As parents, we make all the decisions regarding our children’s bodies from the moment they are born. This includes medical decisions, what they will wear, what they eat… But as they grow, we have to step back and allow them to start making their own choices.
I’m a parent who is also a feminist. Feminist parenting, to me, means bringing up children who know that gender shouldn’t be a barrier, who believe that equality is important and achievable and that, especially in relation to their bodies, they are the captain of their own ships. Bodily autonomy is something I believe children have a right to. Having said that, I also think it’s important to draw a line somewhere and that’s going to be different for each child depending on their maturity.
Here’s just a few common bodily autonomy dilemmas that come up for parents:
I let my eldest daughter get hers done once she was mature enough to ask for it herself and also to understand that it would hurt. They are her ears; I wasn’t willing to modify them without her consent. I know piercing the ears of babies can be a cultural practice and some people claim babies get over the pain quickly but personally, I’m not convinced of that- something I will go into more in the next point.
Is there anything more heated than the circumcision debate? I don’t have a biological son, so never had to make the choice. I did, however, read up on it extensively before I fell pregnant with my second child, just in case. All I read told me that routine circumcision is not a medically necessary procedure, so that was a no from me. The procedure is associated with certain religions and cultures that don’t apply to my family and there are any number of other justifications (Because his Dad is, it’s cleaner…etc). None of these seemed like a good enough reason for me to potentially surgically alter a child’s body. There is strong evidence that babies who are circumcised experience significant pain from the procedure. The may not cry excessively, but there is evidence that this is because the pain puts them into shock and can have lasting effects. There is also the risk of infection, botched surgery and so on. Every family must make their own risk assessment and for our family, the risk would not have been worth it unless there was a medical need and other avenues were exhausted.
This one usually rears it’s head with teenagers. Belly rings were all the rage when I was a teenager so personally, I don’t have an issue with piercings. I knew quite a few friends who got them done without parental knowledge. I’d prefer that my child come to me so I could make sure they went to a reputable, trained piercer instead of letting a friend have a go with a sewing needle (Yes- Guilty.) The law in my state requires parental permission for piercings for children under 16. After 16 they are legally allowed to get any body or “intimate” piercing. Any body piercing has the potential to hurt, become infected and to cause scarring. I think if my child wants one and can understand the risks involved, then it is their call. For my own children, I think that 16 is likely to be a suitable age in the event that they do want piercings. If it comes up before then, we’ll reassess. There is one line I’d draw on this one and that is “stretching” the ear lobes, also called lobe gauging or tunnelling, purely because deciding you don’t want them anymore can mean either living with large holes in your lobes or the need for surgical repair, which is a cosmetic surgery and not cheap. If the kids want this done, as far as I am concerned, they can do it when they are legally adults who pay their own bills!
My 12 year old loves coloured hair and has experimented with it for years. First it was coloured hairspray and mousse, and in the last 12 months or so she has graduated to short-term rinses. We decided 14 was a good age for her first forays into more permanent dyes and she is excitedly counting it down (but she may get a surprise salon visit for her next birthday- sssh!)
Haircuts are something I’m always pretty liberal with. I remember when my 12 year old was younger, maybe 9 or 10? She wanted a concave bob hair style. The hairdresser told me she was too young for it. As in, spoke to me, as if my daughter wasn’t actually present and speaking to her. I replied that it was what she wanted, please. Again with the “too young”. Who knew there was an age restriction? She ended up doing it very reluctantly (and not really concave at all). A year or two later when she wanted a short, funky, Miley-esque do, I took her to a better hairdresser and she looked amazing. My step-son likes a faux-hawk style and my step-daughter likes her tresses long and pretty. My 2 year old is adamant she will not have a haircut, never ever.
made a bloody mess shaved her legs for the first time without actually asking me first because it never actually occurred to her that she needed my permission! Feminist win, right? I wrote about this one a while ago over at The Multitasking Mummy. I didn’t mind that she didn’t ask permission, but I did want to talk through her reasons first and maybe instruct her on how to do it without looking like she’s used a chainsaw instead of a razor.
The latest one Miss 12 has come up with is going vegetarian.
Sigh. Got any great meat-free recipes?
Further reading on bodily autonomy in parenting here.
#WWU @ Melting Moments
#FYBF @ With Some Grace