There’s No Time Like the Present to Teach Personal Boundaries aka “Can you get your daughter off my son?”

“Come here and give autie a kiss.”

This line, or something similar, is a pretty well used bit of (fairly lame) comedy. Typically it’s said by some intentionally unattractive or disliked female family member to a younger child who really doesn’t want to do anything of the sort but, with a grimace and an eye-roll, submits themselves to being pawed at and kissed against their will because of their lack of agency as a child.

Michelle and I made the decision early on that Connor’s body was his own and that we would try to teach him about physical boundaries by letting him set his own (within reason; obviously, if he needs to be changed we’re going to change him whether he wants it or not) from the very beginning. I wish I still had it but there was a great article about this very topic, one that I agreed with completely, where the author did not require their child to do anything with their body that they didn’t want to. The kid said they didn’t want to rough house or be tickled? Fine and if they indicated that while playing the adult should stop immediately. Kid didn’t want to kiss their family member hello or give them a hug? That’s ok, they didn’t have to regardless of whether or not the family member wanted them to or the denial upset them. The point the article raised was that we don’t expect adults to be physical with people they don’t want to be physical with, in fact we stress the opposite as part of discussions regarding body autonomy and consent, so why should we force children to have no physical boundaries, instead requiring them to be physical at the whim of the adults around them? I mean, that seems to be teaching them some very wrong ideas regarding consent, potentially setting up some very bad situations for them as children, and later making any lessons learned about consent more difficult because the child will have to unlearn everything they’d experienced up to that point.

Which was why, this past weekend, I was more than a little annoyed when a mom at an event my family attended saw Connor, looked up at me, and said, “Oh, my daughter is going to be all over your son.”

And she was. From the moment she laid eyes on him this little girl just wouldn’t leave Connor alone. With a cry of “Baby!” she ran across the room and began grabbing at him, trying to wrap her arms around him, trying to grab him to stop him from going anywhere. Connor to his credit, while still being upset by this, didn’t react in a physical way back at her (which, if he had, I wouldn’t have blamed him) and instead tried to keep disengaging while telling this little girl “No!”. I watched the little girl do this for a little bit, not wanting to helicopter parent my son and to see if her mom would step in, but the woman just stood there and smiled, probably thinking how cute it was that her daughter was all but molesting my kid. The final straw came when she grabbed Connor by his face, smashing his cheeks together in an attempt to make his lips pucker so she could kiss him, and I stepped in at that point as he called for daddy and looked at me. The mom’s response as I picked up my kid, put him in my lap, and told the daughter that we’re not playing like that?

“I guess your son doesn’t have much experience with assertive women, does he?”

First of all, clearly she hasn’t met my wife.

Secondly, what the hell?

When the woman said this I was struck mostly speechless. I can’t remember what I responded with but it was something about how he had plenty of assertive women in his life, they just knew how to respect someone’s boundaries. I don’t think the woman understood that I wasn’t kidding when I said this but I think the sheer balls of her statement defeated my ability to be effectively snarky for a moment. Or maybe she was just thick.

Regardless, it was shocking to me to see a parent so actively teach and encourage their child to ignore a person’s personal space. It took me being more heavy handed with the “No, really, my son doesn’t want your daughter touching him.” before she finally started stepping in and tried to keep her daughter away. Connor was without a nap for most of this event so eventually he and I had to leave early, so I missed it when the woman’s slightly older son was apparently crawling over other guests and ignoring their requests to get off of them. Guess he was just being assertive too.

This irritated the crap out of me. I mean, assertive? Who equates that behavior with being “assertive”? I have to wonder about why she thought that behavior was ok. Was it because she was a girl and thus was somehow excused because of some misguided feminist idea? Was it an age thing? Would she tolerate a boy doing that to her daughter as a toddler? How would she feel if her daughter were a teenager and an “assertive” boy ignored her daughter’s requests to stop touching her? I mean, he’s just being “assertive”, right? I’m sorry, in my book that sort of behavior isn’t being assertive (if done by adults); at the very least you’re being an asshole and at the worst you’re committing assault of one kind or another depending on what’s going on.

I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to parenting I barely know what the hell I’m doing. Mostly I’m going on gut instinct and trying to apply Whedon’s Law in various ways regarding the lessons and values I teach my son. But at least I know the difference between teaching your kid to be assertive, which Connor can be, and with failing to teach your kid to respect others because you find that behavior cute.

I fully believe that the lessons Connor learns now set the foundation for what comes later. And I know I definitely do NOT want him acting like that woman’s kids.

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6 Responses to There’s No Time Like the Present to Teach Personal Boundaries aka “Can you get your daughter off my son?”

  1. Well said sir. You are an excellent parent.

  2. Kate says:

    The world in general will grateful that you are teaching Connor not to behave like that. And Connor will be immensely grateful (in fact, he probably already is) that you don’t require him to submit to that crap. Manners are rare enough as it is. And YES – in capitol letters, neon, and with steam whistles – it can get children in to very, very bad situations.

    • mattmarovich says:

      Indeed. The last thing I want my son to think is that he must physically behave in a particular way simply because an adult wants him to. Unless it’s for his health (such as the changing diaper example) or safety (I’d manhandle him out of the street if he was going to wander into traffic) he should, even now, get to decide how he is touched. His mom and I don’t even cuddle him if he doesn’t want it.

  3. Darne says:

    You make an excellent point Matt and one that I hadn’t really thought clearly through. Chris and I are physically affectionate people, with our kids an our family. I know on more than one occasion I have insisted the kids hug relatives good-bye as they were leaving, but you bring up something I hadn’t considered. I won’t be doing anymore of that from now on, if they want to hug someone – they will; if they won’t then they won’t. Grammie will just have to get over it when Kenna walks the other way.

    • mattmarovich says:

      Yeah, I know that both sets of Connor’s grandparents have remarked on the fact that he hasn’t wanted to hug them, at least at first. Honestly, I think our way is better; it means you never need to worry if he’s being affectionate because he feels obligated.

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