When traveling to see family and friends, it’s normal for us to exchange hugs. However, my two-year-old is not always warm to this type of welcome and sometimes prefers a departure without notice over an embrace. While some might try to sway her to receive a hug or sit on a relative’s lap during a visit, I will not. As the gene-bearer for my daughter’s unwillingness to be pushed in the direction of somewhere she doesn’t want to go, I cringe at this situation.
Living two hours away, our daughter isn’t familiar with all our extended family and sometimes can be shy around immediate family. And that’s okay. She doesn’t have to sit on everyone or anyone’s lap. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like that person or doesn’t want to interact with them at all, it just means that her personal boundary for the situation stops at physical touch. While she might not want to read a book on their lap, she’s perfectly happy sharing a story in the seat next to them. Any adult could scoop her up and force her into something she isn’t willing to do on her own, but that doesn’t make it okay – even if it is a completely friendly, innocent situation – even if it’s family – even if it’s the holidays.
For some reason, when it comes to children, forced acts of affection and personal touch are often overlooked and accepted. Imagine if that were me. While I’m game for giving hugs to aunts and uncles and friends and sometimes people I literally just met – no one’s forcing me to do that. I will still offer a cheek when a certain relative goes in for a smooch. I have a two-second rule on cordial hugs before things get awkward. And there are only a couple people I would be comfortable with sitting on their lap – they are not the mall Santa or Easter bunny.
Do you ever find yourself asking of your child something that you yourself wouldn’t be comfortable with?
Perhaps you’re different, and all that sounds great to you. That’s cool. That’s why boundaries are personal, should be recognized and respected – even when it’s the boundary of a child. I’m not saying that I’m grabbing my brick and mortar at the sniff of unwanted physical contact. Building walls isn’t the answer either. What I am saying is that it’s okay if my daughter prefers to blow a kiss over giving a kiss goodbye. It’s okay if she wants to give a quick wave instead of a quick hug. It’s okay if she wants to sit out a hello all together instead of sitting on a lap. Whatever way she chooses to engage with someone (as long as it’s not in a fight), or not, is okay. It is hers to choose, and mine to protect.
It is my job as a parent to create and protect safe boundaries for my child, especially when it comes to physical touch.
If my daughter approached a busy road, I would stop her. If she went toward a hot stove, I would grab her arm. If she touched the toilet seat in a public restroom, I would wash her hands…twice. We set up baby gates and child locks and bumpers and have a car seat for seemingly every stage of life. Why would my approach when it involves people (from strangers to family and anyone in between) be any different? If I tell her that no one gets to touch her body without her permission and then force her to hug someone, I’m creating a pretty confusing understanding of personal space and privacy.
Her resistance in these situations is how she’s able to express that she’s uncomfortable. I want that. I want her to start building a foundation for saying “no” and not giving consent to a situation she doesn’t want to be in. I want that for her today when she’s two and doesn’t want to sit on grandpa’s lap, and I want that when she’s twenty and doesn’t want to sit on some guy’s lap at a party. I’m not just setting boundaries for right now; I’m establishing boundaries for her to adopt and adjust for herself in the future.
Now, if I could just teach her about my personal boundaries…mama needs some space!