parent opinion

'My daughter doesn't owe you her affection. It's a violation of her boundaries.' 

I was forced to hug people as a child. If I showed discomfort or dared to say no, I was disciplined. Not wanting to hug adults was seen as disrespectful.

I wasn’t trying to be unkind. I simply didn’t want to hug someone or be forced to sit on their lap. I’m not a particularly demonstrative person and as an adult, I only hug my husband and daughter. Forced affection is something that makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Adults not being able to take rejection was made my responsibility. I forced myself to hug adults to avoid punishment. This sent out the unconscious message that my body wasn’t mine.

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This had detrimental consequences. I was abused and it took years to recognise it as abuse. Not letting adults do what they want offended them and then I would be punished. So why would this be any different?

I now have a daughter of my own. At the moment, she is very loving and happy to show affection to pretty much anyone. But this could change, whether that be she becomes more selective with who she shows affection to or not wanting to show affection at all.

And that needs to be respected. Hugging children is lovely and I often have the urge to cuddle and kiss her. But it’s only lovely if it’s reciprocated.

She is not here to perform for people. And that’s exactly what this type of affection is — performative. That’s why adults feel offended if a child doesn’t want to show affection. It embarrasses them.

My daughter is her own person. She is a very loving little girl, but that doesn’t mean she is obliged to be loving all the time. She is allowed to want to be on her own, play, have bad moods, or just not want to hug or kiss anyone.

It’s bizarre that we treat children like this. Would we manhandle an adult into giving us a hug? Wouldn’t that be considered harassment? So why do we get to violate the boundaries of children?

It is not a child’s responsibility if an adult cannot handle rejection maturely and appropriately.

We can’t wonder why kids struggle to recognise and report abuse when violating their boundaries is so normalised. To you, it might just be a hug or a kiss, but to them, it’s being forced to give up their bodily autonomy to avoid punishment. That’s a very slippery slope.

It’s true there are times when children have to give up their bodily autonomy. Karol Markowicz argued in the New York Post that it’s ridiculous to stop children hugging relatives.

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“But anyone who has ever forced a kid into a stroller while they’re doing the amazing trick with their body known as ‘the board’ can tell you that children don’t ultimately have agency over their own bodies. When a parent makes the kid go to the bathroom before leaving the house even though they definitely, definitely, don’t have to go, there’s nothing autonomous about that.” — Karol Markowicz

Sometimes we have to make children do things for their own safety and wellbeing. I have to put jumpers on my daughter when it’s cold even though she hates me putting her arms in the sleeves. I have to put her in the car seat when we need to get to an appointment even though she doesn’t want to. But hugging someone she doesn’t want to is a different matter. If she doesn’t hug someone, her needs will still be met.

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Markowicz also argues that innocent affection is being sexualised. To be clear, I am in no way saying that these hugs and kisses are sexual. I am saying not respecting a child’s boundaries is a slippery slope.

If I hadn’t of been shamed when I refused hugs I would not have grown up thinking I owed men physical affection. Markowicz jokes that “the idea that making your kids hug their Aunt Ida will pressure them to trade affection for food in perpetuity is absurd.” It’s true that making her hug her aunt won’t do that alone. But along with being conditioned to think she owes people affection, saying no will offend people, all whilst she grows up in a culture that reduces women to sex objects will very much do that.

A point I slightly agree with is “as unwanted touching continues to consume our media cycles, it’s a great time to educate kids on the differences between sexual and non-sexual touching and kissing.” But what Markowicz fails to see is that respecting consent from an early age will achieve exactly this. Children don’t understand what is sexual and what isn’t. But they understand what feels safe and when they are being respected.

As a child, I found the distinction between “good” and “bad” touching confusing. I was forced to hug relatives I hardly knew or had a bond with. But I wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers or let them touch me. These relatives felt like strangers, but I was supposed to let them hug and kiss me? Respecting the fact that I felt uncomfortable and not forcing me to do something I didn’t need to do would have cleared up any confusion.

Don’t force your children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren to show affection if they don’t want to. And if someone is offended by that, that’s on them. I most certainly won’t be pressuring my daughter to do something she’s uncomfortable with in order to please someone else. She’s not here to perform for you. She’s not here to make you look good.

Let’s be the change and ensure this generation isn’t filled with confused children who will grow into adults with a poor understanding of their own boundaries.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Laura Fox, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter


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