How do we separate our own fears from parenting realities? Malleable Mom Ashley Fuchs recounts teaching when no means no.
I heard peals of laughter coming from the other room. I smiled, knowing the sound of my husband tickling our then three-year-old daughter.
After a brief pause, the laughter continued. Then, it happened again.
“Stop! (gasp) NO!” I froze. My heart stopped.
Suddenly, I was no longer the mom of a beautiful little girl with two parents who love and respect her: I was back on a college campus, dealing with the cold hard reality of sexual assault.
I am very lucky that never happened to me. However, being a Women’s Studies major (and frankly, just being a female) has made me very aware of the phenomenon that is sexual violence.
Again, her laughter started. I ran into the room. My daughter’s face was flushed with joy, but I was seeing red.
“Stop!” I commanded. She and my husband looked at me in surprise.
I spoke to my daughter first. “Susie, I just heard you say “no” and “stop.” Those are serious words. Do you like it when Daddy tickles you?” She nodded. “Do you want him to continue?”
“Yes! I love it,” she said.
“Great – it’s fun to play with him, but if you want him to tickle you, then you need to say “more” first or he won’t continue, OK?” She nodded.
I looked at my husband, “If Susie says “stop,” please stop and do not start again until she says ‘more.’ In this house, ‘no’ and ‘stop’ must always mean just that.”
They both nodded. To his credit, my husband did not roll his eyes or treat me like a crazy, over-protective mother. As I walked away, I heard her little voice demand “more!” before the laughter continued.
A year later, my son was born and when he was old enough to participate in this game, the rules were explained the exact same way to him. Our kids were consistently stopped from their rough play if someone didn’t obey that rule.
Why did I take this so seriously?
I do not believe that we should blame victims for being sexually violated, but I do believe that there are things that happen to us in childhood that become a part of our foundation and carry into our subconscious adult lives. If my daughter learns to ask for the exhilarating physical attention she wants by saying “stop” and “no” in childhood, what will happen when she is of age to be intimate with someone? When will she learn that no means no, and yes means yes?
Children need to learn the right cues
Consequently, if my son learns that saying “stop” and “no” means the game continues, then when will he learn that sometimes “no” means that things are going down a very bad path? As it is, he has grown up with these rules, and he still has a hard time knowing that. We have had to add a firm “game OFF!” for those times when he does not respect a verbal boundary.
I am extra hard on my son, because I know that there are people out there who will not grow up with this lesson. I am raising a man: a man who I hope will not only protect his own needs, but also look out for the needs of his partner. He may have a sexual partner someday who has been raised with this kind of verbal teasing, using “no” and “stop” with a coy voice to mean, “I really want you to keep doing that.” My son needs to be smarter than that, and insist that his partners learn to ask for what they want directly, or he could face a huge shock.
As much as it frightens me to have a daughter who is sexually assaulted, it frightens me just as much to have my son accused of sexual assault because an intimate situation ended badly.
Not only do I think following this rule will help my children lessen their risk for sexual violence, I think it will serve them in all manner of their relationships with others. Tell people what you want. Tell people what you don’t want. Sometimes we don’t know what we want, so tell them that. Hoping others will read your mind and “just know” what you want is at best annoying, and at worst can lead to personal danger.
Maybe you think I am making too big a deal of this. After all, they are just words, and they are just kids. But every time an act of sexual violence occurs, there is a victim and an assailant—and they both have parents.
Let it be said that we did our part to not raise either.