Thankfully, mine and Tom’s parents aren’t the sort of people to dwell on such moments (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)
As a parent, being embarrassed by your children is pretty commonplace.
Whether it’s blurting out inappropriate sentences at a shop checkout, having a full-on meltdown on the bus, or announcing so loudly they’ve done a poo that people on the other side of the street give you a sympathetic smile.
Truly, it seems kids never fail to miss an opportunity to mortify you.
For me, one of the worst is when my parents (or worse still, my in-laws) stretch out their arms to embrace their beloved grandchildren, and my two children Theo and Immy, simply shake their heads in response.
In any other awkward moment, I’ll do anything in my limited power to make my children act like the gorgeous little cherubs I want everyone to believe they are, whether through issuing hushed threats of ‘no television when we get home’ or uttering muttered bribes of chocolate if they just please behave.
But in this particular situation, I refuse to take the easy option and try to persuade my children into a close, personal encounter they don’t, at that moment, want.
Instead, I just offer an apologetic smile and offer the disappointed grandparent a consolation hug of my own.
I want my children to know that they are in control over who they allow into their personal space, who they let touch them, in which manner, and when
I know, I know, I can already hear the outrage. They’re their grandparents, all they want is a hug, is that really too much to ask?
But – and this is a big but – no matter how uncomfortable it feels, I want my children to know that they are in control over who they allow into their personal space, who they let touch them, in which manner, and when.
It’s their first lesson in consent and one of the most important ones they’ll both learn as they grow older – although people can ask to hug, kiss, or have sex with you, it is a question and you have a choice how you answer it.
No matter who it is – a trusted grandparent, a long-term partner, a person you’re at a party with or anyone in between – you don’t have to let anyone touch you if you don’t want to.
For Theo, four, and Immy, two it’s about more than hugs. It’s kisses, carrying and sitting on knees too.
Nor are these boundaries just for grandparents, it’s a rule that applies to everyone. Including myself and my husband, Tom.
For Theo, four, and Immy, two, it’s about more than hugs. It’s kisses, carrying and sitting on knees too (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)
Now Theo is a real snuggler and he will generally be keen to get in as many squeezes as he can.
The second Tom or I sit down on the sofa, he’ll inch towards us without taking his eyes off the TV and eventually ends up by our side, nestling his head into the crook of our arms.
Immy, on the other hand, is far more discerning than her older brother.
A real daddy’s girl, Tom is pretty much always guaranteed a hug, but he’s the only one who is afforded that honour.
Previously, I’ve made the mistake of just going over and trying to put my arms around her, but more often than not, she’d wiggle free and take a few steps back – or even instruct me in no uncertain terms to ‘go away’.
Despite any disappointment I might feel, I never try to persuade her to change her mind. I don’t want her to believe she should be talked into having unwanted contact with other people, no matter who they are.
I don’t want her to end up believing that if someone pressures her, she should do something she doesn’t automatically feel comfortable with.
I also want her to know that it is her right to say no – even if she’s previously said yes.
Immy is a feisty little being, even at two years old, who very clearly knows her own mind (most recently that mind has been focussed on where she positions the garden furniture, and what toys she wants on her bed) and I’m not going to do anything to diminish her determined little fire.
Thankfully, mine and Tom’s parents aren’t the sort of people to dwell on such moments and they agree with us – what kind of cuddle is it unless it’s willingly given and enjoyed by both parties? And they get plenty of those sorts of hugs anyway.
Nowadays, I’ve learnt to ask Immy outright if she wants a cuddle – and not to be offended when the answer is an assertive, straight forward ‘no’.
Don’t get me wrong, of course sometimes she wants a hug and indeed, sometimes demands one outright.
‘Cuddle me way up,’ she’ll declare, holding out her arms and waiting for me to pick her up.
But just because she wants a cuddle then, doesn’t mean that we’re entitled to give her one whenever we want.
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