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Monday, February 10, 2020

the one thing I'll never ask of my daughter

Waverly was about six months-old when this happened. We were in the market and she was happily sitting in the seat in the shopping cart. We were in the produce aisle and I had turned my back to get some zucchini. When I turned around to smile at Waverly, there was a woman in front of her, touching her very still feet. It took me a moment to process the fact that a stranger was touching my baby.   Waverly locked eyes with me and then looked at the stranger. I said "It's OK, Baby, I got you." The stranger smiled at me and said "She's so pretty!" The words then flew out of my mouth. "NO TOUCH!" She looked at Waverly who was being very still and said "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything. She's just so. . ." No. Just because a person is small doesn't mean you have the right to touch them. From the start, we've taught Waverly about personal space and her right to it.

When I was growing up, when my parents had friends or extended family over,  I was told "Go give _____ a hug and/or kiss." Maybe it was just how things were at the time but I was never comfortable touching or being touched by someone other than my immediate family.  I've always been very protective of my personal space, even today. It has taken me a lifetime to overcome the bristly/itchy feeling of being touched by strangers who want to hug or do the kiss-kiss thing. After working with a therapist exploring why I feel this way, I am more open to hugs (not so much on the kiss on the cheek unless it's someone I know REALLY well.) I'm also conscious of others and I ask before I hug someone.

When our daughter, Waverly, was born we decided that we would teach her from very early on that she had control over her personal space. It was her body, her call. So, from the beginning, when we changed her diaper, we would tell her what we were doing. I didn't tickle her unless I asked her "Tickle time?" If she said yes, then we would tickle her toes or her tummy as long as she laughed. When she said "Stop!" we stopped. If she took a tumble and we needed to take a look, we didn't just grab her body part. We would tell her why we or a doctor wanted to examine her. We also don't just scoop her up. Of course, we cuddle and hug and kiss but we are very cognizant of her space. I feel like this has made her trust us more as she develops her confidence and her sense of safety.

We've carried this concept into the rest of her life as well. We've made a decision that the one thing we will never ask her to do is to give forced affection i.e.  "Go give ______ a hug and a kiss." Even when she was a baby, when we flew back to Massachusetts so we could spend her first year with family and friends, when a friend or family member wanted to hold her, I would introduce them "Waverly, this is Mama's friend,  we went to school together. Let's say hello!" If she wanted to hug or cuddle, great but if she seemed uncomfortable, then she didn't have to be held by someone she didn't know.  She was incredible though. I can't remember a single time when she cried when she was held by someone.

Today, at almost 2 1/2, we still let her make the decisions regarding her body and her space. (Obviously we won't let her run wild. She has boundaries and rules about what we do. She understands that she needs to hold our hands in parking lots and to always be sure she can see me or my husband. This is more about forced affection touching and being in control of her body.) Recently we toured a school and as we walked through the front doors during their open house, she strode in confidently and went right up to people. As we met teachers and parents I introduced Waverly to them. She smiled, jumped in whole-heartedly and shook hands with them. With one mom, she wrapped her arms around her legs and gave her a hug and a giggle.

We're also teaching her that she can speak up for herself. A few months ago she was in daycare. Her class was mostly boys. I was concerned with them being too rough with her when they played. I spoke with the Director and she said "Waverly's great. She holds her own. She doesn't let anyone push her around." I couldn't have been prouder.

As we watch Waverly grow into a happy resilient little girl, we feel confident with the choices that we are making. I hope that by letting her know that she has command of her personal space that this gives her the confidence to make wise decisions regarding her body as she gets older.

We wondered at the beginning, if we didn't enforce the mandatory "Give them a hug and a kiss!" would she be less likely to show affection? It turns out that Waverly loves being held and cuddled. She gives hugs and kisses freely. Her favorite thing is to run straight at you and lift her arms up to you, If you pick her up, she will look directly into your eyes, put a chubby little hand on either side of your face and plant a kiss on your nose before hopping down and running off to play.

That's our girl.  I couldn't ask for more.

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