This has been an interesting week for me. Two stories have really caught my eye. One is of the Josh Duggar story about alleged child sexual assault and the other is about a kid in Canada who has plead guilty to a number of offenses, including swatting* (mostly) female gamers who had turned down his ingame friend requests.
*If you're not familiar with the concept of swatting, it's the act of tricking a 911 dispatcher into believing a critical incident is happening at someone's home or business. This can range from bomb threats to false reports of murder and hostages being at risk. This is a very dangerous situation, where residents are often alarmed to find a small army of well armed officers swarming their home where there is no actual danger present
The thing that ties these two stories together for me, the Duggar story (you can google it, I'd rather not rehash it here) and this angry kid who put others at risk for denying his friend request, is that I also recently read a great blog post that was a missive for parents of boys and what mothers and fathers can teach their sons about consent. It was pretty powerful and moving, and as the other of a girl, I can only hope that most parents are approaching their boys with the same mind. The blog post is here: What I Will Teach My Boys
When I linked the blog on the Book of Faces, a comment was made about how the Duggars didn't teach this to their son. But the truth of the matter, I believe, is this: no parent believes that they are raising a rapist. Or a swatter. Or a racist. I don't know any parent who, when you ask about their hopes for their child, responds with "I really hope that he hates and abuses women" or "I really hope that she judges entire groups of the population based on their skin color."
Look, I get it, we're all trying to do the best we can. We all have our biases and our judgments we make of other people and other groups of people. And our kids pick up on those biases. We may not think of ourselves as racist or homophobic or sexist, but we might say or do something we don't realize is hurtful, and our kids see nothing wrong with it.
And they internalize it. And then, sometimes sooner and sometimes later, they externalize it.
Look, there are plenty of things I watch myself about when I'm around my kid. While I like to keep my language PG or better, I'm not always great about it. While I like to control my anger, I'm not fantastic about it. I'm human. But I would rather hear some choice four letter words slip from my daughter's lips than a racial or homophobic slur. I'd rather she express her anger with a shout here or there than a punch or a kick.
I struggle with controlling my anger daily. DAILY. That's not an exaggeration. I get angry at clean clothes on the floor, at toys tossed aside, at that selective hearing kids have, at her whining when things are clearly just not all that bad. I've slipped, and I'm not proud about it. I've made disparaging comments about my own body. I've expressed my anger in unhealthy ways. My kid has seen it. If I could take it back, I would. If I could trade all the precious things I own to clear her experience of my own failures as a mother and as a person, I would. In heartbeat, never doubt that.
The one thing I can say honestly, though, is that I have never feared talking about these issues with her: about how people get angry sometimes and lose their cool. How being angry doesn't justify acting out or throwing something across the room. We've talked about how hard it is to be honest, to be fair, to be in control. We've talked about how it's easier sometimes to yell or to lash out at people. And we've talked about how good it feels to be included and loved by a group of friends. And that need to be included sometimes leads us to make bad choices: to tell a joke that puts someone else down, to pick on someone who's an easy target, to do something you know is not okay when it comes to respecting body boundaries and autonomy.
Some would say that it's too soon, too grown up for her, after all, she's only nine. But at 9, she sees it already every day: kids picking on other kids, ideas of what is an acceptable body, alliances on the playground, and what her teacher refers to as "girl drama," among other things. She's heard foul language, she's watched TV that was maybe a little too scary or grown up for her. But she's also learned how to be compassionate, how to stand up for the undefended, how to accept people for who they are. She's learned to encourage her friends when their test scores are better than hers, rather than trying to tear them down to make herself feel better. She's learned to cheer for winners, even when they beat her (although that's a really really hard one we have to keep working on). She's learning to be a gracious winner (again, another tough one).
All of those amazing things she's learning and becoming aren't because we told her to be that way. It's because we have to try to be that way around her. We have to say things like please and thank you. We have to hold doors, to drive graciously (oof), to be good examples. We have to expose her to people with diverse points of view, with different traditions, with different examples of normal and allow her to see that we love those people and that it's okay not to look like or think like everyone else.
I sincerely hope and pray and believe that I'm not raising a racist. Or a homophobe. Or an abuser. But the only way I can be sure is to not only display normal, acceptable behavior, but also to point out bad behaviors (even in myself) and encourage her away from them. I have to be explicit about the things I've done wrong and what others have done wrong, and I have to be brave enough to admit when I've made mistakes and try to be better.
It's not enough to strive for the good. I have to admonish the bad, even in myself.