One of the magical parts of blogging is the people I get to meet as a result of the things that I write. I recently posted “How I Teach My Kids That No Means No.” This essay is a subtle (ahem!) position on how even in early childhood, innocuous games like tickling can be a precursor for children to either learn how to set good boundaries…or not later in their sexual life. Reader and blogger Jill Devine responded to my post with a heartfelt cautionary tale about a time where her young daughter tried to set a boundary with a relative and failed, and in turn, Jill felt like she had failed her daughter. I absolutely loved her honesty as well as her writing, and I couldn’t wait to share this piece with you. So without further ado…
Sometimes I feel like I may be the worst offender when it comes to the whole I-wish-I-had-handled-that-
differently-syndrome. Either my over-analytic self takes too long to analyze a situation that I miss the opportunity, or I’ve been guilty and victim of speaking too soon so I keep it zipped. This time I definitely should not, and from here on out I vow to not make the same mistake twice. I hope that I am diligent enough to grow strong women who can stand up for themselves without hesitation. It’s been only recently that our 3.5 year old has become almost in complete control of her own body. By this, I mean that she’s been completely in charge of her own personal care. As she learns each task of personal hygiene, we get more of “I can do it myself” as opposed to “No, you do it, please.” Alongside these milestones, she is susceptible to learning how to respect other people by asking before touching and not randomly treating people as her personal jungle gym. My threshold, I’ve discovered, is around 35 lbs. At this weight, I’m easily injured when this small child decides to bear hug or jump on me while simultaneously giving up control of every ounce of her 35 lbs.
The following phrases have become popular around here (as well as others of the same nature:)
- “Control your body!” … just before she runs into a wall because she’s not paying attention.
- “You’re in charge of your own body” … when whining to me that she stepped on her match box car.
- “Please control your feet.” They don’t belong in my face … or on the table.
- “Please ask before climbing on me” … as I’m bent over loading the dishwasher.
When “You’re in charge of your own body” started also being used more when it comes to personal hygiene tasks, I decided it was time to talk about letting (or not letting) others touch her body and the differences between good touch, bad touch and who, what and where.
I’ve personally never been victim of sexual abuse, but close relations have and its a topic I care strongly about. I feel many children are either uneducated, wrongly educated or lack the self esteem to fight for rights over their own bodies. It’s never too early to start teaching and supporting them because there are many sexual predators that prefer the young for various (sick) reasons and many people who feel that it is okay to inflict physical harm to children to “teach them a lesson.” Because of this, I want to relive the moment I didn’t stand up for my daughter when I should have. I want the chance to do it over and do it right. Obviously, I cannot change the past. Instead, I can only write about it with the hope of redeeming myself and giving others strength to speak up. Before I go any further, please know that this woman did NOT touch my daughter in a sexual manner, nor was that her intent.
So here’s how it all went down. My daughter was sitting on a couch minding her own business when a family member came over, sat next to her while putting her hands around J1’s waist to scoot her over to make room. No big deal, you’d think, but to J1 it is. Our daughter has always been a “don’t touch me” kind of kid. So much to the point where we can’t even touch her when she’s upset without sending her into a downward spiral of screams and tears without her consent. I totally get it because her father and I are kind of the same way when we’re upset or wary. A tidbit to put it into perspective: the only thing that stopped my father from being backhanded by me was his cat-like reflex when he instinctively started rubbing my back while I was going through a contraction during labor. Call it what you will, but either way J1 looks for emotional comfort in body language, facial expressions, voiced concern and understanding before she will accept physical contact for comfort – or even let anyone within a two foot radius, for that matter. As soon as those hands went on J1’s waist, I saw her stiffen up and arch her back – a physical indication of violation. This woman tickled her in response saying, “Oh, come on. You’re fine.” She then tickled her harder and started laughing.
J1 started squirming and yelling, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
This woman stopped, but didn’t release her grip. She then said, “I can tickle you if I want to. Do you want to know why? Because I’m your <insert family member title here>.”
This is when I should have let her have it. How is this behavior or statement not wrong on so many levels?!? By no means should a child EVER be told that she should allow unwanted touch because it comes from ANYONE! A close relation, family member, teacher, babysitter, counselor, or ANYONE! Period. What’s even more wrong, in my opinion? That I – her mother, her protector, her main advocate, her teacher, her everything – did nothing but watch in hesitation partly to see how she would handle the situation (which she did correctly by demanding her to STOP!) and mostly because of my insecurity towards spontaneous confrontation. I’m more of a “get all my ducks in a row” before I blast you to the point where you have no comeback type of confrontation goer. This is because I can’t control tears from spilling down my face if I’m caught pissed off guard.
I’m also a firm believer that you can’t hold your children’s hands through every ordeal, but this situation called for backup and I fell short. I will not regret it because I will never be so weak and passive again just to avoid the embarrassment of yelling and crying simultaneously. I’m just thankful it was a close relation with no ill intent that taught me this lesson, even if she’s gonna hate hearing it from me.
Jill of all trades, master of none, I have made it a life’s journey to be well-rounded. I have spent considerable effort to learn a level of expertise in many areas of life with a “What can I learn from this?!” attitude. Currently, I am deep in the throes of mothering two very small, highly sensitive little girls and a shy and sensitive pup with Megaesophagus, as well as being a supportive wife of a darling man suffering from Crohn’s Disease. I truly believe that perceptions change with every interaction! Follow her blog at alittlebitofthunder.com. You can follow my attempts at being social online at