Now that awards season is over, I am pretty sure it’s OK and authentic to say that I am tired of writing about dresses, SPANX, and expectations of wins and losses. I feel like writing about parenting again. So here we go.
I read a piece on the internet about whether or not to “force” children to kiss their parents or grandparents (or anyone else for that matter). It included the author’s decision to let her child know that when she gets kisses she’s “happy mama” and when she doesn’t get kisses, she’s “sad mama.” Argh. Yeah, that is so not my parenting philosophy or vernacular, but what do I know?
Here’s the thing. The thing about truth is that it’s true. The thing about parenting is that everything seems to change with every situation and it’s sometimes hard to tell what “true” is. I’d like to take this example of children not wanting to kiss certain people as an example of when truth trumps parenting.
I don’t have stick-it-to-you children. They aren’t perfect, for sure. And I am not a perfect parent at all. My boys have their moments. And I do, too. But I can tell you that my sons don’t do things to make me mad on purpose or to stick it to me. When we don’t see eye to eye, it’s almost always because I am impatient or have not met a need of theirs or have not anticipated them having feelings because my feelings seem more important in the moment because I’m a human and I am not done becoming a better person and parent.
But I’m not a child therapist or specialist. All of my parenting philosophy comes from the mentoring I received through La Leche League, Quality Parenting, and the philosophy of RIE. So if you have children who know you want them to kiss someone and they are refusing to because they want to stick it to you, that’s not something I know how to address. Sorry, I just don’t. That’s for child specialists to help with and that’s not me.
Why I Don’t Force My Children To Kiss People
Forcing (even gently) children to kiss people they don’t want to indicates to children that they don’t know their own sense of safety, comfort, their bodies, and what to do with them. Period. I know I’m overly cerebral. I know I think too much and I know that Attachment Parenting people like me are accused of giving our children too much of a voice, but you know what? I’ve seen this done a lot of ways and I like my kids having a voice. And I wouldn’t trade one over-thought moment with my children for anything, because they always tell me exactly what they need and I then get to handle it. If for whatever reason my children don’t feel like being physically affectionate, I honor that. Period.
What We Talk About
If my child doesn’t feel like kissing someone, I take that as an opportunity to learn more about their feelings. I use reflective listening and let them fill in the blanks. An example is, “Wow, you really don’t feel like kissing so-and-so.” Amazingly, children will often tell you things more simply by hearing their feelings reflected back to them (for more on this, check out Quality Parenting). Suggesting what you think the reason is to a child is “leading the witness” and I try not to do that, although I sometimes fail, especially with my little man who was very late to talk and is still learning to fully communicate certain things. The key is letting them have their feelings and not trying to manage or control them.
I emphasize to my sons how important it is to know what feels right to them, and I let them know it’s OK. They don’t need to feel shame or scorned about it, because think about what that communicates to a child: I didn’t do something she wanted me to do and now she’s upset. The message this sends–about physical affection no less–is that other people’s feelings are regulated by my obedience. Wow. Think about that. I don’t want that for my kids, do you?
What We Do Instead
I have conversations with my sons about how we treat elders with respect, and how bubbes and zaydes, for example, like hellos and goodbyes. We talk about ways we can make that happen if they aren’t feeling kissy on any particular day. It’s important to emphasize that connecting with people is important, but that they get to be part of the decision about how that happens so that everyone is comfortable. That’s important for us as adults, so why wouldn’t it be for children as well?
I make sure to take the bullet for my kids in situations such as these. If anyone tries to even teasingly say, “Oh come on, where’s my kiss?” I don’t leave my little men out there to negotiate that. It’s not their job. I step in and gently say, “Looks like he’s not feeling like a kiss right now.” And I change the subject or move things along. If adults get pissy about it, I guess that’s their prerogative. My intention is not to be rude, so I make sure to not be rude. I say what I mean and mean what I say and I don’t say it mean. Period.
I have come up with other options for my boys in these situations. Especially my little guy, who is extremely cuddly with me and his brother and dad but is very slow to warm with others. I will sometimes ask if he wants to offer a high-five or a handshake. Sometimes he refuses and by then the adult in question just thinks he’s maybe a bit strange and you know what? So be it. They can see he’s not feeling physical, and that’s just true. Sometimes little man will give a nice high-five or handshake, and that’s fine too.
There is no place in grown-up life or work where another adult can force you to be physically intimate with anyone. It’s actually criminal to do so. I am not comparing physical or sexual assault with children kissing people they don’t want to, but in principle, if the truth is that we all own our bodies and we are the best judges of our personal space and safety, I can’t imagine why truth should be any different for adults and children.