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#MeToo. Now What?
Lynnette Li

Lynnette Li

Columnist, Repurposing Family Culture at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Lynnette Li is a performing artist, music teacher, and part-time-stay-at-home mom. Read more under 'Columnists'.
Lynnette Li

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To read Part I, click here

Problematic Message 2:
When communicating your discomfort, fear, or pain, the people who love you most will aim to silence you as quickly as possible.

Our society is not fond of the sound of a crying baby. I observed this in the eye rolls upon boarding a plane back when my daughter was 14 months old and, mind you, not even crying. Parents are under a lot of pressure to keep their kids quiet at all costs. Once, while flying for business, my husband found himself in the middle seat between a mother with an 18-month-old and an adolescent boy traveling alone. The baby, in my husband’s view, was acting like a typical baby, making some noises to express joy and at other times crying to express discomfort. The mother apologized repeatedly for all the sounds her son was making. The adolescent boy, silent for half the flight, waited until the mother had picked up the baby and walked away, bouncing and shushing him in an effort to quiet him, before he turned to my husband and fumed, “She needs to beat that baby.”

Our society is not fond of the sound of a crying baby. I observed this in the eye rolls upon boarding a plane back when my daughter was 14 months old and, mind you, not even crying. Parents are under a lot of pressure to keep their kids quiet at all costs.

This is troubling on so many levels. The mother believed she should apologize for the sounds her baby was making. The adolescent boy believed that the baby should be silent at all costs, and had likely been hit for making noise as a young child. But even children who are not spanked receive the message that their sounds of distress are intolerable. The 18-month-old received the message that his attempts to communicate his discomfort would be met with an attempt to silence him.

In the #metoo stories that happened to children, I was taken aback by how often a child felt she could not speak up, or had tried to and was ignored. We need to send a different message.

In the #MeToo stories, I was taken aback by how often a child felt she could not speak up. Click To Tweet

A New Message:

When you express discomfort, fear, or pain, someone will listen to you and empathize with you.

To send this new message, we parents can try to shrug off societal pressures and meet our children where they are. We can make eye contact when our babies are crying. We can say to them, “I can see you are so unhappy right now, I’m going to do what I can to try to help.” We can resist the urge to resort immediately to bouncing and shushing, and take a moment to convey to our children that we recognize they are trying to communicate with us. We can validate their pain, fear, or discomfort. And we can shift our societal mindset from one that views crying as an annoying thing that should be stopped to one that sees crying for what it truly is: our babies’ way of trying to tell us something.

We can shift our societal mindset from one that views crying as an annoying thing that should be stopped to one that sees crying for what it truly is: our babies’ way of trying to tell us something.

Problematic Message 3:
Your body, particularly the parts inside your diaper, are dirty, yucky, and should not be talked about
.

Feces and urine are legitimately unpleasant to have to clean up. They have an unpleasant odor and are literally disposed of by our bodies.

So it is natural to feel disgusted while changing our babies’ diapers. But let’s think about the message we send when we repeatedly make a disgusted face, talk about how gross it is, or rush as quickly as possible through a diaper change. We teach our children that what happens inside their diapers is disgusting and has the power to contort the loving sweet face of their caregiver into a potentially scary, unfamiliar grimace.

We teach our children that what happens inside their diapers is disgusting. Click To Tweet

Couple this with the fact that so many people use nicknames for the body parts underneath a diaper, sending this message that we can’t talk about our actual penises, vulvas, and anuses. And also think of how we often shush or laugh at kids when they talk about what’s going on in their pants, e.g., I’m pooping, my vulva itches, or my penis is sticking up.

If the people who had childhood #metoo stories didn’t view their bodies beneath their diapers as something dirty and taboo, maybe it would have been easier to share their violations without embarrassment or shame.

MeToo

A New Message:

You have many body parts. They include your vulva, vagina, urethra, anus, penis, and scrotum. We can talk about these parts if you want to, and, like the rest of your body, they are your own.

While changing our babies’ diapers, we can use the same gentle, respectful voice and demeanor I spoke about earlier. Rather than responding with disgust or rushing quickly through a diaper change, we can explain to our babies what it is we’re doing. We can talk about their body parts the same way we’d talk about any other body part, and we can use real terminology rather than nicknames to describe these parts. For example, your ears help you hear, your eyes help you see, your anus helps you poop, your urethra helps you pee. (Feel free to steal this awesome rhyme I just made up!)




We can support their curiosity about their own bodies by allowing them to touch themselves instead of brushing their hands away when they reach for their vulvas or penises. We can allow them to look at their feces and urine inside the diaper or potty before quickly rushing them away. We can create a new culture in which it is acceptable rather than taboo to speak about their sex organs and what their bodies do.

My daughter said loudly to my friends’ 5-year-old son, “Hey, your knee is in my vulva!” He quickly moved his leg to the side, and the whole group continued to read the book together.

When my daughter was 3 years old, we were visiting with close friends and their children. The group of kids were huddled closely, peering together at a book. My daughter said loudly to my friends’ 5-year-old son, “Hey, your knee is in my vulva!” He quickly moved his leg to the side, and the whole group continued to read the book together.

#MeToo. Now what?

Last month we shared our stories of #metoo, and since then I’ve been asking myself, now what? We can’t change a culture overnight. We can’t capture all of the perpetrators; we will not be able to see that justice is served in every case. We can’t undo what’s already been done. But we can commit to sending new messages to the very youngest members of our society, from the moment they are born.

We can commit to sending new messages to the youngest members of our society, right from birth. Click To Tweet We can create a new culture in which it is acceptable rather than taboo to speak about their sex… Click To Tweet

As children age and begin to speak, to read, to have more complex relationships and a broader understanding of the world, we’ll have opportunities for even deeper and more difficult conversations about consent and respect. But wouldn’t it help to not have to work against problematic messaging they received in earlier years? When our babies are young, we have an opportunity to help them enter the world with a strong sense of what it means to respect and be respected. I can’t think of a more hopeful place to start.

Wouldn’t it help to not have to work against problematic messaging kids received in earlier… Click To Tweet

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Lynnette Li is a performing artist, music teacher, and part-time-stay-at-home mom. Read more under ‘Columnists’.

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