The other day I was driving to the Franklin Institute with my 3 ½ year old son, X. Our windows were down to let in the crisp, fresh air per his request. As I slowed to stop at the corner, I noticed an older man standing there. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled, as I do to everyone. And he went on, “Heyyyy guuuurl. How you doin? You lookin’ mighty beautiful today” , and I went on my way. In total, it lasted about 5 seconds.
I looked in my rear view mirror at my beautiful son, as I waited for the questions to come flooding in. I racked my brain thinking of interesting ways to spin this so he could understand it. I could see his wheels turning…
X: Ma, who was that man? Why he say ‘Hey gurl’ like that? You know him?
Me: I don’t know who that man was X.
X: Then why he call you beautiful?
Me: I guess he just wanted to tell me what he thought.
A few silent moments went by. I have learned through my few short years of motherhood that this is his processing time and to just be quiet because more was on its way. And then like clockwork.
X: It’s very weird Ma, his words sounded like nice words but he was not a nice man.
And there it was. The biggest truth bomb anyone had ever laid on me. Without even seeing this man, my three and a half year old little baby could tell simply by the tone in his voice that even though yes, he may have used kind words, he was not indeed, well meaning.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this event and its significance to my life. 5 hurried seconds of this particular day had completely shifted everything I had previously believed about mothering a boy.
When I was 17, a friend of mine raped me after our prom. Everything about the whole incident was very ‘after school special’. The good girl hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting herself into situations she was unable to handle. I never told anyone. Back then, I didn’t think they would care – not in the way that I needed them to. I could hear the “I told you so’s” rolling off my mother’s icy tongue and decided with my 17 year old brain that I didn’t need to deal with that.
Soon after, I went to college where I continued my downward spiral and was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship for nearly 3 years. Broken bones and damaged spirits later, I decided I had to get out. I quit school and went home to start over. Soon after, I met my husband and rebuilt my life.
When I got pregnant, I was terrified beyond words of having a little girl. My past choices were proof that my daughter would be an insecure victim of a woman and I simply couldn’t bear the heaviness of that. Whatever it was that fucked me up so much that I sought out abusive relationships with men, must be ingrained in me so deeply that I wouldn’t even realize if I were passing that on or not.
Therapy helped a little but I was still terrified. When my son was born in 2011, a huge weight was lifted from my back and I relaxed a little.
It wasn’t really until that moment in the car with my son that it hit me like a brick wall. I had it all backwards this whole time!
Instead of teaching our girls how to not get raped, let’s teach our sons NOT TO RAPE!
In a society that demonstrates an acceptance of rape culture, I began to question everything that is considered normal and rewire my thinking and teaching. I have the opportunity to shape this one boy’s view of humans and women in particular and that is a great privilege of motherhood.
- Teaching X that his body is HIS property and he doesn’t need to hug/kiss anyone he doesn’t want to. There is no forced emotions or touching in our family.
- X is a love bug. He LOVES hugs and kisses and will plant one on anyone who will accept. Teaching him that he needs to ask first because we respect other people’s bodies as their personal space and they have the right to accept or not.
- Instead of saying things like “she’s beautiful/pretty/cute” I say, “She is so kind and thoughtful” in an attempt to have him notice deeper things about people rather than just their looks as we so often say without thinking.
- He knows body parts and their uses and that boobs are for making milk to feed babies (but then cannot understand why boys have boobs)
- Limit and monitor his intake of advertising. Although this can be difficult, we don’t have a tv which eases the burden.
Some people say that we are given the exact child that we need in our lives and it is our job as parents to figure out the rest. I had it backwards the whole time and X, my spirited, sweet boy, has shown me that I can change the world. I can teach one more boy the right way to treat humans and that is powerful.
Sarah Kurliand is a Yogini/Writer who spends her time adventuring around the Philadelphia area with her loving husband and spirited son. You can find more of her writing at www.ourspiritedlife.com or follow her on Instagram @ourspiritedlife.
Featured image courtesy of: Gagilas.