Skip to main content

Parenting It’s difficult talking to my kids about sex and consent, but it’s my job as a parent

I should have taken a few more minutes to compose myself before I began the after-school pick-up routine. I should have stopped reading about the young female athlete who was raped by her male teammates, as angry tears stung my eyes.

I am a sportswriter who focuses on race and gender, and a woman, one who believes survivors are telling the truth, and has worked front-line as a settlement counsellor on cases of domestic violence and rape. The misogyny in the world often lays me low.

But I'm also a mother of four vulnerable young people and I have to be strategic in how I approach hard discussions with them.

Story continues below advertisement

I often have candid conversations with my kids about violence against women, self-protection and justice. I try to tailor these talks to their ages – ranging from 11 to 17 – and gender.

Teaching girls, including my own teenage daughter, not to get raped is not a solution to these problems. Teaching boys, including my own three sons, not to rape is a crucial goal.

Helping my boys unlearn toxic behaviours embedded by society and ripping apart rape culture is my job as a parent.

But so, too, is knowing – and supporting – my children.

That day, I was still upset by the graphic story I had read as my 17-year-old son jumped in the car after school. He greeted me cheerfully as he ate baby carrots and began telling me about his class in organic chem. Abruptly, I cut him off, launching into a conversation for which he was unprepared.

"You know that 'no' means 'no,' right?"

He stopped and stared at me, replying cautiously. "Uh, yeah … "

Story continues below advertisement

I pressed on. "And if she is intoxicated and you are aware, this also means 'no' and if she can't reply, that means 'no.' "

"I know this, Mama," he said evenly.

"If she says 'yes' but changes her mind, it still means 'no!'" I continued. "If she's a friend, your girlfriend or your wife!"

Anger flashed across his face and he stopped eating.

"This is very important that you understand. I need to make sure you understand!" I said almost frantically. "I need to be certain there are no questions or misunderstandings on this issue.

"Also if you see someone who you think needs helps, trust your gut. Don't just sit there! HELP."

Story continues below advertisement

My son, at his limit, blew up.

"MAMA, I KNOW THIS. I UNDERSTAND THIS," he said. "We talk about it in health class, at the beginning of every season, on every team and at every student conference."

His blunt question next shocked me. " Do you think I am okay with rape?" asked my child and, immediately, I was ashamed.

I brought my voice back under control. "I don't think that at all, but I need to make sure you get it," I said, more reasonably. "I have to make sure I do my part as a responsible parent."

We pulled into our driveway. My son grabbed his bags and slammed the door. I stayed in the car and cried.

That night, I approached my daughter, planning to speak to her calmly about her rights, her body and consent. She was on her iPad when I broached the subject much more carefully than I had with my son. "I'm good, fam!" she said, not lifting her head from Grey's Anatomy. I took this to mean she had already spoken about this with a trusted teacher, counsellor or coach and she did not want to talk about it with me. I gave her some space.

Story continues below advertisement

I knew I had handled things badly with my son and was relieved when he brought it up the next day. "Mama, I get it. But the way you said it was crap," he said. "Made it sound like I was guilty. Not to mention it's TOTALLY against everything in religion I practice."

I nodded and listened, as I should have the day before. My son takes great care to live as a young principled man with strong character. And he felt I didn't acknowledge that.

I told him that moving forward, I would try to do better. We had a good talk about why being a supportive ally is so important, why he needs to stand up, not just for me or his sister or grandmothers, but everyone, especially those most vulnerable.

Conversations about sex and consent are difficult and navigating them with four adolescents is a mess of trial and error. They're also, however, mandatory, so I'm thankful my children are patient with me. Now, I need to trust myself that I'm doing a good job.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter