I post a lot of pictures of my daughter to social media. Like A LOT. Many of the pictures she’s making funny faces and in many more she’s super smiley. The vast majority of the time, when people see her in public she has a stank face or a serious look. She absolutely loves to stare people down and won’t crack a smile until she’s sure that they can be trusted. I hear all the time, “oh she doesn’t smile?” or, “she must need a nap.” When, in reality, she doesn’t smile just for anyone. I love a lot of things about my daughter but this is one of the things that I love the most. The don’t mess with me face that she puts up, studying everyone until she knows she likes them is something that I really admire.
I hope I can continue to teach my daughter consent and the many forms it takes in our day to day as well as romantic relationships. One example of this starts with seemingly smaller, but very important, autonomous decisions around bodily contact, specifically forced hugs and kisses to family members and friends. My fiancé and I decided some time ago that we will not be following this practice with our daughter. After reading articles, we came to understand that obligating hugs and kisses to family members and friends as a sign of hello is one way of inadvertently showing kids that if someone demands a hug or a kiss they must be given. It’s a violation of personal space and decision making that is oftentimes framed as disrespectful or that the child is misbehaving. When, in reality, kids are asserting their own wishes and desires and that is something that I want to value and encourage.
These obligated signs of affection are a big part of a lot of cultures and I definitely see it in my own. I’ve been told a million times, “ve salude tu tia” or “ya saludaste?” upon entering any family function. On the flip side, I think almost all of us have been on the receiving end of a hug from a kid who was not into it. More recently, I’ve been intercepting these instances by offering a high 5 or daps instead. I am a super affectionate person (it’s one of my love languages!) and I love to shower my friends and family in hugs and kisses but only when the feeling is mutual. Not all kids are affectionate, but it makes me feel special when I receive a hug unprompted because I know it’s truly genuine.
I know I will receive a lot of pushback, especially from my family, on this front. After all, I’ll be breaking with a cultural norm. These are some of the more difficult parenting decisions but it’s part of my general philosophy of keeping the things that I loved about my childhood and implementing changes to the things that I see differently. I share these thoughts during our domestic violence week because consent is an extremely important aspect of all relationships. My hope is that in breaking with this tradition and starting a new way of being, my daughter will never feel like she owes anyone anything both within her friendships and future romantic relationships.
On our end, as her parents, we will have to be diligent about reasserting these boundaries and explaining to people why this is important to us. In the conversations I’ve already had with family members — especially those in the Dominican Republic — this practice is oftentimes viewed as “very American,” which is funny in and of itself because the United States still has a lot of work to do around consent. It is another aspect of being bicultural that can be challenging and I know there will be many more conversations with family members in the future. For this to work, both my fiancé and I will have to pay close attention to our daughter’s choices and amplify her voice when necessary. I don’t expect things to change overnight or for everyone to even really understand why we’ve chosen to do this. I can only sow seeds of thought, hope that they sprout, and let everyone know they’ll only get a hug or kiss from Ivanna if she says yes!
What do you think? Are there ways you will be teaching your child consent? Have you made decisions that your family doesn’t agree with and how did you handle it?