My son is 22 months old. He’s marvelous and easy going but is starting to develop an opinion, and is starting to say no.
And with that, came an interaction that made me stop and think. I asked him if I could have a kiss. He’s wonderfully cuddly and affectionate, but on this day, he said no.
And as I had on many other occasions, I started to turn it into a game. “No?” I said, descending upon him with tickles and kisses, “What do you mean no? Well I’ll take a kiss!” He squealed with laughter.
But today, I stopped. I’m not sure why, but I was suddenly drawn to an image of young boys holding girls down on the school yard to give them a kiss. I was reminded of the recent shootings in California, where a young man believed himself entitled to female affection. I was reminded of the friendzone, where people believe that they are entitled to relationships and sex because they have done nice things for a person. I was reminded of the Nerd Test, the belief that pretty girls are there for your entertainment, I was reminded of experiences in my past, of Brandon, who was then my boyfriend turning to a boy who wanted to date me, who believed himself entitled and saying “People think Beth is a toy, that when one person is done playing with her that it’s the next person’s turn, but that’s not how it works, its her choice.” Choice and entitlement, all before me at once.
And here I was, sure I was making it a game, but that’s no excuse, my son had said no and here I was turning it into a game because I wanted a kiss. His choice not to kiss me, disregarded because I wanted one. The thing is, he was probably partially saying no because he wanted it to be a game, so I’ll have to come up with another way to play that game.
Choice and entitlement, and this is how it starts. It may not be the entire reason why someone chooses to disrespect someone else’s “no,” but it certainly wasn’t helping. By disregarding his choice over what happens to his body, I was teaching him that this choice isn’t sacred. I was teaching him that his body isn’t something he has complete control over. As a result, I was setting him up to either be taken advantage of, or to take advantage. Here I am laying a poor foundation for learning the value of no, because I, as his mother, felt entitled to a kiss.
I’m not saying he gets to dictate what happens to him 100% of the time, but in playing this game I am teaching him that it is ok to hold someone down and kiss them when they have said no. He doesn’t yet make the distinction that it’s ok because I’m his mom.
So the next time I asked him for a kiss and he said no, I resisted the urge to shower him in kisses anyways, and instead said “No kiss? Ok! Let me know if you change your mind.”
As my mother says, every moment is a teachable moment, and you are always teaching.