My eldest son has been very reserved since the day he was born. He seemed to know early on — and I mean within a few days from birth — if he was being carried by Mommy or Daddy or someone else. And he already had his preferences. Mommy had the green and go to carry him at all times, Daddy had it some of the time, and if you were someone else, well, you just basically got the red EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. “Someone else” was anyone who wasn’t me and his dad. That meant his uncles, aunties, cousins, my friends, and his grandma and grandpa got a very rude welcome (or non-welcome) from my son. And every time he refused to go with anyone else, I never forced him. So you could imagine what kind of pickle I was in when “well meaning” relatives who felt entitled to hold my son were offended that I never lifted a finger on their behalf.
For a clear picture, here’s a run down of things I never force my babies (now one toddler and one infant baby) to do:
- I never force them into anyone’s arms to be carried
- I never force them to kiss or hug anyone
- I never force them to pose for a picture with anyone they don’t know (that includes the mall Santa Claus if we had him here)
- I never force them to accept things from anyone if they don’t want it
It might seem rude but…
… but I’d like to teach my children the concept of bodily autonomy. This means recognizing that a child’s body is their own and no one could decide for them what their boundaries are. It means respecting that if my kid says “no,” they mean “NO” and you are not entitled to an explanation as to why they don’t want to give you a hug or a kiss or allow you to carry them. And if they gave you a hug before, it doesn’t mean they can’t say “no” the next time. By doing this I am showing them that even if they are little, their voice is powerful and they deserve respect. Even if that means I get to ruffle a few feathers.
You see, it is my hope that by teaching them about bodily autonomy I can:
- help them avoid physical/sexual abuse by showing them they don’t have to allow another human being to touch them without their consent. If they feel that anyone is encroaching upon their personal space, they are allowed to react negatively even if that person is older than them or a relative.
- help them defend themselves against bullies. I am hoping that by respecting their voice early in their childhood they will develop a high self esteem that is a deterrent to bullies.
- ensure that they do not victimize others who are weaker than themselves. This is because children who are bullied and disrespected at home can become abusers when they grow up. The simple act of giving power to their “NO” will teach them to respect others’ bodily autonomy as well.
But what if they grow up… rude???
My eldest who is now two years old, who has never been forced to hug and kiss his grandparents or godparents, now does so willingly and in the sweetest of ways. And we’re talking about a boy who used to scream “NO” at the top of his lungs when his grandma extended her arms to take him from me. Each time he did, we had to ask others to back off and respect his voice by giving him time. The best part about it is that I know he physically shows his love and appreciation for them now because he wants to and not because he was told or coerced or guilted into doing it.
Was I ever worried that letting him scream his disapproval was going to teach him to be a nasty kid? Never. He was — and really, he still is — a baby who could be taught a better way to express his dissent. What matters now is that he knows his consent is his and his alone to give now and always.