The other day there was a pic of a little girl on Facebook with the following caption:
“I am 5. My body is my body. Don’t force me to kiss or hug.
I am learning about consent and your support on this will help keep me safe for the rest of my life.”
Though it has a pic of a little girl, the same lesson applies to boys.
That’s why growing up I never made my son give other people physical affection. I always told him it was his choice, and he didn’t have to if he didn’t want to.
Yes, I made him acknowledge people with greetings and goodbyes.
Yes, I did my best to make him speak and act respectfully.
As my family members will attest, there were many days without hugs or kisses. Sometimes we had “good days” with high fives. Hugs are now a sometime thing. That’s a huge improvement.
Not because he “should” “give” hugs and kisses, but rather, because it shows a deepening connection and all that comes with it.
Still, there are times when I instinctively want to kiss my son on the forehead goodnight. The only way I can describe it is that my heart overflows with love and that response is instinctive.
That was fine for a while. Until he said it wasn’t. He didn’t want to be kissed anymore. It took me a few weeks of him reminding me afterwards, and me apologizing, to break the habit.
The instinct is still there.
Of course it is. As humans we want to connect. It’s one of our deepest drives.
As parents, we can feel concerned if our children don’t want that physical connection. I know I felt that concern.
It’s okay though.
As we build relationships with little ones, their hearts also know how to overflow. And when it does, there’s no more fulfilling kind of similar connection.
Rather than telling our kids to give hugs and kisses goodnight, even to us, my hope is that we change the conversation:
That we ask the little ones what they want. Then they decide who, what, when, where, and why they want to be touched.
Sure, we can tell them what we want. That’s fine. We can say “I would really love to give you a hug tonight.” We might even let them know we feel sad or happy about that in ways and tones of voice that don’t suggest guilt, blame, or shame for not complying with our request.
In that moment, we teach our children personal power. It is that very same power to say “no” sets the stage for later in life when other people try to impose their will on our children.
Did we teach our littlest ones to learn, know, and enforce their their own boundaries?
Or did we teach them that adults and “others” are the controllers and owners of those little bodies?
When my son grows to be a man, if he wants to be in a physically intimate relationship, I hope that he has positive experiences. For his happiness, I hope that he finds a fulfilling and long-lasting relationship.
It all starts with that first initiation: be it holding hands, a hug, or even a kiss.
What if the other person says no? What if the person of his affection rejects him the way I was countless and painful times?
My hope is that he deeply understands, unconsciously that “no means no.”
What if my son is ever put in a compromising situation?
My hope is that he says “no” and enforces that boundary.
What if my son hears about somebody else being violated or even put in an uncompromising situation… or is witness to it?
My hope is that he stands up with and for that person. This is especially relevant if that other person wasn’t raised to understand “enthusiastic consent” (or doesn’t have the strength and self-confidence needed to enforce boundaries).
As a white male with many female friends of all races, I have come to see just how much easier it is to do that as a man in our society. We have been raised to be strong, speak our minds, and to set and enforce boundaries.
Can we truly expect men to do that if we are forcing them to touch other people when they don’t want to?
For our little girls…
Who our society for so many centuries has expected and even enforced compliance…
Can we truly expect them to say “no” to unwanted sexual advances when we forced them to say “yes” for so many years of their youth?
Yes, as a parent I know the concerns that come with children who don’t hug and kiss. We have fears such as:
- “What will other people think of me as a parent if my child isn’t affectionate with them?”
- “What if my child never wants a hug or kiss? What’s wrong with my child?”
- “How will my child feel my love?”
- “How will my kid get the positive endorphins associated with hugs and physical touch?”
- “What’s wrong with me… that my kid doesn’t want to be touched?”
- “What if my kiids don’t learn important lessons about family and connection?”
The list of fears goes on, and some of them are valid. In a society that rewards compliance and connection, there are people who may judge us because our children don’t conform to -their- expectations of physical connection.
Those people may try to guilt trip us or our children into hugs and kisses.
Do we really want our youngest little ones to grow up believing that the best way to get what we want is coercion through guilt and shame?
That’s not the world I want to live in. It’s not the world I want my son to grow up in. And it’s not the world I want anybody else to ever have to live in.
Still, the people who say that making our kids hug and kiss other adults teaches them something are right:
It teaches them compliance.
Unfortunately, teaching compliance along with forced affection can cause them to also believe things like “no is just a suggestion.” It can enocurage them to ignore their inner guidance and not listen to their bodies.
There are other ways to teach compliance and conformity that still encourage individuality, and where appropriate, respectful confrontation. Let’s not make forced affection one of them.
Instead of forced affection, we have another option: “Enthusiastic Consent.”
Recently among people advocating for rape awareness, this idea of enthusiastic consent is being advocated for. It’s seen as one of the ways to reduce non-violent rapes.
Instead of requiring or expecting a person to say “no” to something they don’t want, we instead require a “yes” before moving forward.
Enthusiastic consent is especially helpful in situations where a person’s judgment may be impaired: Whether they’re drunk or high, don’t have the confidence to say no, or even when there was consent and the intimacy escalates into unwanted territory. Making sure that all people actively say “YES” to deepening sexual intimacy helps prevent date rape or feeling pressured into sex.
Here’s a short 2 1/2 minute video that compares having tea… to having sex.
Simply put: if it’s not a clear and enthusiastic yes, it’s a no.
We say we want that for adults, yet we force (or shame) our kids to hug and kiss. When we do that, we send them the message that consent is optional. We send them the message that consent does not need to be enthusiastic.
Our kids are looking at us to know what consent is.
So when it comes to hugs and kisses with the kids in our lives – be it our own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or even friends of the family…
Let’s model “enthusiastic consent” from the earliest days of their lives that we can.
Let’s teach them to listen to their bodies.
Let’s teach them how to enforce the boundaries the need to understand and respect their own individuality.
Let’s teach them that mutual respect can feel kind and safe.
And above all…
Let’s teach them that we love them regardless of whether or not they comply to our requests.
“Enthusiastic consent” with regards to the kids in my life giving physical affection is one way that I am voting for goodness in the world.
How will you cast your next vote?