I refused to hug her daughter
When I was a child, there were always visits with aunties and uncles. Relatives and friends. Cheeks were pinched. Heads were patted. Hugs were given.
I never had a problem with any of this. I’m a touchy-feely person. I love to embrace and be embraced. I hug everyone, even people I’ve just met.
So of course I wanted to hug my friend’s 4 year old daughter when I met her. She’s adorable. With huge dark eyes and a black pixie cut that hugged her chubby cheeks, she was the epitome of cute.
But when I bent down, she backed off. So I backed off too. She hid behind her mother. She made it clear she did not want to be noticed. So I respected her wishes and ignored her.
“Thanks for understanding,” said my friend.
“Of course,” I said.
“Some people try to force it,” she said.
“I get it, because she’s so cute,” I said. “But she has the right to her own body.”
“That’s what we’re trying to teach her,” my friend said. I noticed her posture relax, and realized she’d been tense.
Later she confessed how she’d battled relatives who tried to pressure her daughter into giving them hugs. Unfortunately, it’s considered a social nicety for Grandma to give a little one a kiss, or family friend Tom to give him a hug or Uncle Bob to place her in his lap.
But everyone has the right to say no to being touched and it should be respected. Even if the one saying no is a child. Or a pet. I won’t allow anyone to pet my cat if she doesn’t want it. And I applaud parents who protect the rights of their children.
When children are forced to deny their instincts, when they are forced to endure touches they don’t want — they are taught their body is a public space and that social convention is more important than their own comfort and consent. What damage does this do?
How many raped women were once manhandled children? How many molested boys and girls were ignored when they expressed discomfort? Told to be polite when they protested sitting in someone’s lap? Do we make it easier for predators when we tell the vulnerable to ignore their instincts?
I love to hug people. But I never touch anyone who doesn’t welcome it. Especially not a child.
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