Dear friends and family,
This feels weird to say. I know you care about my kids, and I have confidence you are safe people, but I need you to help me with something. When my kids say “no” with their words or their expressions, I need you to listen.
When you pick up my daughter, and she clearly does not want to be held (she says it with her words or her facial expressions), please put her down. When you are tickling my son, and he no longer enjoys it, stop. Please, bear with me while I explain why this is so important.
My kids are growing up. They are at school without me. They go to mom’s day out, and they stay with babysitters. I am vigilant about who has access to my children. But even so, I know that sometimes bad things can happen even when we take every precaution to protect our kids. I can’t be there every minute to watch over them. So I do what I can. I teach my kids they can and should say “no.” When they are uncomfortable, when they feel threatened, when they feel afraid, when they don’t feel safe. Say “no.” Scream it at the top of your lungs, my children. Say “no,” and come tell me.
But how can I teach them that their “no” should be honored, when it isn’t honored by the ones who love them the most? I can’t. So this is where you can help me.
In our family, we don’t hold children who don’t want to be held. We don’t wrestle with children who don’t want to be wrestled. We don’t kiss children who don’t want to be kissed. We don’t demand or even gently coax for hugs when kids don’t want to give them. Affection isn’t demanded; it’s given freely, or it’s not given at all. They need to understand that as friends and family, we are safe people and can respect their boundaries.
There are obvious exceptions here. We do what seems fair to keep our kids safe. They must hold an adult’s hand when crossing streets or parking lots. There are common-sense safety issues where we make decisions in order to protect our kids. But please understand these are the exceptions, not the rules.
I know it can feel hurtful when children you love reject your affection, refuse a hug or a kiss when you haven’t seen them in a while. But I know I can count on you to rise above that feeling of rejection, to see the confidence we are giving them in their choices and in their voices. We will see them grow and learn that they have ownership over their bodies and can speak up for themselves. It’s going to mean my kids are a little more safe in this scary world. And that’s going to be a win for us all, hugs or no hugs.