An open letter to those who believe my daughter OWES them affection
So some may say I am being passive aggressive about my approach to this topic, writing an open letter instead of facing this head on and discussing it with the person or people it involves. The truth is, I have. Or I should say, I have tried. There is nothing passive about me in the moment and I fully speak up for my daughter when I see her in situations that feels for me uncomfortable, and as her mom (her protector) and the person who knows her best, I can feel her tension and read her body language and I know she feels it too. The problem however is that each time I try to place a boundary around affection I am met with hostility or anger, as if being family gives you a right to my daughter's personal space and love. This weekend is just one of the examples where I spoke up and said, "She does not have to give you a hug" and the response was to say that "She does it all the time when you are not here," and "You just like to bring the drama" as you walked away not giving me a chance to really explain my reasons. You have little interest in hearing why I am raising my daughter this way and by the way you act toward me, her mom, it is evident that you don't respect how I am raising her either. So since you and everyone else does not want to take a moment to be empathetic to my plight and ask questions instead of telling me how things are or should be, I thought a letter would explain my position better. Even though I fully believe that as her parent it should be a non issues because let's face it, I don't tell you how to raise your kids and you should "as family" have enough respect for me to not be combative when I am trying to raise mine.
So lets jump in. I have no idea what you really say when I am not around so I only have the things I hear you say when I am around to go on, so I will start there because you say she gives you hugs when I am not there just fine... When I am not there does my daughter see you, light up with joy and come running to you for a hug without being asked? Or do you badger her until she gives you a hug? Not sure if you are badgering her? Well let us take this further because I have heard what you say when I am there and it sounds like... "Give me a hug", "where is MY hug." "You never gave me My hug." "Don't make me come get hugs." "You better give me a hug!"... None of these sentences in a little girls eyes place her in a position to feel as if she has any say, in fact non of them are questions. So being that she is smaller and feeling vulnerable she may give you a hug, even if reluctantly so. What I am asking of you instead is to change your wording and to accept the answer on the first ask. "Hey Coraline, I missed you, can I have a hug?" Then if she says No or just sits there not answering with a shy smile on her face you say, "that's okay! and then, I know this is the radical part and it takes not getting your undies in a twist, but you just move on and not expect it and don't ask again. My daughter is not responsible for your feelings and should not be made to feel as if she is. So unless my daughter runs up to you with glee and offers you a hug or "Love" without being asked, or until she gladly gives you one one after only being asked once...It is probably safe to say she does not feel comfortable with it and just does not feel like she is in any place of authority over her own body or the situation to say so without, how did you put it? "Bringing the drama?" The sad part is that my daughter loves hugs and for those who do not badger, she gladly gives. I babysit for a family and the dad drops their son off in the morning, he has never once asked for a hug nor have I told her to give him one but she always gives him one without even being prompted. My husband's side of the family, her Pappy will ask, "can I have a hug?" and if she says no he says okay and continues to talk to her and be playful with her, without expecting her to show affection and he makes my heart sing. He proves to me that you can have a relationship with my kid without expectations and you know what? She hugs him, before we leave she says, "I have to give pappy a hug! and runs to find him. These two examples are proof that she will gladly give you a hug if she wants to and isn't that what you really want? Or do you think it is appropriate to force people to show you affection?
See unlike my daughter I have had almost 35 years to really grasp what it means to have full bodily autonomy and in my time alive I have had several encounters where my body language and words were over looked and I was not respected. And it seems I really must go deeper because you obviously can't wrap your brain around the reasons I would raise my daughter this way so let me go into this a bit further. The majority of my cousins have been molested, by family none the less. My grandmother was raped, and many of my friends were sexually assaulted before they had the voice to speak up and "Bring the drama" So you may see what you are doing as love, but from the perspective of someone who has seen way too many people taken advantage of, I see it as coerced and unrelenting. I see it as a person who is, yet again teaching my daughter that she has no say in if someone is allowed to touch her body. Sure, right now its just a hug - and I am not insinuating that you would ever force anything sexual on her but for most, it starts with a hug and not being able to say no because "they are family and we hug family" and if I can't say no to this family member then I can't say no to this one and so the spiral begins.
I won't presume to know how you frame your actions in your head. Maybe you feel like you are just being playful but asking over and over, even in a playful manner, does not constitute consent and telling my daughter to give you a hug is not giving her a chance to consent. To be frank, many women will tell stories about how they were pressured until giving in, even though they did not want to but felt powerless in the moment when their first No was not heard and their body language was not read.
So to reiterate, in the future when I am not there to be the voice that my daughter can't find within her own throat, I ask that you think about the way that you approach my daughter and the words you use because saying things like "My hug" makes it seems like it is owed to you and words have power. I ask that instead you simply ask my daughter, "may I have a hug" and if she does not run up to you and give you a hug, I ask that you accept her non answer as a NO, and if she says NO, I ask that you accept that answer too and not hold it against her. My daughter is 4 going on 5 and in these precious years of her life, it is now that I help her find her voice - so when we are all together at a family gathering - I will continue to be that voice for her regardless of how much drama you feel it brings. Unlike you, I spend the most time with her and I think that I know her body language and her pretty well so please do not patronize me when I am helping my daughter learn to set limits on who, when, and if someone is allowed to touch her body, even if it is "Just A Hug"