My family was never lovey dovey. I vaguely remember that we would hug and kiss our parents before going to bed. I never thought anything of it, it was just the way it was. It also meant that when we saw each other after returning from school breaks, vacations, or summer camp that our way of greeting each other upon arrival was to give a hug and a kiss. As I got older it started to feel a bit strange. Maybe not as much when I kissed my grandma, but definitely I thought about it when I hugged and kissed my dad. Somehow my sister and I just avoided it all together by not even hugging each other. Over time as my mom, dad, and grandma gradually died, there was no one left to hug and kiss hello or goodbye, so it was not something that I thought about much.
I recently read this blog: “Do you kiss your babies on the mouth? Or your parents?” It made me think about what we expect from kids. I am absolutely smitten with my nine month old niece and I want to love and dote on her, snuggle, and make her laugh, but I also want to be conscious of not making her feel like she has to do anything she does not want to do. I would rather her come to me and snuggle when she wants to, and yet that is hard for me. I have such a voracious strong love for her — so how do I hold myself back and let her come to me and yet still show her my extreme love?
It also makes me think about what I would do as a parent. I love the idea from the blog of how the dad decided to kiss on the head, and not on the lips. It allows kids to make their own choices and not feel like they have to kiss back. While I think at times that a hug is harmless, I also would never want to force my kids to hug anyone that they do not want to hug (See past blog: Consent: No means no). I have a hunch that my parents never even took the time to think about what was right, or what they felt was important. My hunch is that they replicated what happened for them during their childhood.
Yet, is it not a little strange to teach kids to kiss on the lips (unless they willingly decide to do so)? If you have kids, how have you thought about this? Hugs and kisses? Hugs only? Kisses on the head?
We get to decide who touches us. We get to decide how we allow others to treat us. We get to decide how we allow others to make us feel. Yet, how we are socialized to respond and react to each of these is remarkably different. Not a single person has the same experience in how we were taught to handle our reaction, or how we handle “consent.”
“Consent: giving permission for something to happen.”
Have you ever thought about how even the littlest of babies have the right to decide (give consent) to whether a stranger touches them? As a parent, are strangers allowed to touch a small baby or do we protect them until they are capable of communicating their consent? What we teach children at an early age matters, because it is the beginning of their education on consent.
Consent in some ways is similar to telling kids there is a Santa, and they believe you, then one day you tell them there is no such thing as Santa. Have we not then taught them a lie? Should they trust us after finding out we have told a fib all those years?
The below video “4 Ways Parents Teach Kids that Consent Doesn’t Matter” really opened my eyes about the topic of consent and shares the following four points:
1. Tickling and Roughhouse Play
2. Contradicting their Feelings
3. Forced Affection
4. Respect your elders
We teach politeness over feeling comfortable. We make kids hug their elders, or individuals they may not feel comfortable around. We tell them that they cannot think or feel how they feel or think. We do not stop tickling them when they ask us to stop. All of these ideas mentioned in the video are ways we continually teach children not to think for themselves and rather do what they are told. Of course, I am not proposing that kids be rude, but we often force them to do things they do not want to do. We need to listen for when they are not comfortable instead of only when they are just grumpy or do not want to participate or interact with others. There is a balance between being a bratty or disrespectful kid and allowing them to make choices that are most comfortable to them.
Eye opening ideas for me. Teach them that their “no” matters. Teach them to trust their instincts. Teach them to have a voice and to know when to give consent.