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.
Watch: Explaining consent with dinner. Post continues below.
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.