Update – Boys will be boys?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called “Boys will be boys?” that you can check out here. It was a story that my five year old daughter told me about how she was treated on the playground by an older boy. It sparked some serious concern by many friends and family. And even some criticism of how I handled it, or at least how I handled it according to the post.

Regardless, it was a real life incident that we faced as parents and a tough one. I thought it only right to share what happened next and what we did choose to do as parents.

When speaking with our daughter, it was apparent she knew that what happened was not okay. I wanted to be very careful in how I responded even though my insides were screaming and my skin was burning from anger. I worked to re-ground myself over and over as I knew this moment mattered. If I acted angry, she might see my response as extremely different than her own – her own navigation of right and wrong and her own lack of anger – and I could cause her to not tell me these stories again for fear of the anger. Anger can be confusing for kids as they do not understand why we feel so angry. For them, it’s simple – cause and effect. My extreme anger could have been translated as you told me this thing and now I’m upset that you told me.

For her, what happened was confusing, not angering. So I took a lot of deep breaths, and asked questions. It was what kept me from giving feeling, while instead gathering how she felt, what happened, and what she wanted to do next.

At bedtime, I told her that I thought it would be a good idea to tell her dad what happened. She didn’t really want to, but I said he would want to know. I gave her the option that I could tell him or she could. She chose to tell him.

My radical co-parent responded much in the same way I did. When he walked in to sit next to me, he looked at me and said something to the line of “I hate that kid.” Of course he did, like me, as an adult we understand the context. But with her, he asked questions and took a different route. He helped her plan what to do next time it happened. They spoke about her saying no very loudly so the other kid would definitely hear it, as would the nearby adults.

When I spoke with her, she didn’t want me to talk to the kid’s parents or to the school group.

That night, my partner and I talked and we decided that this was too great of a risk not to. Not necessarily a great risk to her right now, but of great risk to both kids involved for their futures. And of great risk to the after-school group.

I have shared in prior posts that I was a victim of abuse by classmates in elementary school. Teacher and adults never knew until we told them. It’s not their fault, they can’t have eyes everywhere. And as an adult, I think they could have handled it better. So this time, I knew I owed it to the school group to tell them and to ask for what I wanted.

This was guided from some help of a friend who does therapy work with families and youth. Our concerns were validated in that this had the potential to turn into something worse and that this was simply a case of boundaries. By setting the line for them now, and not allowing the Boys will be Boys narrative, we were preventing further negative interactions between the two, and providing important parenting to both kids.

So we ultimately decided to call the playgroup. I told our daughter that morning, and she was upset with me. She told me that she didn’t want me to do it. And I told her, that this is a time where as a parent I have to make some decisions that might be different. And that in this case, it was important that the playgroup knew to keep her safe and to teach the other kid how to play safe. She let it go pretty quickly and turned her focus to checking in on her friend whom she had been worried about being at the playgroup without her.

That morning I called and spoke to the playgroup director. I said what happened, my concerns and what I wanted to see happen. My asks were that the kid and his parents were told and that the group worked to keep an eye on boundaries during play. She took it very seriously, validated my concerns and said that would happen. I’ll never know if that follow through actually happened as I haven’t asked. But I believe it did and I believe that this group did it well.

Today, my daughter and this kid still play. See, this is where it was so confusing for her. She liked playing with him and couldn’t figure out why the played had turned into something she didn’t like. As a five year, she needed some back-up in helping him to see it was not ok. Remember, she told him no over and over. And she told the adults, twice. But it kept happening. Today, however, they play and she reports that he plays nicely and they have fun, every time. He hasn’t tried to kiss her again, or force others on her. They still play “dying” but no one kills anyone anymore.

I had not shared this before, but once she told me a kid was bothering her in school and I asked if she told someone. She said yes, and they didn’t do anything. She also once was at a birthday party and another kid was spitting on her. She told my partner and he asked them all to stop but the other kid didn’t. She has brought this up before, when prepped to tell an adult, and said that she has done that before and they didn’t help.

We cannot be the adults that don’t help. I had to get over my nerves of calling the school group, the potential of making another parent mad with an accusation, and just do it. We as adults can sort out our mess and misunderstandings, but our kids need to know we’re there. We need to do check-ins and then be there, make the tough choices while also following their guidance. These two kids moved past something harmful and are friends, they’ve learned and forgiven. If anything came of this, it’s my own ability to stay grounded, learn, and forgive. And a reminder of the resiliency in these growing bodies, a reminder to uplift my own as a parent.

Good Night Stories for Kinder, More Loving, Consent Obtaining Boys

This holiday I gave my daughter the newest version of “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.” We also gave the same book to two of her cousins who also identify as cisgender girls. Both of these cousins can read the stories themselves and I watched one spend two days reading page after page. This inspired my daughter, who would take hers out and flip through the pages as if she was reading too.

It’s beautiful to see young girls feel empowerment – to see them learn stories of resistance, activism, power. In recent years, this has become more and more mainstream and the resources are becoming endless. I never run out of material to share with my kid when it comes to uplifting the power of women and girls, finding untold stories of women in history, and teaching her resistance.

But what I noticed more profoundly this holiday was the lack of resources for my nephew. He’s almost a teenager, is brilliant, caring, kind, and funny. This is because his parents are much the same and they require a lot of him as a young person – to be a great person, to take care when it comes to others, and to be intentional in how he walks through life. He is doing so well because his parents are making sure of it, putting in the time to build a life where he can choose to be all of his humanity. But there is no book for him (at least none I have found), no good night stories that share tales of men leading transformative justice, breaking down sexism, fighting for equitable rights, or even changing how toxic masculinity has become in our society.

I find this to be incredibly unfair – no book to teach him kindness, strength in emotions, consent, love for others, and how to use his power and privilege in this world to change it. Some might argue that his power and privilege result in automatic fairness. I am not totally in disagreement. But as I grow a tiny human in my womb with boy parts, I feel overwhelmed knowing that the teaching is strongly on me and my partner to craft a socialization that allows them to thrive in their own humanity.

I wrote a piece about 13 weeks ago about how overwhelmed I feel in combatting toxic masculinity. This has not gone away. I think about it often and have felt stuck in our approach. It’s moments like sharing space with my nephew, or watching my partner interact in the world that I realize how grateful I am that this baby is going to have good teachers.

But where are the rest of the teachers? Where is his book? Why as society are we not also giving this type of attention to young men? Instead we are uplifting stories of tearing down men, or abuses of power by men, or men as “leaders”. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe men need to be called in on the abuse, the violence, the lack of commitment to shared humanity. But transformative justice means we also have to fix or replace the root cause. We can’t just uplift young girls and tear down men. Otherwise my nephew just sees who not to be, instead of who to strive to be. We have to teach young men how to be better. We have to change socialization so that they can be their whole selves – that they can be kind, loving, affectionate, emotional, all while still being powerful humans.

Perhaps this is a call out to any of the cisgender men in our lives. Where are you? Why aren’t you writing? Teaching? What are you doing to shift how both you and our future exist in this world? One of my mentors is leading a project called the Better Men Project to not only call in other cisgender men, but to inspire conversation on how to do better. Sign up and join the conversation.

Many cisgender and transgender women, as well as femmes, are working hard to break through injustice, inequity, power. We need you too. My nephew needs you, my baby needs you, our shared humanity needs you.