Around the time my younger son was born, my older son started wiping my kisses from his cheek. He didn’t wipe away every kiss.. but enough to break my heart. He sometimes even laughed while he rubbed his cheek, as though he were delighted to hurt my feelings. What was going on?
Looking back, the answer seems obvious. After all, we don’t believe in forcing our children to give or accept hugs or kisses from other family members. We want our children to understand that their bodies are in fact theirs, and that it is not for others to decide how or whether they should be touched. As Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes, “When we as adults take the liberty of touching children without their consent, albeit in completely innocuous ways, we’re demonstrating for them that adults have a right to their body.”
Nevertheless, it never occurred to me that my son might not want so many hugs and kisses from me.
BLIND SPOTS, THEORY VS. PRACTICE
Once I realized what was going on, I told my son that from now on, I will ask for his permission before I give him a hug or kiss. I didn’t want him to feel obliged to give permission, so I reminded him that I feel sad when he wipes away my kisses and made it clear that if he really doesn’t want a kiss, I’d rather he say no when I ask. Within a few days, we had developed a mutual sense of trust. He could trust that I wouldn’t kiss him without his permission, and I could trust that he wouldn’t wipe away the kisses he did allow.
This experience was an example of how our expressions of love for our children might not be what they seem. With all my hugs and kisses, of course I was expressing my love for my son, but he wasn’t experiencing my love as love, but rather as an encroachment to be endured. The message I thought I was communicating was not the message that was being perceived, and to persist in imposing myself on him in this way would have been selfish. It reminds me of something I find maddening. Despite signs posted all over Brooklyn’s Prospect Park telling people not to feed the wildlife, people persist in feeding the ducks, geese, and swans that live there. As the signs say (in several languages), our food isn’t even good for the waterfowl. So it’s clear that people’s persistence in this practice is not at all for the benefit of the ducks and geese. It’s for their own pleasure and is generous in appearance only.
Yes, I give my son fewer hugs and kisses than before. But I’ve found that when the hugs and kisses are gladly received, less is definitely more! And I’m happy to know that I’m communicating not just my love for my son, but my respect for him.