that hurt or don’t feel good and your baby doesn’t understand.
Those are things that are hard to navigate even as the kids become verbal. How do you teach kids bodily autonomy and consent while sometimes having to violate that consent for their own good?
Our firstborn is nearly 5 now, and it’s a constant tightrope walk trying to figure out which boundaries need to be upheld and when we’re being unreasonable. Trying to decode what our kid is saying about their body and when we need to force matters like eating healthy and going outside.
I don’t have any specific answers. We’re doing our best, but the real test will come in adulthood- when our kid grows up and starts having to advocate for themself and respect others’ boundaries. We may never know for sure what the outcome even is. There are rarely black and white answers or guarantees in parenting, just a whole lot of doing the best we can and adjusting as we go.
How have you been navigating this with your kids? How do you wish your parents had handled consent differently when you were a kid?