Musicians, Ben Harper and Faith Hill, both wrote a song about it. Harmony Evans wrote a book about it. It is something that I have been doing since my children were born and even more, as they get older. What is it? I have been stealing kisses. And, well, really kind of forcing hugs and similar affection upon them.
The topic of forced affection is something looked at, and rightfully so, as completely inappropriate as early as in one’s teenage years and definitely by the time you are an adult. But, in families, forced affection (hugs and kisses is all we are talking about here) towards younger children, and forcing them to be affectionate towards others, is a matter on which opinions vary slightly.
What is it exactly that I am doing? I’ll share that with you.
Often times, I kiss my children even while they are resisting. I will stare at them lovingly longer than their comfort level desires and I will hold them in a hug even while they are attempting to push me away. Additionally, I vocally encourage them to be affectionate towards their siblings, their extended family, and acquaintances or friends of the family, even when they do not desire such.
Have you done this? Have you ever told your child to “give your brother a kiss,” and then threaten them with “being in trouble” if they refuse? How many times have we pressured our children to hug their grandparent or a teacher despite their protest, either vocally or through their body language?
I am so very guilty of this and this is a BIG mistake I have been making. Each of my children are their own unique beings, and rightfully so, have their own perspectives and feelings about situations and people. Who am I to tell them how a certain person should make them feel? Who I am to force them out of their comfort zone when it comes to sharing their personal space and affection for/with another person.
We teach our children their whole lives that their body is their own and to protect it and then here I am forcing them to use their body to ensure the happiness of someone else, not them. This is the exact opposite of what they should be learning.
So why, as parents, do we force little Johnny to hug his great-grandmother or to accept the hug from the kind, elderly lady in the checkout line at the grocery store? One reason is because we feel guilty knowing that great-grandmother only sees Johnny once a year and is truly desiring a hug. We also may feel embarrassed when our kids don’t want to give affection to friendly elderly woman, worrying that she may take our child’s lack of eagerness to be close to them as a sign of being disrespectful.
But, it’s time to throw away the guilt and the fear of embarrassment. Those things have to do with us and selfishly, that is who we are concerned about, in those moments — not how our kids feel, but how we feel — this is shameful.
So, why I am going to stop forcing my children to be affectionate when to do not want to be? Because my infliction of affection on my children when they are not in the mood for mommy’s kisses and cuddles, exemplifies to them that mommy cares more about her needs than theirs. My forcing of sibling affection, when only one or neither desires, can breed resentment towards me and/or each other. Ultimately, my pushing of affection, when such is not desired to be engaged in by my child, negates him learning the ever-so important notion that affection, be it playful or loving, should be the choice of BOTH people and within their comfort boundary; while both are showing respect and both feel safe.
Ultimately, we need to accept our children’s different personalities and points of view on affection. We need to know, understand, encourage and respect our children’s personal space boundaries — however they have established those and however they cue us in to them via their words or their actions.
The fact is that the only thing we should be doing to our children when it comes to affection, is asking them before we, ourselves, give it to them and supporting them when they do not want to be kissed or hugged, or kiss or hug someone else.
“Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal and necessary”. — Doreen Virtue