Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What No Means

She might have been twelve, maybe thirteen, certainly old enough to know her own mind and draw her own boundaries. She was with her father and two younger brothers. I was in a long lineup waiting to pay and they were, on my right, in the bakery section of the store. They had stopped because the father had run into a cousin, I know this because it was fairly loudly stated upon their meeting, and the two men were chatting.

Then father turns to his kids and says, "Come over her and give you cousin a hug!" The two boys complied each quickly and briefly hugging their much older cousin. The girl just stood where she was and gave a shy wave but did not come over. Her father, embarrassed by her behaviour, made it clear by the tone of his voice when he reissued the command, "Come and hug your cousin!!"

Again, she didn't.

Mother joins the party, sees her husband's cousin and embraces him in a big warm hug. They kiss, both cheeks and then embrace again. Husband speaks to wife, in a language I don't know, indicating their daughter. Mom addresses her daughter and tells her to come and give a hug, and stop behaving so badly.

Daughter, again, waves, but doesn't move.

Mother goes over and dresses down her daughter. I don't know what she was saying but she was saying it passionately. Daughter is crying now. Mother slaps her on the back of her head as the daughter moves over to give her cousin a hug.

Cousin gives her a quick hug and says, "That wasn't so bad was it?"

Um ... yes sir, it was.

You could have stopped this at any time. You could have just waved back and let it go. You could have done something.

Hugging a crying child, whose tears are because they are being forced to hug you, is unthinkable.

Forcing your child, who is establishing boundaries and saying 'no' to a physical interaction that they don't want, is unthinkable.

It may be unthinkable.

But it happens all the time.

We all say 'no means no' but it most often doesn't, does it.

Most often, 'no means force'.

And that's got to stop.


Unknown said...

UGH. The everyday violence of family life, there in the grocery store.
I feel badly for the little girl, and for her brothers - none of them are getting good parenting, are they?
Sadly, the boys learn that it is ok to insist that someone have physical contact in terms that are dictated, not mutually negotiated.....UGH.
this is how men in the workplace who are 'just being friendly' learn not to respect boundaries.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

This is a piece of rape culture right there. When you force children into unwanted hugs, that teaches them that they don't have a right to assert personal boundaries, or to say "no" to unwanted touch. That makes it much harder to figure out how to say "no" clearly and loudly when other people make other kinds of unwanted advances or physical touching later in life. If you want your kids to be really clear and assertive in saying "no" when someone tries to molest them? Then it begins with allowing them to say "no" to other kinds of unwanted touch -- even "innocent" touch, even "just a hug" from "just a family member".

Saying "no", even clearly and loudly, isn't always going to be enough--but it's still one more worthwhile tool in their arsenal, and it needs to be cultivated.

ABEhrhardt said...

First, before all the other stuff, is the question of why the little girl doesn't automatically due what is modeled for her, hugging relatives.

Hate to say it, but possibly this child has had uncomfortable interactions - speculate all you like - when she hugged male relatives before.

The mother is supposed to protect her DAUGHTER (and sons) when the daughter exhibits this kind of behavior. Something quick here - just wave at cousin Bob, sweetie - or not even that much, and later investigate with the girl what's going on, making sure to not give her ideas but to see if anything is going on.

Something has made that child uncomfortable enough to try to stand her ground.

Anonymous said...

I don't make make my daughter hug or kiss anyone. And by that I mean that I don't make her hug or kiss me.

I'll ask her to hug or kiss relatives, but if she says no, I'll say, "Okay, maybe later." (She is often more willing to show affection on departures--but if she doesn't want to then, either, her "no" is an acceptable answer that I support.) Sometimes I'll ask if she wants to high-five or fist-bump.

But I never make her have physical contact she doesn't want to have. How else am I going to teach her that her choices should be respected?

szera said...

My heart goes out to this young lady...still a child; apparent without a single ally in the family.

Unknown said...

Oh no... the very people who should protect this child and teach her that her body belongs to her have done the exact opposite. My heart just breaks for her. :( As a parent of two children, one young lady and one young man, I can not imagine ever telling them that others have a right to do whatever they want to them and that they can neither say no nor depend on me to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect. Heck, if *I* ever asked for a hug and they said "no", that was the end of the discussion. Their bodies, their personal space, their comfort level. Not mine and not anyone elses to invade.