T'is the Season to Stop Forcing Affection on the Babies

  Art by John Holyfield

Art by John Holyfield

Holiday season has begun and this means spending more time, than usual, with family and friends. I didn’t celebrate holidays as a kid but we still spent some of those days out of school, with the extended family during that time. It's always the perfect time for family gathering.

It’s also prime time for predators to have a smorgasbord of opportunities to reach out and touch all the children they can. This is no laughing matter. As a child, I experienced a ton of confusing moments where adults were copping feels as they hugged and kissed us “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Of course we were taught that if we were touched in our private areas, to tell our parents but what about when we were touched on other parts of our body? What about when we were uncomfortable with how close an adult pressed their body next to ours? How do we just say “No!” without damn near getting a whooping for being rude, having no manners, and being called disrespectful?

And those stupid, fucking obligatory hugs and kisses we’re forced to give relatives and family friends. These are the gateway moments that lots of children experience that eventually lead to molestation and sexual abuse that gets swept under the rug and remains the dark secret a lot of families never address. I shared with my dad that those hugs and kisses we were forced to give, came with some inappropriate touching from adults in the family and those old family friends. I sincerely believed his immediate anger but his angry response was, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US?” My equally irritated and heightened voice responded, “WE TOLD YOU WE DIDN’T LIKE HUGGING OR KISSING CERTAIN PEOPLE AND YOU & MOM TOLD US TO STOP BEING SILLY. You told us we had to do it because they were family.” He continued the conversation with the reasoning that we should have known the difference between how we were touched because they taught us what inappropriate touching was. My parents taught us that being inappropriately touched was in reference to our private parts. I don’t recall them stating that ANY time we felt uncomfortable, to alert them and I knew I wasn’t trippin when my father went silent again. So, why does this keep happening to our children?

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Because, for some odd reason, a lot of parents don’t believe in teaching children that their body is theirs and no one else’s UNTIL they’re molested or abused. Even then, I rarely hear parents say, “THIS IS YOUR BODY!” Parents maintain a possessive stance that indicates their child is THEIR PROPERTY. A sense of agency over our own body isn’t being taught to the children.

Earlier this year while my daughter was visiting my parents, my father called me to alert me of my daughter's behavior and how he was concerned. He had tried to hold her hand on a few occasions and she pulled away from him. He also attempted a few moments of affection and she rejected his efforts. He was under the impression that she SHOULD accept his affection simply because he’s her grandfather.

I'm not raising my daughter to feel obligated to give to/receive affection from ANYONE simply because THEY want to give it to or take it from her. It applies to me, her father, and anyone else. She isn't obligated to share her body, affection, or love with anyone. Sometimes it might sting a little in those moments when I’m just trying to love on my baby but this is part of teaching our children boundaries and how to enforce them. Just because we're adults, our feelings don’t take precedence over children's rights to their own body.

I could feel the hurt in his tone because he meant well and wanted to teach her about affection but he had made this ALL about how HE felt, never once taking into consideration that SHE is a person with feelings, too. To drive the point home further, I shared with him that this is a means to keep her safe because there are people out here who have the same logic as him and they don’t mean well.

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There are lots of seemingly innocent hugs & kisses that turn into a moment to cop a feel on a child. For those who need particulars, there are adults who use these moments of quick affection to rub/pinch children’s butts and brush up against other body parts. It SHOULD be enough to tell your parents, “I don’t want to hug/kiss them” but it isn’t so it matters that we raise our children to know that THEIR BODY IS THEIRS. Grandparents will live without hugs & kisses. Aunts and uncles will still exist without the children sitting on their laps. Another thing is telling our children that they have to say they love us and others.

I overheard my mother tell my daughter, “I love you” and she didn’t say it back. Since my daughter was a baby, I’ve repeatedly told her that if she doesn’t feel the same, it’s okay because it isn’t a small thing to tell someone you love them. Say it if and when you mean it. As a kid, they don’t always know what these things mean but I’d rather her not say it UNTIL she means it versus just conditioning her to say it and believe it simply because someone is saying it to her. Back to my mother, I could hear her asking my daughter, “you don’t love Grammie back?” At the time, she was about 4 or 5 years old and her signature thing was becoming, shut down when I don’t want to engage. So she wasn’t replying. My mother went on to tell her that if she didn’t say she loved her back, she didn’t love Grammie.

These are tough moments for me because no matter how old I get, these are still my parents. Sometimes putting my foot down seems disrespectful but I have a responsibility to protect my child at ALL TIMES, not just when it’s convenient and comfortable. That protection includes not teaching her the harmful shit I was taught as a child. I didn't unlearn this until I had to repeatedly reclaim agency of my body while dealing with guys who felt, if they wanted it, they should be able to have it. The reality is, that’s when most of us, who are taught this, end up learning that love and affection aren’t forced, they’re given. There are some of us that never learn that family and friends don’t always mean well. And some of us never learn the true meaning of what agency over our own body is and what it looks like.

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Yes, this might seem heavy because t’is the season for smiling, laughing, hugging, and carrying on but if we truly want to keep our children safe, we need to be mindful of what we’re teaching them in regards to their body. It’s no secret that there are adults who prey on children and that some of these adults are allowed to exist in our family. Not all of us are aware of the shady cousin, aunt/uncle, grandmother/grandfather, or family friends that might be touching the children inappropriately or even just gazing too long at Little Johnny and Tiffany who’ve “grown up so nice!”

By adults unlearning some of these antiquated ways about how children should behave, this can aid the children in protecting themselves against dangers adults don't always see. Whatever feelings of being uncomfortable we have telling family members and friends to back off, it must be done, for the sake of our children. Any parent who tells me that appearances and having everyone be assured that THEIR CHILD has manners is more important, I will tell right back that they’re focused on the wrong things. Fuck anyone who wants to call your child rude and disrespectful because they aren’t here to be on call for the attention of adults. Either we care about what we’re instilling in our children or we don’t. Either we’re going to do better or we’re going to continue to pass down a tradition that encourages the same shit we sit around and scoff at once it's revealed that it's been happening for decades. So, please keep this in mind for all future holiday get togethers. Work to keep the babies as safe as possible.

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Artist Advocate. Creative Consultant. Director of Dopeness. Freedom Fighter. Renaissance Rib. Saintly Synner. Truth Teller. Unboxed Unicorn and Weaver of Words. 

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