Sometimes it takes a child to teach adults the most valuable lessons. Facebook user Lily Isobella was tucking her son in for bed one night when he said something that truly surprised her: after she asked for a hug, he turned her down. Though her feelings were hurt, she realized the importance of the moment.
Isobella told the entire story in a Facebook post:
"The two words that broke my heart....My son looked up at me, with his huge 2 year old blue eyes, and said, in all sincerity: "NOT TONIGHT" 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…"
But before she forced a hug on her son, Isobella had a crucial epiphany:
"And in that moment, I had to stop and realise that I had created something marvellous. 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.
Just because she understood didn't make it any easier, however.
"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??? No. 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."
Isobella told her son it was no big deal.
"'No worries my boy', I replied. 'No cuddles tonight. I'lll 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."
Isobella realized how important it was that her son not associate his own right to consent with feelings of guilt:
"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 apologise 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 every 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."
Though many parents and teachers fail to teach these lessons in any meaningful way, they should be taught at an early age.
"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 "triggers" you
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."
Commenters on Facebook were inspired by Lily's message:
Well done, Lily! If any parents would like to learn a lesson from this wise mother, she's going on tour and may just be speaking in a city near you.
"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. Come and learn the best ways to start having the most important conversations you will ever have with your kids... I am going to be in a city near you in February https://lilyisobella.com.au/parenting-forum/"