Recently, I went to my parents’ house to visit my extended family. It was a completely solo trip (No husband! No kids!), and I got to relax and visit with my little nephews. I really enjoyed my time playing with them, and they seemed to enjoy hanging out with just me.
When it was time to leave, I sought out my oldest nephew to say good-bye. “Can I have a kiss and a hug?” I asked. He turned his back on me, clearly telling me he was not as happy as I was.
“Can I have a high five?” Again, the answer was clearly no – although this could be more due to the sand in his hands than ignoring me.
I wasn’t upset by his refusal. He was three, and three-year-olds are known for their honest feelings. Instead of forcing him to kiss me, I was simply going to say good-bye when an elderly relative came outside. “Come on, give your aunt a kiss!” he said.
“It’s okay, he doesn’t have to kiss me.” I turned back to Zee and said, “Okay, buddy, I love you. See you soon.”
“You should have had him give you a kiss,” my relative said as he walked me to the car.
“I’m not going to force him. I know he loves me, and he’s sad that I am leaving. He can kiss me later, if he wants.”
It’s true – I’m not going to force my nephew to show me signs of affection. I think everyone has heard stories of overbearing aunties who force kisses, pinch cheeks, and smell like liver. I don’t want to be that type of auntie to my nephews. I need to be a “safe person,” someone they can trust enough to say “no” to, and still know that I will love and protect them. Short of safety issues (like holding hands to cross the street), I don’t want to force children to do something physical that they don’t want to do. If they feel like they can’t refuse physical affection to adults they know and trust, will they feel like they can refuse requests for physical affection from less-trustworthy adults?
Some kids, however, aren’t physically affectionate. They don’t like to be hugged or give and receive kisses. Of course, everyone wants to let children know how loved they are, even without kisses and hugs. I know several families who have a special, silly “catch-phrase” to say good-bye, like “later, gator!” and “out the door, dinosaur!” One friend has a “secret handshake” with her niece. It’s pretty complicated to watch but looks really fun!
I’ve also taught my children (as my nephews have been taught) to be polite if they don’t feel like hugging or kissing. A simple, “No, thank you,” to an offered hug is fine. I encourage them to ask for a hand shake instead, because a nice, firm handshake is a good life skill to have! If they are rude, I deal with the rudeness – not the lack of hugs or kisses.
In the future, I hope that my children and their cousins will have healthy personal boundaries because they were free to say, “no, thank you,” to physical affection they don’t want . . . and, of course, a love for their aunt (or mom!)!