Dear Relatives: Ask First, Then Hug

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There is a member in our extended family who does not believe in personal space. She will grab my son without any warning and try to hug or kiss him. Often this has led to tears on his part and confusion on hers. This is the way she has always treated children. Often this behavior brings out the Mama Bear in me, because I don’t think my son should be forced to hug or kiss anyone that he doesn’t want to.

This has sparked a debate in our extended family as we have tried to explain and institute a “don’t touch without permission” policy when it comes to hugging or kissing our son. The member of the family in question will probably never understand or respect our policy. In her mind, this is something that a loving relative would do. What I have learned by talking to other family members, however, is that they too felt uncomfortable by her advances. They just figured they couldn’t say no.

This brings to light a concerning problem. According to the CNN article I Don’t Own My Child’s Body“When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them.” Furthermore, “ordering children to kiss or hug an adult they don’t want to touch teaches them to use their body to please you or someone else in authority or, really, anyone.”

I want my son to know that he is the boss of his own body. I want to be able to respect his space as a parent. This is why we’ve told our son that if we are ever hugging/kissing him too much he has the right to say no. We also want our relatives to know that it is okay to hug or kiss or carry our son if he wants. This happens regularly with friends and relatives. Our son is a very affectionate toddler, and often loves to give hugs. However, in the case of the family member above, he is very wary in her presence. While we hope he eventually warms up to this individual, in the meantime we will continue to ask her to respect his space.