While I love my children immensely and fiercely, I wholeheartedly believe my children are not my possessions and their bodies belong to them, not me. As a result of that steadfast belief, there are more than a few things I won't do to my son's body without his permission. I believe his right to bodily autonomy trumps my wants or desires (or anyone else's) in almost all situations. That means I don't make him give his grandma a kiss, get his hair cut, or even eat a food he hates, no matter how much I want him to give it a try.
You see, I want my sons to know that they control of what happens to their bodies and to understand concepts like consent and personal boundaries. That means that in our house we show physical affection only when the other party consents. I won't make my son give his grandma a kiss, but I also expect that my son won't hug her without first getting her permission.
And, for us, no means no, even for small things. I don't ask my children to do things "for mommy." It may sound weird, but when we force, convince, or coerce children to do things with their bodies that they don't want to, only because we want them to, we teach them that they should deny their feelings to please others. It might not seem so horrible when it comes to trying the soup I spent the day making, or smiling for the camera, but it also might teach them that they should submit to unwanted affection or sexual contact because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings. Yeah, that's not OK.
We all want our kids to safely grow into confident adults, and teaching them about bodily autonomy is a great place to start. Of course, there are a couple of exceptions, mainly for health, safety, and hygiene reasons. While I can't always say OK when they don't want a flu shot or to let me brush their teeth, I can give them plenty of choices about toothpaste, hair styles, clothes, and whether or not they want hugs and kisses.
So, with that in mind, here are a few examples of things I won't do without my son's permission:
Give Him Hugs And Kisses
I try to always ask first before giving my son a hug or kiss, and I respect his wishes if he says "no." It may seem silly and he nearly always says "yes," but I am modeling consent and he will know, from his earliest memories, that it is important.
Make Him Sit On The Easter Bunny's Lap
I will never forget the day my son's daycare called me to tell me that my son refused to sit on the Easter Bunny's lap for a photo, and wouldn't stop crying. I was livid that they chose not to respect his wishes. Besides, that Easter bunny was creepy AF. I would cry, too.
As long as it's clean and weather appropriate, I honestly couldn't care less what my sons wear. They have a right to self-expression through their clothing choices, so it's honestly not up to me.
Cut His Hair
I got so much flack for this one, but my now 4-year-old son just got his first haircut. I waited until he asked. It's his hair, and no, I don't care if he, "looks like a girl." Girls are awesome.
Make Him Smile
I hate it when people tell me to smile, so why would I make my sons smile? I might gently ask them to smile for the camera, but I can't force them to express an emotion or look a certain way, even for a nice picture.
Force Him To Eat Foods He Hates
I still shudder when I think about my parents making me sit at the table until I ate liver. Liver, you guys. Nope.
We don't force our kids to eat foods they hate. It's not worth the fight, and I really don't want them to develop issues about food. Besides, how would you feel if someone forced you to eat something you hated? You probably would never trust them again. I want my sons to trust me and know that I respect them.
Force Him To Play A Sport
My kids have a right to choose what extracurricular activities they want to try. My heart breaks when I see another parent force their child to play a sport they don't enjoy.
Kids are not possessions. I'll say it again for the cheap seats in the back: kids are not possessions. I sincerely hope my sons don't think they have to do something they hate to please me or their dad.
Force Him To Accept Hugs And Kisses From Other People
I really don't care how many people I piss off with this rule. My sons have the final say about what happens to their bodies. Full stop. That means that occasionally they won't want to hug, kiss, shake hands, or even high five, and that's perfectly OK with me.