One of my biggest worries when I found out I was pregnant with Skas had to do with affection. Growing up, I never ran to greet family, I shied away from hugs at ceremonies and if anyone was sad near me I had no clue how to respond, how to provide comfort, or how to show that even though I was at a loss for words I still cared how they felt and what they were going through. When I liked a boy I became aggressive and demanding whether or not they liked me back. I did not know how to express my softer feelings without being loud, rough, or “inappropriate” (whatever that may actually mean). This gave the impression that I was cold and opted to emotionally separate myself from others. This was not the case but my inability to reach out when I wanted or needed to made it difficult for me to close the gap between me and other humans.
Being pregnant the first time was an internal nightmare. I constantly worried if my kid would know I love him. I didn’t think I had it in me to be loving and doting like the mothers on T.V. But something happens when you’re handed your baby for the first time. It’s like a bubble grows inside of you and when it becomes too big to house, it pops and suddenly you have this love tingling your every nerve and you just want to ooze it all over your new baby.
After JJ was born, 4 years later, I realized my role in their lives will have an impact on their future relationships. I started to think about things differently. I stopped hiding my body from my boys because I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations of what women should look like because they’ve never seen a real female body. I’m speaking in a strictly non sexual context here. For instance, I’m embarrassed by my stretch marks but for the sake of my boys (and women everywhere, I guess) I do not hide them. Another thing I don’t hide from them: my facial hair. They see me with my depilatory mustache on every few weeks and I don’t close the door when I’m plucking out a dark chin hair or two in the bathroom mirror. I really feel if they see that I, the first woman they will know intimately, don’t have a perfect body and am perfectly fine with that, they will accept their future partners and their imperfections with the same grace with which they’ve accepted mine.
Once I hit 30, I accepted feminism as a part of me and stopped letting shame hold my thoughts and tongue back. I’ve learned that language is one of the most important tools to raising children into people with great amounts of respect for themselves as well as those around them. I never realized how much responsibility was put on me just because I’m female and I never realized how we tend to raise boys with this mentality that their negative, rowdy or overall inappropriate behavior is expected simply because they’re boys.
I’ve always tried to be open with my kids, not limiting them to what society says is acceptable. They are only 4 and 8 so I’ve not been challenged too much but I am old enough to have seen others face challenges. I can’t tell if either of my boys are gay but if they are, I want them to know from early on that I am not upset by this. In order to let them know on a subconscious level that their sexuality is not an issue, I don’t say things like “your future wife,” or “when you get a girlfriend.” I started using language, phrasing things specifically for the purpose of neutrality, to express my openness and acceptance of their personal preferences without preset limits. So I use words like “partner” or “someone” instead of a specific gender to let them know that someone can literally be anyone.
I applied this controlled, contextual language to other areas of my parenting recently. One night I asked JJ for a hug and when he said no, I forced one from him. It was all in fun, we were all smiles, but later on I realized that I had demanded that affection from him. How will this translate into his adult life? It might not mean anything or lead him to cause harm but I couldn’t help but wonder… We tell our daughters how to protect themselves, how to go out of their way not to get raped but we focus so little on teaching our sons not to rape. We teach our daughters the attractiveness of being petite and fragile while teaching our sons the importance of being dominate and always exuding strength. We teach our daughters how to/how not to dress but we don’t teach our sons to look above the neckline. We tell how daughters “no” is a powerful word but we don’t teach our sons that “yes” is far more valuable.
I’ve not asked my son’s for hugs and kisses in over six months. I’ve replaced asking to receive with offering to give and I’ve seen this have a positive result. My kids do not ask me for hugs and kisses anymore either; instead, we have a mutual respect for the boundaries we each set up around ourselves. Kids don’t always want a damn hug and if they say no, I need to respect that and walk away, not hang around demanding one or even trying to bribe one out of them: “if you give me a kiss I’ll give you an extra cookie with your snack.” What the hell am I teaching my kid with that?! That if they linger, offer something difficult to refuse in exchange, or openly demand, they will eventually get what they want?
In this house, we now ask:
Can I give you a hug?
It feels amazing to be offered affection rather than being asked to give it, first of all; secondly, I feel this helps them learn that it is best to ask someone if they are okay with receiving something over asking they give something that might make them uncomfortable. I really feel this will help them learn respect for the personal space of others as we all have different ideas of what personal space is.