So what does all of this have to do with Perrin? Well, two things. First of all, these same exploitive power structures can be found in parent-child relationships. Because the parent is bigger, older, more cognitively developed, they have the ability to exact their will on the child without regard to the child as an individual. Second, my hope is that Perrin will understand how to respect others as people and not be given a sense entitlement. I truly feel that the best way to teach him this is by treating him with respect Because if I tell him he must respect others while not showing him that same respect and dignity, all he is learning is that respect is something that the disempowered owe the powerful. And that when you are in power, you can demand respect without ever having to give it. That is not the lesson I want to bestow on Perrin. But I think for some this is a hard distinction to make. How do you parent- guide, teach, and keep safe- without overstepping your role and infringing on your child’s rights (because let’s be clear, children are people and just as deserving as basic human rights and dignity as anyone else)?
With this in mind, there are a few things we try to be very aware of with Perrin in order to try and instill this sense of respect and empathy. I am by no means saying that families who don’t do these things are disrespecting their children and the list is by no means exhaustive, but these are a few ways in which we try to respect Perrin.
-Bodily autonomy. This is a big one for us. Perrin’s body is his own and we try our best to not make any decisions about it that do not have to be made for medical or safety reasons. We don’t cut his hair because it’s not our hair. We don’t try to discourage him from touching or exploring any part of his body. It’s his body. Obviously there will a conversation about privacy when he is older and can understand, but for now we keep our expectations developmentally appropriate. This also is a partial factor in our decision not to vaccinate as I explained in this post. Preventative medicine is tricky because you aren’t actually addressing an issue, you are acting on a “what if…” and we carefully weigh what risks we are willing to incur without Perrin’s consent. We present him with healthy choices, but at the end of the day he eats what he wants and how much he wants. He eats when he is hungry and stops when he is full. As he gets older and is more capable of making decisions about his body (such as clothing choices, body modifications, vaccines, etc.) we will leave those decisions up to him. We ask before picking him up. We put him down when he wants to get down. If he doesn’t want to interact with someone, we don’t force it. He doesn’t owe anyone affection or attention.
-Giving him a voice. Just because he doesn’t yet say actual words doesn’t mean he doesn’t communicate. He has been communicating since day one and we have done our best to acknowledge what he is trying to tell us. We work very hard to read his body language to and remember that even crying and “fussiness” is communication and not something to be ignored anymore than I should be ignored when I’m trying to talk to Joey and upset.
- We don’t downplay or dismiss his emotions. When he falls down or is upset, I don’t tell him he is “fine”. I don’t know if he’s fine. He may not be physically hurt, but he could be scared or tired or frustrated. Those feelings are real and he has a right to express them. He isn’t punished for expressing frustration or anger. As he gets older we can help him learn healthy ways to display those feelings, but he has a right to let them out.
It may not seem like much, but I hope that by instilling a sense of self in Perrin, he will learn that respect and dignity are the default ways in which to treat human beings. A person does not have to earn the right to common decency. I hope he learns that kindness isn’t something you do expecting something in return. It’s something you do because it’s the right way to treat each other.