It was seemingly innocent, Grandma was leaving after a long weekend at our house. She knelt down to my little girl and uttered the words, “Give grammy a kiss goodbye or grammy will be sad.”
I felt my skin get hot and my blood start to boil. Yes, this is my mother. I love her dearly. In this instance, I may have gone a little nutso in the eyes of my family. However, my immediate reaction was one of “NOOOOOOOO!”
I firmly believe in educating my daughter about body autonomy. Her body belongs to her, even if she is only a toddler. She has the right to feel safe and in control of her personal boundaries. I refuse to force her to engage in physical contact with anyone—even our closest relatives.
I will not teach my daughter to use her body to make someone else happy. I am perfectly content with grandma’s (or anyone else’s!) feelings being a tad hurt in this situation. Sorry, mom. Hugs. I immediately fast forward to my sweet daughter’s dreaded teenage and college years, where some stupidly handsome boy expects some sexual favor because he really, really loves her and if she really, really loves him, then naturally she will cave. I have witnessed countless women—friends, family, students, acquaintances who have described similar situations. I, myself, have been guilty of going on one too many dates with someone who was clearly Mr. Wrong, solely for the fear of hurting his feelings.
Another incident occurred with a well-intentioned, septuagenarian relative shortly thereafter. “If you give me a hug, I will give you a lollipop.” Now, this is a bit more obvious and I’m sure you can see where my line of thinking is headed. My daughter looked up at me, with those giant green eyes and looked back to her auntie she admires so. She clearly did not want to hug her yet the lure of that brightly colored candy had her thinking. I interjected and said, “You don’t have to give huggies if you don’t want to, baby. Mama will make us a treat after dinner.” My darling aunt, who is the absolute sweetest, seemed taken aback. I explained that I don’t believe in setting the tone that a girl has to give up something to gain something that she wants. I’m pretty sure that auntie thought I was being rude, but that’s okay. I refuse to instruct my child that it is “polite” to hug, kiss, sit on laps, allow herself to be tickled when she doesn’t want to be touched. Forced affection is not love, nor is it good manners! Everyone should have the right to control and protect their own bodies, children included.
With startling statistics showing that ninety percent of child sexual abuse is inflicted by someone the child closely knows and twenty percent of those victims are under the age of eight (naasca.org), I don’t think that there is any such thing as being too safe. It is my obligation to educate and to guide my daughter about body autonomy.
Our bodies are not tools to be bargained for affection or material gain. I will not teach my daughter to use her body to get things that she wants . . . whether it is a lollipop from auntie or smiles from grammy. I will empower her with the knowledge that her body belongs solely to her. My daughter may only be a toddler, but her body is her body.
I want her to have a voice that is loud and clear. There are times that I want to smother those rosy cheeks with kisses. There are times that she will put her chubby little hand out to stop me and say, “no, kisses, mama.” I immediately stop myself. That’s right, baby girl. No means no.