Why I Make My Sons Ask Permission Before They Hug Their Sister

brother hugging sister
Shutterstock/TatianaBobkova

As the mother of three empathetic, rambunctious boys, I never imagined that having a girl would change the way I parent. My husband and I had made it our mission to provide our sons with love, understanding, and accountability, so that one day they would become men we could be proud of.

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My husband set an example of how to treat women: always with respect, without undermining my ability to handle anything myself. Affection was something we gave freely, even though he was raised in a household that seemed to ration physical love.

Then two years ago our daughter was born, and though I didn't change much (aside from splurging on frilly dresses), the men in my house were affected greatly by this new little lady in our midst. Suddenly, testosterone-driven behavior was balanced by a softness they had never expressed.

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I remember the first night we were home together after her birth. Their tiny sister let out a normal infant chirp and within seconds, each of the boys was standing at our bedroom door, making sure she hadn’t encountered harm.

Since then, hugs, kisses, and cuddles shared between my daughter and her three big brothers have been endless and adorable. She is obsessed with receiving affection from them, and they love showering her with whatever she desires, even dressing in her pastel hats.

My youngest sons are the most persistent with our nighttime routine of "huggy and kisses" (the 18-year-old is usually too busy FaceTiming his girlfriend). Most of the time my daughter is game, but sometimes she’s not into it. One night when she was being exceptionally standoffish, my 6-year-old attempted to hold her down, forcing a kiss on her cheek. From his perspective I get it: He adores his sister and wanted to show her that love.

It was innocent. Right? I played out a possible future in my head...

If I allowed my son to get his way, he may grow into a teenage boy who, after being rejected for the first time, would call his crush a prude. She would feel shame and embarrassment among her peers, just because he wasn't taught how to handle "no."     

My daughter might turn into a woman who depended on attention from men, allowing it to determine her worth. And because she was so eager to please, she wouldn't say no when her boss asked her into an empty room during their office Christmas party.

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As a woman who's been called a bitch for daring to walk away from a man insisting he was "just giving me a compliment," I had a visceral reaction to these scenarios.

I sat down with both of my younger boys to explain that their sister has every right to deny their affection. She is not required to hug or kiss them. She should always have power over her body, even if it means hurting her brothers' well-intentioned feelings. This means not only asking their sister for physical affection, but even asking permission to pick her up or carry her down the stairs.

Women are not props, to be moved and used without consent. 

What gets done to her body needs to be her choice, and her choice alone (aside from jumping off the top bunk and other dangerous stuff).

This rule also applies between my sons. When the second grader pleads for a kiss from his middle school–aged brother, his brother is allowed to say no.

I explained to them that they should also have control over their bodies. They should never give in to their own discomfort to spare someone else's hurt feelings. Their comfort and safety should always be priority.

While the conversation was pretty simple, I believe the deeper meaning will resonate throughout their lives. Future girlfriends, wives, coworkers, and even strangers will benefit from the lesson my sons have learned.

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