Teaching my boys to show respect and consideration to others was my takeaway after attending weekly story hour.
Last year, I religiously attended a weekly story hour at my local library. My oldest, Jack, was just shy of 2, and my youngest, Joe, was 6 months old when we started attending. Jack did a wonderful job listening and participating, while Joe mostly nursed his way through the hour. We continued to attend until summer rolled around and our schedule changed.
During the early months of winter this past year, I decided we should give story hour another try. Jack was 2.5 and Joe was almost 1.5. My boys have completely different personalities. Jack is very cautious in new situations while Joe barrels right into any new environment. I was definitely a bit hesitant of Joe’s ability to “behave” appropriately during story hour. About 15 minutes into the story hour, red-faced and on the verge of tears, I picked up both boys and exited the library.
Joe, being the hands-on hugger of the family, hugged a little girl his age, taking her and her dad by surprise. He did this before I could get my hands on him. He was gentle, not rough, and did not tackle her to the ground.
The dad turned to me and said, “He needs to ask if it’s okay before he hugs someone.”
I was mortified. So many thoughts ran through my head. How do you expect him to ask- he isn’t talking yet?! Are you really that offended by a hug?! He is a year old?! Followed by a list of very negative, very inappropriate thoughts related to the father.
I left the library not sure of how I felt. I understood the father’s feelings and was ashamed as a mother. Should I have been already teaching my son to ask for permission before touching a stranger? The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I must admit, as a result of this interaction, my sons and I went into hibernation mode. Attending activities with children the same age as Joe became a task I did not want to endure, because how could I be attentive towards Jack while also making sure Joe was not hugging kids without asking permission. I felt overwhelmed and discouraged.
As the winter and early stages of spring passed, I decided to take the boys to a well-known trampoline park in the area. It was our first time there and I was feeling brave for taking my now 3 year-old and 21 month-old out on such an adventure.
Feeling prickly anticipation over what to expect, I had completely forgotten about Joe’s addiction to hugging strangers.
Sure enough, 3 minutes into our outing, he hugs another child his age. The mother, turning to her daughter says, “Honey, I’m sorry, he needs to ask if he can hug you.” My mouth fell open and my face turned the hue of red resembling ketchup. I did a few yoga breaths, returning my attention to my boys. “Joe, you need to ask if it’s okay before you hug someone.”
An hour of running, jumping, and tumbling flew by as I quickly found myself loading the boys into the car. Decompressing on the drive home I became overwhelmingly aware that the mom and dad of the other children were right. As crazy as it might seem, it is my job to help my boys construct the foundations for which the rest of their lives will be built upon. As their mother, it is my job to make sure my boys learn to be respectful, not just of girls and women, but of everyone. This pertains to both body and mind.
Yes, toddlers will be toddlers, but those toddlers grow up to be adults. If I do not teach my boys body boundaries, who will?
There are natural lessons we all learn from socialization, but we also learn lessons from teaching. Now, more than ever, we live in a world where society holds all of us accountable for our actions. In my opinion, boys, more than girls, are held to a higher standard when it comes to body boundaries and respect – in part due to their (generally speaking) increased physical power. I want my boys to respect their peers, both girls and boys.
We, as parents, learn every day.
The lessons we are taught may be extremely hard to swallow when coming from fellow parents we deem judgy. Sometimes the judgment is unfounded, other times those parents have a legitimate point. I challenge you, as a parent, to learn and listen, and try to understand others’ points of view in order to learn something new. This is also a form of respect for others, the same type of respect that I will try to instill in my boys.