Thursday, September 06, 2012

Physical Force and Adult Privilege

This recent train trip really got me thinking about how often I use physical force to get my kids to do things. I don't mean spanking or swatting or hitting, but simply the fact that I'm bigger.

Anytime I want to, I can pick one of my kids up and make them go where I want by carrying them because I am bigger and stronger. I'm pretty free-range, so I'd like to think I don't force them to do much very often, but as I really started noticing it, it's actually a lot. Most of the time it's for safety reasons: 2 year old running rampant through a train? Not the best idea.

But I thought about it from their perspective: what would it be like to live every day where everyone around you can physically overpower you and override your desires with theirs?

I also started paying attention to their attempts to control me physically, like when they tug on my pant leg to get me to go somewhere. They don't have the physical strength to force me into another place like I do when I want to move them, and yet I get upset and ask them to leave me alone. But I do the exact same thing- and even more because I'm stronger- to them and they can't do anything about it.

In addition to that I also started paying attention to how often I use my body to communicate, e.g. tapping them when I want their attention. And I expect their attention. But when they tap me for my attention and I ignore them (knitting or blogging or whatnot) and then they tap me harder/hit me, I get upset and tell them to stop touching me or wait. But I don't necessarily give them time to finish up what they were doing before addressing me. Double standard? Guilty.

Also on the lines of body communication, when I have "talks" with Margaret about not calling people names and such, I often will get down to her level and then hold her hands and possibly play with her hair (put it behind her ears or something like that). If someone did that to me, I'd think they were creepy or emotionally manipulative or both. Am I being manipulative in that?

I don't know if I have a question here or answers. I know I need to keep my kids safe, so sometimes I am going to have to physically move them. I would never hurt my children or molest them, but are the non-sexual touching moments consensual? How aware am I of my adult privilege when it comes to my kids? Do I try to limit the number of times I use that privilege in order to not abuse it?

Even though I don't want to, I'm already teaching them that being bigger means you can control other people. I need to pay better attention to this. I can't get rid of my adult privilege, but I can be more aware of it.


  1. In elementary school and early childhood education we talk a lot about appropriate touch. To me, there are times when having a "talk" it is almost necessary to put your hands on their shoulders with a firm but gentle weight. We often talk as a class how a one finger tap on a shoulder is less upsetting to a classmate than touching a head or face.
    I also find the whole of personal space learning very difficult because it is just that, personal.

  2. Sort of along these lines of communication, I'm working on how often I start sentences with the word "No." I think I'm actually pretty good about not saying 'no' to my 16 month old very often - I only say it when it is NECESSARY. She's about to stick her fingers in the fan? I say "NO" sharply and she stops immediately. She's reaching for something that I don't want her to have but won't hurt her? I say, "Not for Jane," gently and kindly. Usually she'll pull her hand away or give it to me instead. When she hears "No" from me, she responds instantly, which is what I need! My MIL says "No" to her CONSTANTLY, about stupid things, like coloring the duck yellow instead of blue. Baby Jane already ignores MIL. Oops?

    But when I'm talking to co-workers, I start sentences with "No" all the time. They're asking if it's okay to have the meeting at 2 instead of 1 pm and I say, "No, it's totally fine." I'm being nice and agreeable but I'm still saying "No!"

    At my job we have to make goals for ourselves once per quarter. I don't necessarily agree with this, ESPECIALLY the public sharing of these goals but my goal is to stop starting sentences with "No." I'm getting better, mostly just because I'm so aware of it.

    (For example, we're supposed to decorate our workspaces with personal items to make it more 'homey.' Blah, whatever, I'm at work. But that was my official goal one time, so now I just bring in all the photo cards I receive from family and friends, like Christmas or wedding or baby announcements, and hang those over my desk. There, goal achieved.)

  3. I think touch is a way we navigate personal relationships, especially as children. What is appropriate for a mother to do might be different than what a teacher or sibling might do. There is an implicit level of consent there.

    And development is a factor as well. Children seek comfort in ways that would be creepy if another adult did and I think that's okay.

  4. Keep in mind that kids are USED to being touched by their parents and usually appreciate it. You can't come in with your adult attitudes, interpreting your touches like stranger touches. It's appropriate for family members to touch each other a lot.

    In my opinion, as long as you know your children are comfortable saying no to touching they don't like, you can trust them to tell you if something is making them uncomfortable.

    I've found lately that just picking up my (2yo) son is very comforting to him when we are having a conflict of wills out in public. On the ground, he feels like a little adult and he wants to be autonomous. But when I gently scoop him up, he relaxes into me ... because, I think, he feels "little" again and is willing to be part of a dyad with me like he did as a baby. I need to stop assuming that he wants to be completely separate all the time; he doesn't.

    You're right about our double standard, though. It's all very well to say there are reasons adults act a certain way that we don't want our children to -- but our children learn by imitation! What we do, they will do, and we shouldn't be surprised when they do it. I've noticed this in my son, that the ways I stop him or reprimand him, I soon hear parroted right back at me! Believe me, it's convinced me to be even more gentle than I already was. He helps me hear myself!

    1. I have a post in the wings about how touch is very uncomfortable for me- even with family like my brother or parents! We were not a touchy family so that's definitely coloring my view here. To be honest, it was a little weird for me to hug my brother at his own wedding last week. I did it because it was socially acceptable and expected, but if I had felt like I had more choice, I really wouldn't. My kids do like touch more- especially since we've done babywearing and close contact from birth. So a lot of this is my personal mental hurdles.

  5. While I think that your take on this is somewhat extreme and I don't think you should worry so much about it with your own kids, I must say that as I child I hated being kissed by anybody. I didn't like anyone's lips near me and a kiss felt like an assault (though I didn't mind hugs, kisses were sloppy and dirty to me and I just hated them). Even as a small child I expressed this to my family and at first was ignored and sometimes teased about it. I remember 'running the gauntlet' to get out of my grandparents house trying not to be kissed by them. Eventually (through lots of tears usually) they understood my wishes and even now as an adult do not kiss me, although as a grown up I do not mind as I feel in control of who can approach me. It didn't spoil my family relationships at all and I am close to all my family - but I take this awareness to my approach with other people's children and never, ever kiss them but instead ensure that I am physically close enough and verbally welcoming enough that they can kiss or hug me as they wish.


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