I dropped E off at nursery the other morning as usual. She was fine up until the moment when a little boy, who gets there every morning before her, came up to her and greeted her with a hug. At that, she crumpled her face and started to cry.
Now, I don’t know for sure that the hug was the problem – the nursery worker was surprised at E and said that they hugged each morning, and E does sometimes cry for no reason at all, like all toddlers – but the incident did get me thinking about personal space and how I should teach E to be wary of allowing people to interfere with hers. I am, after all, quite glad that the nursery encourages the children to show friendly affection in this way.
But something jarred with me about this incident. The nursery worker made me feel that she considered E’s reaction to be over the top and that the boy was only trying to be friendly. But if E was 15, slightly drunk at a party and trying to get away from unwanted advances would she have the same attitude? I realise this is a massive leap. But the parallels are there.
I’m not in all seriousness suggesting that this is the start of rape culture – don’t start commenting. But surely all parents start thinking about how to tell their children about these issues at some point? I want E to grow up confident that she knows what she is comfortable with and that she knows how to articulate that clearly.
I was reading an article the other day that suggests that the earliest opportunity we as parents have to start this is to respect their wishes when they greet their grandparents.
Well, remember back to when you were a child. Did you have a grandparent or a great aunt or a friend of the family who you saw and were told to “kiss them on the cheek, there’s a good boy/ girl.” Did you not want to? Was it an issue? Do you still remember their prickly moustache or their cabbagey smell or their evil toothy grin and shudder? The article was suggesting that if you, as a parent, tell your child they HAVE to kiss this relative when they don’t want to, you’re not respecting their wishes about who they want to have physical contact with. Perhaps this is overstating it and being too squeamish and liberal wishy washy. Or is it?
So far, E has been very happy to talk, kiss and cuddle her grandparents. Good news. And she doesn’t have any smelly relatives. More good news. But there may be a day when she decides against greeting them physically. I imagine they’ll all be devastated. I’m already dreading the day when she doesn’t want to hold my hand or cuddle me. But I need to deal with this sensibly and not force her to do something she considers unpleasant out of politeness. And I’m sorry if you think I’m being hysterical, but every time I think about this I can’t help but think about her as a teenager, struggling with issues of how far is too far.
I don’t think this is necessarily a result of having all this abuse of trust suddenly thrust into our faces (pardon the pun) by the media and the results of Operation Yewtree. It’s more about the sexualisation of girls – and there are campaigns highlighting this and speaking out against it. But speaking as someone whose teenage years were miserable partly because of the pressure on body shape, and partly by how much I was supposed to be interested in fashion and wasn’t, I’m more concerned about E’s confidence than by her chances of being felt up by pervy 1970s DJs. She’s still so very young and serious discussions about this can be a few years away yet. But as I said, that one small incident bothered me.