Noticing and Utilizing the Small Moments: How to Speak with Young Boys about Sexism and Sexual Responsibility

Like many pre-dinner hours, NPR played in the kitchen as I cooked and my six-year-old son played Minecraft on the floor. Tom Ashbrook and Terry Gross often feel like invisible, well-informed family members who constantly hum in the backdrop while I take care of home tasks and fade in and out of listening. It could be argued that I should pay more attention to the content when my kids are around but for me, NPR often helps prompt important conversations about topical matters that otherwise don’t naturally come up when talking with my kids.

Last week, there was a story on Harvey Weinstein and the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. My initial reaction was to shuffle quickly to turn down the radio, but instead, I thought how important it is to teach my son about sexual responsibility. Instead of pulling away and avoiding (like we typically do as a culture), I moved toward the difficult subject.

So, began our conversation. I started with something like “Ty, this man they are talking about is a famous movie guy and he got in trouble for saying inappropriate things and touching women when they didn’t want to be touched. Now he lost his job and might go to jail.” I was surprised that he responded without hesitation and said, “Why is he in trouble? Didn’t President Trump do that?”.

My heart sank. Where did he get this from? How does he know about that? And, I can’t believe he might think this is permissible in some way because the president modelled that.

 This just reaffirmed how important it is to have this conversation and not to avoid uncomfortable topics under the guise of ‘kids are too young, the topics are too mature, and they can’t handle it’ because information is out there and our kids are listening.

 I gathered my emotional response and said, “Yes, Trump said inappropriate things and that is not okay either. It makes people feel unsafe and uncomfortable.” I waited. I asked if he had any questions. And, we moved on.

For me, the topic is weighty, important, and intense. For him, it is a moment in time that he and his mom are talking about something on the radio, learning about topics he doesn’t yet know will hopefully help him keep himself and others safe in the future.

These are the moments where education happens. It doesn’t have to be a huge serious conversation; it is a constant modeling and speaking of values that resonate with our family. Ty barely looked up from the iPad, and we moved on to the most important topic for a six-year-old – what’s for dinner.

Later in the week, we were at Blue Hills Gas and the friendly attendant made small talk and chatted with us about the weather. He reminded me that I need a new inspection sticker and I said something like “I know, I wish the garage here still did stickers because I don’t like Garage X down the road and I need to find a new place for inspections.”

The attendant and I brainstormed other places that are trustworthy. I assumed the kids had not been paying attention but as we pulled away, the boys (8 and 6 yrs. old) asked why I don’t like Garage X. I told them there were two reasons. Once, Garage X tried to convince me I needed new brakes and way over-quoted the price. Although I couldn’t know for sure, I felt like they did that because I am a woman and they assumed I didn’t know anything about cars. I told them how I also noticed being treated differently at Garage X when I was with Dad versus when I was alone, and I didn’t like that. And in fact, I am the one in our family who more often changes tires and jumps batteries etc. Furthermore, I got a consultation from a trusted garage who confirmed only minimal worked need to be done and with a much smaller price tag.

Secondly, I told them Garage X has a picture of a woman in a skimpy bathing suit in the main office/store of the garage where they serve patrons, and that makes me feel uncomfortable because it “objectifies women.” Obviously, they wondered what ‘objectify’ means and I explained it is when someone treats another person like an object, rather than a human.

I also said that it is up to the men at that garage to decide if they want to look at pictures like that, but I think it would be best to do it privately and not in a public place as it makes some people (like me) uncomfortable. I reminded the boys that I have a choice in where I get gas and where I take my car, so I choose to spend money someplace else and that people at most other stations are kind and welcoming.

Both boys connected to the injustice of the situations and agreed it is best to use another garage. Ty offered that he will “probably be president one day” he will make sure that Garage X isn’t allowed to “do that.” Cam suggested I go back and wait for the men to go to the bathroom and rip down the calendar while they are out of the office.

I am an imperfect Mom living in an imperfect world doing the best I can to impart values and beliefs that sing true to our family. For us, these are important topics and worth finding the moments in the day to process them with my quickly developing, young boys who one day will (hopefully) go out into the world as respectful allies and advocates for all people. Maybe one of these conversations with Mom will resonate and float to the surface when they inevitably are in a situation where choices around words and actions matter deeply. That is my goal. #metoo

My Kids' New Favorite Soup: Broccoli & Cheddar

Adapted from Food Network


6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 small onion, chopped

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups half-and-half

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 cups broccoli florets (about 1 head)

1 large carrot, diced

2 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated sharp white and yellow cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden, 3 to 4 minutes, then gradually whisk in the half-and-half until smooth. Add the chicken broth, bay leaf and nutmeg, then season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Add the broccoli and carrot to the broth mixture and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth; you'll still have flecks of carrot and broccoli, or puree in the pot with an immersion blender.

Add the cheese to the soup and whisk over medium heat until melted. Add up to 3/4 cup water if the soup is too thick. Ladle into the bowls, garnish with cheese, and serve with a hunk of bread.