“You’ve never done anything like this before, buddy.”
He squirmed excitedly in his five-point harness seat and looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror.
“Do you know what we’re doing today? We’re going to a Women’s March in Downtown Ann Arbor. We’re going to stand with hundreds of people in peaceful protest for women’s rights.”
Finally a question. “What is peaceful protest?”
“Well, it means that there are people with a lot of power that make decisions that affect us and some people don’t think they are the right decisions. That they’re not treating everyone fairly and they’re being bad guys. Being a part of a peaceful protest means that we are telling the bad guys that we are going to fight for the people they’re not being fair to.”
“I’ll fight the bad guys with you, mommy,” my four-year-old said. His best superhero face employed, his eyes lowered, and his lips turned up in a defiant smile. And I could feel the tears well in my eyes.
We teach our sons lessons every day. For me, it is one of the most gratifying parts of parenting—to see my preschooler learn. And it always has been. I remember his first word: this. “This?” He would ask of everything in his surroundings as he navigated through an entirely unknown territory. The walls, carpet, phone, car—everything his hands could touch was a spectacle, an avenue for development, growth of mind, and storing knowledge.
Now speaking in full sentences and having complex thoughts, the lessons continue in an entirely new capacity, not only for him but for me, as well. It’s at this age that our sons begin to solve simple addition on their chubby, little fingers. They begin to spell their own names, met with applause and praise when the last letter is uttered. We teach them to fold socks, make their beds; basic responsibilities for living a successful life. Because who wants a teenager that wasn’t taught the basics of survival? At every age and every stage, new lessons are taught and learned.
It’s also at this age that our sons become aware of their bodies, and the bodies of others—and are able to communicate this observation. They recognize when a person looks a little different. They see breasts and butts. The ability to make his “winkie” “bounce” is a personal favorite of my son’s. And he sees that I don’t have one.
Much like when they were babies, our sons often resort to multisensory learning when making these observations. But unlike when they were babies, it is inappropriate to “touch” at four years old. And thus, it is at this age that the lesson to be learned is one of respect.
These kinds of lessons are the ones that we, as parents, seem to shy from. After all, it’s an uncomfortable subject! No one wants to talk about why it isn’t okay to touch people without their consent. And often, it’s even harder to put “why” into words. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that question, sorry. Because your kid is probably different than mine.
But I can tell you that figuring out how to communicate these lessons is as important as 2+2. Because if we don’t instill this need for respect now, they won’t have it later. It is our responsibility as parents to not only show our sons that respecting others is important, but we have to show them how through our own behaviors and interactions with others.
We have to show our sons now that being different doesn’t mean a person is less of a person, and doesn’t deserve the same amount of respect and consideration.
It is our responsibility as parents, to teach our sons that just because they may be different, it doesn’t mean that they are any less deserving of respect and consideration than another little boy that may have more toys, or has a different skin color.
It is our responsibility as parents to show our sons that a little girl can play with any toy she wants, that she can play doctor or astronaut. That little girls are as powerful and intelligent as little boys. Because if we don’t, our sons will grow up to believe that women are not as strong or as powerful as men. That people who are different, who don’t have as much money, are of a different gender, or don’t define themselves by gender, or have a different skin color, or go to church every Sunday, or the mosque every Friday, or are confined to a wheelchair, are lesser people. Our sons will believe that people who are different aren’t deserving of the same respect and consideration as they are given simply by being born.
“Who is that mommy?”
“She’s a lady that is telling everyone about her life and her experiences, and why it isn’t okay to be treated the way she was and is. Listen to her, baby.”
“She sounds sad.”
“She’s sad, and she’s angry. That’s why it’s so important that we’re here. That’s why it’s so important to fight the bad guys—so more people can’t get hurt.”
More than 3,000 people, parents, and children of every age, race, and religion joined together in Downtown Ann Arbor for the 2018 Women’s March. The sun shined and warmed the Diag at the University of Michigan for an already unseasonably warm afternoon. I stood, holding my son, surrounded by people that I knew understood this fight. I stood, shoulder to shoulder, with people who held signs above their heads proclaiming it.
It is our responsibility to teach our sons.
And in a world where the fight for respect still has to be made; in a world where families must march together in protest of the plain and obvious disrespect forced onto minority groups, like women; in a country where the people passing laws and policies are the bad guys, it is not only our responsibility.
It is our obligation.
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Photo credit: Cole Bednarski