I have noticed a habit that some parents have…one that is actually quite dangerous. We’ve all witnessed this. And many of us have experienced it from our own well-meaning parents. Forced Affection. It comes in a variety of forms:
“Give Grandma a kiss.”
“Sit on Santa’s lap.”
“Give Uncle a hug.”
“I’m gonna tickle you!”
“Blow a kiss.”
I was guilty of this in the tickle department when my kids were young. I realised this and we developed a code word for starting and stopping. “Popsicle” meant that they wanted tickles. “Cupcake” meant that they wanted it to stop. It was not long, though, before I realised that what I was teaching my kids was that “No” actually didn’t mean “No.” So the game ended swiftly. As a father, I have always wanted my children to feel empowered. Sometimes as a parent we mess up. That is life. That is why we can, years later, feel good about paying for some of their therapy.
Something that I NEVER did was force my kids to show affection to someone else, even if they were family members. I used to HATE having to give certain members of my family hugs as they left. I really just wanted them gone. But to have to hug them as they left felt like I was somehow being prostituted. I was too young to actually form that thought, but the feeling of being slimed after having to hug someone was very real.
Children need to have the choice of who they do and do not show affection towards as well as when and how they choose to show that affection. Without that choice what we are teaching our children is that their bodies do not belong exclusively to THEM. We are teaching them that their bodies belong to whomever chooses to have their bodies in whatever way, no matter how inappropriate and not matter where or when. That is really messed up. Is it any wonder the incidence of child molestation remains high? We are also telling the adults around that child that our child’s body belongs to THEM, not our child.
I know that people will jump on this and say that this is NOT their intent at all and so it doesn’t have that sort of effect. Those people would be wrong. You may not INTEND to run a person down with your vehicle, but it doesn’t change the fact that you did. As adults it is up to US to examine and re-examine our actions and the repercussions of those actions. If we are not willing to be humble enough to do that, then we are also teaching our children that we view ourselves as infallible, therefore they cannot come to us to address issues. If they cannot come to us to address issues, then how are they going to be able to disclose to us that some family member just took the touching thing way too far? No, our egos need to take a back seat at times, and during self-reflection is a very appropriate time for it to do so. I know how difficult it can be. Remember, I had to realise that “No” meant “No” and that no “code word” should actually be incorporated…because when someone, even a child, says, “NO” it actually MEANS “NO.” That was humbling. Yet it was something that I was so grateful to learn. It helped me to correct my method of play in parenting so that my kids could always feel safe. And that, to me, was much more important than my pride being wounded.
I encourage everyone to self-reflect on this one. I also encourage everyone with children to check in with your children about how they actually feel about forced affection. They will likely welcome the discussion and, let’s face it, kids can be brutally honest so there will be excellent opportunity for self-correction. If you love them, let them be in charge of their bodies and their affections.