It is a familiar scene — one that I have been as a child and now as a parent in a thousand times. We finish off with family or friends a lovely dinner and evening.
Both of our cheeks are a little flushed with wine and laughter, our bellies are full and our hearts are happy. And then someone bends over to one of my kids and says, Throw me a big hug before I go! He takes a few shaky steps backwards and says I don’t want to, shyly but steadily.
And all eyes are on me then. The relative longing with that little person they love so much for an affectionate moment, looking to me to say, “Go ahead, honey. Give her a kiss! “And my little person, looking up at me with tentative eyes for guidance and protection. I take sides without fail — the same one every time. It’s all right girl, you don’t have to give her a hug. It gets a little uncomfortable. And that’s perfect.
This simple act, which could be regarded as a gross annoyance to the affection-seeking relative, is in reality a big stand in my parenthood — one of which I am proud and one which I encourage every parent to think about this.
My duty is first and foremost to my children and above anything else. It is my job to help them stand up for themselves, and when they can’t, stand up for them. They have more faith in me than anyone in the world.
By insisting that they do something that makes them uncomfortable, I will not defy that trust. In fact, I feel immensely proud of them declining a hug. It takes a lot of guts to stand up for yourself — generally, and particularly to have Aunt Sally slightly intoxicated. Through my actions I want to show them that they are allowed and encouraged to speak their minds and to protect themselves against things that make them nervous.
They will be checking the boundaries with me. Practicing talking to me again. They practice lying with me and they violate rules. And when they practice saying no to me I have to do all I can to applaud and encourage them.
I have to say you 243 times a day. It’s usually because my 3-year-old insists he ‘s sitting on the head of my 2-year-old, or because my daughter insists she’s demonstrating on my face that jelly just makes a beautiful eyeshadow.
But it’s strawberry, mooooooom-oooom! But the reason behind the omnipresence of this statement in my house is so it becomes a deep inner knowing that no one tells them what to do — ever. We hear repeatedly how important consistency is for children-it also applies here.
It’s too hard to teach them, ‘If they don’t want to be kissed, you can’t hug your mates at school but you have to hug Aunt Sally when she wants you to.’ And no it does not mean no. Time. It means no when I say, You can’t touch the burner. It means no when your sister says, You can’t keep tickling me.It means no when your first girlfriend says, No, really, I’m not ready yet. And it means no when you tell your relative you don’t want a hug. So that’s the message. There’s no grey area room in here.
Considering it makes me nauseous but the truth is this: Statistics are such that one of my kids will likely find themselves in an uncomfortable situation involving their bodies in some way.
When that happens I won’t be with them. But now I am with them and I will make it count. And maybe, they’ll hear my voice somewhere in the depths of their subconscious.