It's a familiar scene—one that I've been in a thousand times, as a child and now as a parent.We're finishing a lovely dinner and evening with family or friends. Our cheeks are all a bitflushed from wine and laughter, our bellies are full, our hearts are happy. And then someone leansover to one of my children and says, “Give me a big hug goodbye before I go!"He takes a few unsteady steps backwards and says, shyly but surely, “I don't want to."And then all eyes are on me. The relative longing for an affectionate moment with this littleperson they love so much, looking to me to say, “Go ahead, honey. Give her a hug!" And mylittle person, with tentative eyes looking up at me for guidance and protection.
Without fail, I take sides—the same one each time. “It's okay baby, you don't have togive her a hug."
It gets a little awkward. And that's completely okay.This simple act which could be viewed as arude annoyance
to the affection-seeking relative, is actually a major stand in my parenting—one that I amproud of and one that I encourage every parent to consider.My responsibility is to my children, first and beyond everything else. It is my job to help themstand up for themselves, and to stand up for them when they can't.
They trust me more than anyone in the world. I am not going to defy that trust by insisting thatthey do something that makes them uncomfortable.I actually feelimmensely proudof them when they decline a hug. It takes a lot of guts to stand up for yourself—in general,and especially to slightly intoxicated Aunt Sally.
I want to show them through my actions that they are allowed and encouraged to speak their mind andprotect themselves for things that make them nervous.They are supposed to test limits with me. They practice talking back to me. They practicelying
with me. And when they practice saying no with me, I need to do everything in my power to applaudand encourage them.
“I'm the boss of my body."
I must say this 243 times a day. Usually it's because my 3-year-old is insisting that he sit on my2-year-old's head, or because my daughter is insisting that she demonstrate on my face that jellyreally makes a really pretty eyeshadow."But mooooo-oooom, it's strawberry!""Who's the boss of my body, honey?""Ughyou
are." Huff, sigh, storm off.But the reason behind this statement's omnipresence in my house is so that it becomes a deepinner-knowing thatno onetells themwhat they have to do with their body—ever.
We hear over and over againhow important consistency is
for children—it applies here too. It's way too confusing to teach them, 'You can't hug yourfriends at school if they don't want to be hugged, but you do have to hug Aunt Sally when she tellsyou to.'
Because no means no. Period.
It means no when I say, "No you can't touch the stove." It means no when your sister says, "No youcan't keep tickling me." It means no when your first girlfriend says, "No, actually,I'mnotready yet.
" And it means no when you tell your relative that you don't want a hug.This is the message. There is no room for grey area here.It makes me nauseous to consider, but the truth is this:Statistics are such
that it's likely that one of my children will find themselves somehow in an uncomfortable situationinvolving their bodies. I won't be with them when it happens.But I'm with them now
, and I am going to make it count. And maybe, somewhere in the depths of their subconscious they'llhear my voice, find the strength to say, "I'm the boss of my body," and have the ability to walkaway.