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Laying the groundwork with young children to talk to them about choice

I’m sharing this for any other parents of younger children who might find it useful. My 4 year old is OBSESSED with pregnancy at the moment, has been for a good while. Discussions on how to talk to your children about abortion come up a lot in Parents for Choice.  I haven’t done that in detail yet with her though I have mentioned once or twice that sometimes people don’t want to stay pregnant.

Photo 2 pages of a children's book called What Makes a Baby, one page is the cover and the other is an inside spread illustration of embryo and foetal development at different stages.

What Makes a Baby children’s book

BUT what I am doing is being very careful in the language I use about pregnancy. I don’t tell her people have “a baby in their tummy”, we talk about people having baby seeds that are growing into babies. When they’ve finished growing into a baby they’re ready to be born. This book is great for a basic explanation of conception that suits all kinds of families (definitely not the case for the vast majority of pregnancy books which are obsessed with married straight white couples) but where it falls down for me is talking about a 5 week embryo as a baby, so I do some editorial reading with Ailbhe and talk about these as baby seeds until the 38 week one which is a baby. It works really well and makes sense to her, we’re growing a sunflower from a seed in our windowsill at the moment. She demanded her daddy read it to her the other day while I was at work and informed him they were all baby seeds up until the 38 week one!

I’m doing this because I don’t want to be trying to explain to a seven year old who’s asking me questions about abortion that actually a 7 week embryo or whatever it is isn’t actually a baby in someone’s tummy as I’ve been telling her all along and so that it won’t strike her as something as immediately shocking as I think it otherwise might. I’m posting in case it might help others in the same situation.

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Parenting a Gender Fluid Child/What to say to Douchey People

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Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a huge shift in the way gender is expressed in children. Where parents are less enforcing of gender binaries children are allowed the space to explore their own and other genders. I think this is a wonderful step forward for humanity. I long for a world free of toxic masculinity, (and toxic femininity), free of the strictly enforced gender binary system. a world where humans can just be humans, and can self identify in whatever way is comfortable and enjoyable for them.

I have a 6 year old son. He lives with me and 3 of his siblings 4 days a week and spends the other 3 with his dad. When he is at my house he likes to wear clothing traditionally associated with girls. I have no idea if this is a passing phase, if he is just a curious child exploring gender options or if he will grow up to be a transexual, or a drag queen (I should be so lucky!), or even if he may be transgender. I cannot know where his love of dressing up will go (if anywhere). So I treat him the same way, I don’t make a big deal out of any of it, I love him and support him and follow his lead at all times in this regard. I let him know the same message that I have been teaching him since he could understand me ‘It’s ok to be you. Live authentically. Be yourself. You are loved’. Last week he asked us to start calling him by a different name, a ‘girls’ name. All of my kids were fine with addressing him by his new name and using female pronouns. He has made it easy for us by saying that he wants to be addressed with the new name only when he is dressed as a girl.

Since then I have become more open about this to the people in our lives. The responses have been overwhelmingly supportive, bar a couple of people whom have come at me with some pretty awful stuff. These are people who would consider themselves to be fairly tolerant. So I wanted to address some of the objections that I’ve heard, as I suspect perhaps there are other parents out there in a similar situation to me, and it may be of some use to them (I hope).

  1. Why does he only do this at your house?                                                                                        I think he only does it at my house because he only has access to dresses, make up ect at my house. Also he feels comfortable to do it at my house. He used to wear nail polish to pre-school but the other kids made fun of him and now he refuses to wear it in public. He LOVES wearing nail polish and has loved it since he was a toddler. I believe he feels comfortable and safe and accepted in my house which is why he chooses to dress in a feminine way when he is with me.
  2. You  must be doing something to encourage him. That is irresponsible. Trans adults wouldn’t be that way if they’re parents hadn’t encouraged them when they were little. (Yes someone actually said that to me.)                                                                              I am encouraging him, this is true, but not in the way you think. I am encouraging his natural expression of himself. I am supporting him in the choices he makes for himself. I am not standing at his bedroom door suggesting he wears dresses or asking does he want me to do his make up. I follow his lead. I feel this is the responsible course of action. I want all of my children to feel supported in how they choose to express who they are. As for the idea that transgender children are a result of overly liberal parenting I can only say that science disagrees. Gender Dysphoria is the medical term. Look it up.
  3. This is a result of your hatred of men and masculinity.                                                             This would imply that trans people are part of an Evil Feminist  conspiracy to wipe men from the face of the earth. As far as I am aware, no such conspiracy exists. Also I love masculinity. I love (a lot of) men. I greatly dislike toxic masculinity. I was raped and abused by toxic masculinity. I see toxic masculinity as the poison of the modern age. It hurts everyone it touches, most especially the men who embody it. Just because I love equality doesn’t mean I hate men. I have so many beautiful, strong, caring, loving, heart-opened men in my life. I love them. I have 3 sons. I do not have a crazy agenda to try and turn my sons into women. Sigh.
  4. You are creating a drama about this when there doesn’t need to be one (ie. discourage this and it will all go away)                                                                                                                  I agree there doesn’t need to be a drama. It’s a 6 year old child who likes to dress up. It may never be more than that. What is the big deal? I will not discourage any of my children from pursuing their truth. I would consider that to be horrendous parenting. I don’t see any of it as being a big deal or a drama. No matter where this goes all I can deal with is what the present moment is offering – and that is a small child who likes to dress up, and that’s fine with me.
  5. Gender Fluid children just lack good strong male role models. (Yep, I know again, can you believe it. Someone actually said that to me.)                                                                    Oh dear, where to start with this one. Everything cannot be explained away with Freudian theory? Now I am no where near to being an expert on gender fluidity or Gender Dysphoria. I know shamefully little about the subjects. But I do know some gender fluid people (probably more than the person who said this to me) and I see them as harbingers of the future. People who are here to lead us and show us a way out of the strictly enforced gender binary system. I admire them their bravery and strength in being who they are in a world that very much would like them to sit in this box over here please and don’t get out. Second to this argument –  why is it that it is just the lack of male role models that concerns? Is there a study somewhere to show that children raised with ‘good male role models’ never grow up to be gender fluid? Can anyone point me to any evidence at all that would support this strange conclusion?
  6. He is just doing this to get attention from you. You mustn’t be playing boyish games with him enough. This is him reaching out to try and get your attention by doing things he thinks you like, like dressing up and make up.                                              There’s a lot to plough through here, firstly it is very sexist to assume that all I am into is clothes and make up. Make up would be very low on my list of interests and while I do like to get dressed up myself I have very little interest in talking about it, or dressing others. Most of the activities I do with my kids are things that ALL of us will enjoy, so we bake together, we go to the beach and build sand castles, we read stories, we make stories, we watch movies, we give each other foot massages, we make art (a lot of art), we play ball games and frisbee and do gardening. These are the things I do with my kids. These are the same activities I did with my older 4 children and none of them have magically turned into gender fluid or trans people  as a result. I do not think there is a logical correlation  between having a mum who doesn’t play much lego with you and choosing to wear dresses. Also the effort to apportion blame (on me) indicates a belief that there is something wrong with him dressing this way, which I do not agree with.
  7. He will end up socially ostracised and it will be your fault for encouraging him.             I believe that hiding what we truly are causes sickness and sometimes suicide. I do not want that for my children. I want them to live authentic lives, rich with love and support and ease. I know that the world hasn’t quite caught up with accepting everyone for who they are and so I try and teach my children resilience, for no one, not even the most privileged escape the inevitable cruelty of others. Emotional intelligence, resilience and self love are things I try and teach my kids, so that when someone is a douche to them they can handle it. It is the best I can do to prepare them for a sometimes cruel world. I also wouldn’t want friends for my kids who wanted them to be something they are not. I wish for true friends for my children, the kind of friend who sees exactly who they are and loves them for it and stands by them. If I had to choose for my kids between them hiding their  true selves to fit in and living authentically and getting shit for it – living authentically would win hands down everytime. 

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for Love With Ease Please http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educator https://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

Photo by Eamonn Brown Photography

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

 

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Here’s some common rape – prevention tips  “Don’t drink too much”, “Don’t wear anything too revealing”, “Text a friend  to let them know your plans”, “Hold your keys in between your fingers” and of course “Never, ever walk down a darkened alleyway”.  These are the things young women are being told by parents, teachers and society. I understand that the reason people are saying these things to women and girls is because they don’t want anything bad to happen to them. But do they actually prevent women from being sexually assaulted?

In the majority of cases I don’t believe they do.

All these rape-prevention tips are attempts to keep away the monstrous stranger. But as statistics collected by R.A.I.N.N show 3 out of 4 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

So, with this in mind what are we teaching girls about that? Are we telling them to watch out for the man who lives next door/the older cousin/the guy you’ve been dating for 6 months/his best friend? Are we teaching them that 1 in 4 relationships are abusive and that you need to know the signs of abuse before embarking on one? Are we teaching them how to spot the signs of an entitled person? How to spot status seekers?  How to rid their lives of anyone who treats them with disrespect? Are these things fundamental to every parenting book/school class room?

I wonder also why most campaigns focus on women, putting the onus on them not to get raped or be assaulted. Violence against women seems to be the one area where the focus is on potential victims to take responsibility for decreasing their chances of being attacked. I’ve never seen a poster giving tips to stop me being potentially run over by a motorist , or a poster  warning me on the dangers of being in the presence of someone smoking. So why in this one area of violence against women, are poster and ad campaigns directed at potential victims? Another issue with these campaigns  is that most of the campaigns I’m aware of seem to promote the idea that sexual assault occurs between strangers. I’m yet to see a campaign that aims to impart the knowledge that 75% of assaults happen between people who know each other. Why are most campaigns ignoring the statistics on this? And where are all the campaigns reaching out to the perpetrators of these crimes?

According  to the UN It is estimated that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime”. So, if you’re a woman or a girl you’ve got a 35 – 70% chance of being sexually or physically abused by a man. And these statistics are not taking into account other forms of abuse – verbal, emotional/psychological, financial abuse and cyber abuse (unsolicited dick pic anyone?)

I don’t know ONE WOMAN who has not been subjected to something on this list of awful. Not one. That’s 100% of the women I know who have been abused in some form by a man. I can hear the ‘not all men’ brigade jumping in at this point, and I want to say – Sure, not ALL men, just  enough that 35 – 70% of ALL women will experience abuse or assault.  Plus these statistics are based on reported incidents of crimes against women. And many women do not report.  If I had of reported every assault against me I would have spent most of my 20’s and 30’s in copshops and courtrooms.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have been harassed online or physically/sexually/verbally/emotionally or financially abused by men. At a rough guess I’d say maybe 200 men have combined to abuse, denigrate, assault or intimidate me over the course of my life. 200 DIFFERENT men that is.

I did a rough survey of women’s experiences on a few women-only groups that I’m part of on Facebook, to find out if my experience was unusual. Women shared having experienced varying degrees of abuse and assault with a couple of women saying they also felt it would be up to 200 men who had been abusive to them in their lifetimes. Other women said they had had one bad experience only. It was by no means a scientific study but it gave me a slightly broader view on what was happening outside of my circle.

I can’t help but wonder what the statistics would be if there was an official system in place for reporting crimes against women – one where women could share their experience regardless of if they want to pursue anything legally (if they are fortunate enough to live in a country where the crimes against them are considered to BE crimes that is). Or even something like the Everyday Sexism site, which collects and collates women’s experiences from around the globe.

Every time I read official statistics on rape and sexual assault I feel angry that none of my experiences are counted in those statistics. And it is too late for me to report them now, the first time I was raped was 20 years ago and in another country. Plus being a witness at a rape trial when I was 17 significantly deterred me from reporting any of the crimes committed against me.  I know I am not alone in that most women do not report this kind of crime, especially when they know the person who has committed it, which as we know is in 75% of cases.

The dark, lurking horror for me as a parent of two girls is that I know there is little chance they will escape this. I know in my woman’s heart what most likely waits for them.  It is frighteningly likely that at some point a man is going to try and hurt my daughters.

Given all I know about abuse and assault I feel that it is my job to prepare my daughter’s for the likely possibility of being assaulted or abused. Of course I never tell them that I think they might be assaulted, instead I teach them about consent and boundaries, so they know what is and isn’t ok. I teach them about respecting their own and other’s bodies. I want the lines to be SO clear for my beautiful girls. I want no doubt in their minds when someone crosses a line. I want them to KNOW it is wrong.

I teach them what I was never taught, to be fierce. To be so fierce that they feel comfortable yelling and shouting at anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or wrong. I want them to know how to scream and what to scream.

I practice scenarios with my teenage daughter, “A guy does this to you, what do you do?”  I say, “You need to scream as loud as you can for help.” I teach them that no matter how well they know the person that they should act like he is a stranger because people are more likely to help a woman who is being accosted by a stranger than get involved with a ‘domestic’.

I teach them emotional intelligence, so they can articulate what happens to them. I teach them resilience so, if they need it, they can heal. So if it happens my girls will be strong within, are less likely to fall to pieces, or to lose weight, friends and jobs because of what has happened to them.  Alongside of all of this I’m trying to teach my daughters that there are also lovely men out there, that they can trust, men who are allies, men who are respectful and that hopefully these will be the majority of the men they encounter. And while I’m doing this a little voice inside me is saying  “it just takes one.” One man to hurt my child.

And while I’m teaching my girls all the things no one ever taught me and I wish they did, I’m thinking “Fuck this awful world, that is making me teach my daughters to prepare for what feels like their inevitable assault. Fuck this.” And I’m getting angry about it, so fucking angry.

Because I know that this could all change in one generation. If we were all teaching our sons to be respectful to women (and each other) this would change. If there were actual consequences for being disrespectful towards women – this would change. If men were speaking out to other men, calling them on their sexist bullshit – this would change. If society actually gave a shit about women – this would change.

Because who wants to live in a world where parents have to prepare their daughters for abuse by men?

Not me.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educatorhttps://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Rid the World of Arseholes (in Two Simple Steps)

I will consider my parenting to be a success if when my children grow up they are:

  1. Not arseholes.
  2. Happy.

In that order.

I can cope with an unhappy non-arsehole, because I know how to support people to find their joy.  Being an arsehole though is not an easily un-doable state of being.

The thing is that arseholes don’t just spring fully formed once a person turns 18. An arsehole needs to be trained up to become one. Usually this is through a process of drip feeding entitlement to them.

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I know a kid who is manipulative, disrespectful to pretty much all the people in his life, will never get up in the morning for his parents, throws tantrums even though he is 9 and who gets away with everything I’ve just mentioned – all with no consequences. When I look at this kid I see the lovely little boy I remember him being as a small child and I see the emerging adult arsehole. Having known this child for a long time I feel desperately sad that he is being conditioned by his parents to grow up to become an entitled teen.

Entitled teens can go on to become what in the adult world we call abusers – men (and sometimes women) who emotionally, sexually, financially or physically abuse their partners.

Some of you might be thinking ‘Steady on, he’s only 9!’ And yes he is, but 9 year olds absorb the messages of the family and culture around them. Most kids are sponges that will soak up whatever they see role modelled.  That is why a child who grows up in an abusive household is statistically far more likely to grow up to be an abuser (and to a lesser degree a victim of abuse).

“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Studies from various countries support the findings that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.”

Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children (UNICEF Report)

But the sad thing is that children can grow up to become abusers or rapists even if they haven’t grown up in an abusive household. All they need is to grow up being fed the perfect recipe of entitlement and inequality and like magic an abuser will (in the majority of cases) emerge.

An abusive mindset is the result of two factors:

  1. A core belief in inequality
  2. A sense of entitlement – in this case we mean entitlement to be “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.

That means that the person with the abusive mindset has to have a belief that they are a better, more worthy person than others. Usually they will believe that men are better than women, with themselves and other men they consider to be high status at the top and everyone else below.

The sense of entitlement can manifest in many ways. My abusive ex kept me (and everyone else in his life) waiting on him all the time. He was not apologetic about his consistent lateness as he felt entitled to arrive whenever it suited him (or sometimes to not arrive at all). The sense of entitlement could manifest as an expectation that things will always be done the way he wants them to be done and that he knows best at all times. There are innumerable ways in which a sense of entitlement can manifest and none of them are pleasant to be on the receiving end of.

The 9 year old I know gets away with being physically rough to his younger siblings. I once saw him hold his 5 year old sister in a painful grip as she cried and yelled at him to stop. He wouldn’t stop, even after I asked him to. I then got his parent and asked them to ask him to stop. He held onto her little body until he was ready to let go. It was a show of power over everyone present. Showing us all who was the boss. I had seen this behaviour before, in my abusive ex. Power and control are the two tools abusers use to control their victims.

The boy’s dad said ‘Don’t do that to your sister’ and that was that. He was not made to apologise, not made to repair the damage he had done, not talked to about respecting other people’s bodily autonomy and not given any consequences for his actions.

The parents of this child are teaching him that other people’s consent does not matter and that what he wants to do to other people is more important than what they want him to do (or not do).

What is that going to look like when he is 16? When he is 30? How do you think that boy is going to treat women when he gets older, bigger and stronger?

The parents of this boy are teaching him that force is acceptable to use on other people.

What will this boy do when he’s angry or annoyed with another student at school? What will he do when he is older and a girl says ‘stop’ or ‘I don’t want to do that’?

The parents of this boy are teaching him that he is entitled to live in a consequence-free world.

What will happen to this boy when he is an adult who can’t get his own way? What coping mechanisms will he have to fall back on having never had to feel the consequences of his actions?

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I hope you’re still with me here, and you can see the progression from child with no consequences to adult abuser. I don’t know about you but I sure as shit don’t want that for my kids.

So what can be done to make sure your kid doesn’t grow up to be an arsehole?

 

It’s simple, but not easy. There are two steps.

  1. Boundaries and Standards.

Kids actually flipping love this stuff. Boundary setting makes them feel safe. They like to know the rules, and to know someone has shit sorted and they don’t have to worry about it. Create boundaries and standards for your kids according to the values of your household.  For example in my house I have standards around language. I especially hate the term ‘Shut up.’ I find it offensive and de-humanising. So it is on the list with ‘Stupid’ and ‘Liar’ as the worst words that can be said in my house. It is part of the standards I expect from my kids that they will use respectful language with each other. The boundary setting I do is mostly around how I want to be treated and how I want them to treat others. The other golden rule of my household is when someone says ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ or shows in non-verbal ways  that they are uncomfortable – then that MUST be respected.  I’ve found a helpful exercise was to have all my kids write out a list of the 10 most important values they have around what kind of person they want to be. Then when they act inappropriately  I say, ‘Was your behaviour in line with the kind of person you want to be?’ (sometimes showing them their list). Then I ask them what the person on the list would do next to fix the situation.

  1. Enforcing them, aka Consequences.

This is the hard bit. You have to find the thing your kid loves more than anything and take it away from them (*insert evil laugh*) but seriously, this bit won’t work if it isn’t something they really love. For my teenage daughter it’s her phone, for my 10 year old it’s the internet, for my 7 year old it’s having friends over, for my 5 year old it’s Lego. Each kid has a soft spot – you need to find it and exploit it. That is the consequence hanging over their head if they embark on douchery. Now, only use this level of serious consequence when the behaviour warrants it. If that had of been my son in the story above this is how it would’ve gone down.

My friend comes to get me to ask me to intervene. I say to my child to immediately stop. If my child doesn’t stop I say, “If you do not stop right now you will be on an internet ban for 2 days”.  Then once he has let her go  I would say to my son that what he did was one of the worst things you can do to another person, that he has damaged the trust between himself and his little sister and that her needs to make it up to her. I would have him apologise to his sister, to my friend who he also disrespected by not listening to her and I would ask him what his plan is to repair the situation with his sister. Sometimes kids can need a bit of help in this area so I might say, “Her room is a bit messy, maybe you could offer to tidy it for her?” or you could suggest some other things that you know your daughter might like or enjoy. If he did something like that again I’d follow all the same steps and enact the internet ban.  The really, really hard bit though is – enforcing the consequences. If you are anything like me this is where you slip up. My main problem was that I have so many kids I have trouble remembering who is on what ban, so to combat my lack of follow through I wrote the ban start and end times on the calendar on the wall as well as putting reminders in my phone. Whatever works for you, but follow through on the consequence is vital to the creation of a non-arsehole.

I started writing this because I watched my 6 year old son playing with some other children and one of them belted my child across the head from behind. The mother of the violent kid did nothing. I went over and told her that her child had hit my son and she turned to her kid and said ‘Don’t hit people!’ and that was that. There was no apology to my child, no attempt to repair and no consequences.  And I thought, ‘Man, this sucks. That kid is learning some pretty toxic stuff from his parents.’ Now maybe she was having a tough day or whatever, I get it no one is a perfect parent and if there was such thing they wouldn’t be a perfect parent 100% of them time. But this is the kind of parenting I see everywhere. And it depresses the hell out of me.

1 in 3 women in this world will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault in her lifetime. To put it another way – that’s roughly speaking 1 in 3 men who are abusing women. I have 3 sons who will grow up to be 3 men. I don’t want one (or any of them) to be one of the men who abuse.  I personally have been on the receiving end of extensive abuse (sexual, emotional, financial and physical). In every case my attacker or abuser was a man. A man who was once a boy.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf and works as a conscious relationship coach and a parenting advisor for lovewitheaseplease.com

https://www.facebook.com/lovewitheaseplease/?fref=ts