How I’m Teaching My Daughter That Her Body Is Her Own
Our Dominican culture conflates love with touch, but I want my daughter to feel like she has a choice
I recently had a difficult conversation with my aunt, whom I love dearly. The topic? My three-year-old daughter’s bodily autonomy.
My wife and I lead very child-centric lives. We pride ourselves on raising our child to know that her voice matters. We try to offer her some control over her life by listening to her wants and making an honest attempt at taking those wants into consideration. In theory, this feels like the exact message I want my daughter to grow up with: I want her to know that she can express her dislikes and that she should expect others to respect her words. I want her to exercise her autonomy early on, so that doing so does not feel awkward in adulthood. We want speaking up to be second nature to her, so she doesn’t feel the need to compromise her wants in the interest of being polite to others.
I’m sure this parenting philosophy makes no sense to my family of origin. I was raised in a very Catholic, Latinx immigrant home where I was taught to value family above all else. I was taught to be obedient, to respect my elders, to be humble, and to appreciate the sacrifices others made for me. I was raised to respect authority and not question the rules. In some ways, these values have served me well in life. But in other ways, less so. I’ve tried another approach with my daughter because I want to empower her to find her own way. I don’t want her to accept things as they are. I want her to make them better.
This philosophy sounds all well and good in theory. But in practice, it’s mayhem. We ask her to put on her clothes for school and she refuses because she wants to go naked. We tell her that clothes are important and she agrees to wear a bathing suit. We acquiesce, telling ourselves that it’s her body and at least it’s a warm day. We tell her when it’s bed time and she reminds us that she’s not ready yet. We tell her that she needs plenty of sleep in order to grow big and strong and she runs around the house screaming. Eventually, she consents to getting into bed only to sing at the top of her lungs for an hour before the exhaustion takes over.