These days, Erynn Brook is a grown-up writer who has been known to go viral on occasion thanks to the observations and wit she shares on Twitter, but once, when she was little, she was just a kid at a sleepover who was uncomfortable and wanted to go home. And she did, because her mom said she could.
Brook shared that story on Twitter recently, and how her mother taught her a valuable lesson that night—one that children growing up in the shadow of #metoo and the Kavanagh hearing should probably hear from their moms, too:
When a situation makes you uncomfortable, you can leave, no matter how young or old you are.
"I was maybe 7, I think it was my first sleepover at someone else's house. I don't remember the girl's name. But before I left Mum told me that if I was uncomfortable at any point, for any reason, even if it was in the middle of the night, I could call her," Brook tweeted, noting that her mother was very clear—even if it was the middle of the night, if she didn't feel right she could call home and be picked up.
Brook doesn't remember exactly what happened, but knows it was "something social" with the other kids at the sleepover. She thinks she was being teased. She decided to call her mom, even though the host's mother discouraged her.
When Brook's mom arrived (in her pajama pants) the other child's mother apologized, but Brook's mom told her not to. "I want her to know she's allowed to leave and I'll be there for her at any time," she said.
That night, Brook learned two things: That she could leave situations where she didn't feel comfortable, and that her mother had her back.
Further down in her Twitter thread Brook describes how her mother worked throughout Brook's life to ensure she could recognize and protect her own personal boundaries, even (or maybe especially) when that meant physically leaving a situation. "What she taught me was important," Brook noted on Twitter. "It was and still is radical."
Indeed, in the days since the Twitter thread in which she tells her sleepover story went viral, Brook has heard from a significant number of people who say they wish they'd heard this advice as early in life as she did, as it could have saved them from abusive situations. She's also heard from some who disagree with her mom's parenting style and suggest that people need to learn to live with some level of discomfort.
"People prefer to debate the fringes, like whether this is running away or teaching kids to be soft, rather than engage with the heart of it: the people who were never given or never gave themselves permission to leave," Brook tells Motherly via DM.
Those who say that sometimes kids need to be a little uncomfortable seem to be missing the point of Brook's thread. This isn't about prioritizing a child's wants above all else, it's about teaching them to recognize, and maintain their personal boundaries, something that should be prioritized but that is all to often sacrificed for the comfort of others, or for fear of rocking the boat or ruining the party. That's why this story is going viral.
"I think one of the reasons it's resonating is part of a larger conversation around the #metoo movement and more immediately the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings," Brook explains.
"We hear a lot of advice on how someone should have responded after the fact but very rarely do we talk about the steps and support it takes to build the muscles, language and personal boundaries one needs to be able to do those things in the first place," she says.
Understanding that they have the option of leaving (and that others also have the option of leaving) any situation is an important lesson for children of regardless of gender.
Brook's mom didn't make her soft when she extracted her from the uncomfortable sleepover. She made her strong.
So let's not apologize to the pajama-clad mama picking up her child mid-sleepover. Let's congratulate her on teaching her child to trust in themselves, and in her.