My son looked up at me, with his huge 2 year old blue eyes,
and said, in all sincerity:
After asking him for a goodnight hug, I felt like my heart had been ripped into tiny little pieces, and I was instantly awash with a hundred replies that wanted to tumble out of my mouth.
BUT you hugged daddy…
BUT you know you want to… we always do…
Don’t you LOVE me?
But I WANT to cuddle you…
And in that moment, I had to stop and realize that I had created something marvelous.
A 2 year old who felt safe enough to impose his own limits on touch and affection, with a parent.
A 2 year old who was exercising his first rights to consent over his body.
God damn it, it sucked.
Because I wanted affection. I wanted a cuddle. I wanted soft squishy 2 year old sleep soaked day end cuddles. I wanted love.
And didn’t I have a right to that???
That’s the short answer.
As much as I wanted it, I didn’t have a right to cuddle and hold his tiny body – no matter what my upbringing had taught me.
As I fought against all the internal messages of not being loved, not being a good parent, not getting what I wanted (hello Leo pride!!), it was hard to find the voice that reminded me: THIS is his choice and he absolutely has a right to it. And THIS is an awesome learning opportunity.
“No worries my boy”, I replied. “No cuddles tonight. Ill wave goodnight and I’ll see you tomorrow”
And then, the two words that almost broke me
THIS was the teaching moment. This was the moment to make it count.
You see, I spend a lot of my time talking to parents about talking to their kids about sex, and most of the time, I have to convince them that this conversation does not start at puberty. It starts in moments just like this. At 2 years of age, when your son thinks he needs to apologize for exercising his right to consent. These are the moments that you have to make count.
So I went right back in and sat on his bed, and we talked.
We talked about how it is ok to not want cuddles and say so.
We talked about not ever being sorry for how you feel.
We talked about what to do if we want a cuddle one day, but not the next day.
What to do if we want a cuddle and our best friend doesn’t.
What to do if we start a cuddle with someone and they get half way through and don’t want to keep cuddling.
What to do if someone cuddles you, even if we already said NO CUDDLES.
Because, that is how you teach consent & safety.
You don’t wait until kids are 13 and struggling with the cocktail of desire, hormones and media. You don’t wait until you can sit down and have “the talk”. You don’t wait for it to be purely about sex.
You do it, all the time, at every opportunity, from the time you can speak to your child.
Even when it hurts your heart.
Even when it activates your own history
Even when it is inconvenient
Even when they are only tiny
Even when it seems inconsequential.
You grab that opportunity and you talk the shit out of it.
That right there is a courageous conversation.
We are given these opportunities every single day with our kids. We just need to pay attention and be brave enough to be with them in the moment.