It’s frankly adorable when they’re this age. And so easy to indulge.
My sons love, love, love their mommy. They tackle-hug me impulsively and cover me in kisses. They shake their naked booties at me with impish glee. My boys think their penises are hysterical (I agree) and point them at each other — and their mother — like guns when they frolic in the bathtub together.
As the mother of sons, I know that, if unchecked, the innocent joy my little boys derive from the power of their bodies could be corrupted and weaponized against people they seek to control.
Unrestrained tackle-hugging may someday turn into pinning an unwilling woman against a wall, kissing her over and over again while she endures his hot breath, his saliva dripping off her mouth.
“Whoa, buddy! I wasn’t ready for that, and you’re being too rough. I almost fell and hurt myself. Next time please ask if I want a hug so I can get ready.”
My son steps back and smiles. He holds out his arms. “Can I give you a hug?”
“YES! I would love a hug! I want you to give me all the hugs you have!”
“We don’t really need to teach our sons not to rape,” a mother — and lifelong Democrat and self-described feminist declared in a recent New York Times article. Her son was expelled from college after he was accused of sexual assault.
“In my generation, what these girls are going through was never considered assault,” she said. “It was considered, ‘I was stupid, and I got embarrassed.’”
As the mother of sons, my nightmare is not that they will be falsely accused of sexual misconduct, but that my indulgence of their rowdy affection and lack of physical boundaries will someday lead to the dehumanization of someone.
Version A: She let him get her drunk. She let him flirt with her. She played hard-to-get. She let him kiss her. She smiled and laughed when she said “stop,” so she didn’t really want him to stop. She made him think she wanted it.
Let’s put the focus on what he did versus what she “let him” do.
Version B: He wanted her. He bought her drink after drink, insisting she do shots with him — even when she seemed incapacitated. He followed her around, complimenting her on her body, leaning in close — even when she sought other friends to talk with so she could shield herself from him. When he found her alone, he grabbed her and kissed her, shoving his tongue down her throat — even when she smiled and laughed nervously and said “stop.”
Which version do you think is the one he told his mother?
“I asked you not to do that,” my son’s birthday party guest frowns as my son embraces her in a goodbye hug while she puts her coat on to leave.
“Oh, he just wants to say goodbye,” the girl’s mother chides. “He likes you. Can you give him a hug back?”
The girl looks down.
“Go on. Give your friend a hug.”
“I don’t want to.”
My 6-year-old birthday boy watches this interaction between his friend and her mother and glances at me to see my response. Will I join forces with the other mom to make the girl give him what he wants?
“It’s important that we ask before we hug our friends. Not everyone likes hugs.” I remind my son — not for the first time, not for the last time, but as Zig Ziglar said, repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, and the architect of accomplishment.
I turn to the girl. “It’s okay. You don’t have to hug him if you don’t want to.”
Her mom gives me an apologetic smile and says, “Sorry about that. She’s just not a hugger.”
The little girl’s brow furrows as she watches her mother act as though saying no when you don’t want to be touched is rude and being “not a hugger” is bad.
Perhaps the next time, she’ll let someone hug her or kiss her or touch her — even if she doesn’t want them to. She wouldn’t want to embarrass her mom.
Perhaps the next time she wants to say “no,” her refusal will be softened with an unsure smile or nervous laugh. After all, she doesn’t want to seem rude.
“Of my three children, I have a daughter,” said Julia Roberts in an interview for NPR, when asked about the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations tumbling out of Hollywood. “…of course you think: …How safe can we keep her from a predator?”
When we focus solely on protecting our girls from male predators, we refuse to recognize the potential predators in our boys.
It’s an uncomfortable concept to reckon with. I hate thinking about it.
After all, our sweet little gentlemen are born without guile, without ulterior motives and the ability to manipulate and strongarm and threaten.
But somehow, they learn.
They learn that powerful men use force to get what they want.
As a mother of sons, I want them to know that true power isn’t about getting what you want or winning — it’s about having courage, bringing people together, allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and having respect and humility toward others’ experiences.
“What these women are doing is such a shame,” Alabama State Rep. Ed Henry (R) said in an interview with a Huntsville AM radio station about Roy Moore’s accusers. “As a father of two daughters, they discredit when women actually are abused and taken advantage of. They’re not using their supposed experience to find justice. They’re just using it as a weapon, a political weapon.”
“If they believe this man is predatory,” Henry told the Cullman Times, “they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years. I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion.”
There are countless accounts of survivors of sexual abuse carrying their secrets with them, allowing the pain to fester and their fear of retribution to overpower their desire for justice.
They suffer alone. For decades. They blame their younger selves for letting it happen to them — for acquiescing to the grooming, for getting in the car or being alone in a room with their abusers, for not immediately telling the police or their parents when it happened.
Or maybe they did tell — and trusted adults shrugged it off as “just flirting” or even placed the blame on them.
So they stay silent. Until someone else speaks out. And then the dam breaks. And they are able to come forward thanks to the safety and comfort of numbers.
As a mother of sons, I want them to know that the only people who are responsible for their behavior are themselves. That the choices that they make when they act on their impulses can hurt people and leave a deeper imprint than they could ever imagine. That the people they hurt can someday find the power to fight back.
“I’m a father, I have one daughter, I have five granddaughters,” Roy Moore said in his interview with Sean Hannity. “I have a special concern for protection of young ladies.”
You were the oldest of five children — three boys and two girls.
As a mother of sons, I wonder if your parents raised you to have a special concern about your own self-control around young ladies.
As a mother of sons, I wonder how many conversations you had with your father and brothers about girls who weren’t about their bodies or their looks or whether or not they were “good girls” as opposed to slutty.
As a mother of sons, I wonder how many times you witnessed your parents chastising your teenage sisters for wearing too much makeup or wearing revealing clothes while they praised you for being a “ladies’ man,” and for not taking “no” for an answer.
As mothers and fathers of sons, it’s time that we stop treating sexual assault as something only parents of daughters have to worry about.
It’s our duty to ensure that our boys have a deep understanding and respect for the boundaries, bodily autonomy, and humanity of all people, no matter their gender.
And we can’t wait until our boys are sexually active to have these conversations.
More of my son’s party guests are ready to leave. As they put on their coats, my son runs up to them.
“If you want a hug, raise your hand!” he announces.
Two of his friends gleefully shoot their hands up and they collapse into a group hug, as one boy who kept his hand down looks on, laughing.
As a mother of sons, I watch with pride.
As a mother of sons I see the confident, considerate, kind, powerful man he will become.