As my struggles continue to find a new perspective, or at the very least the lesson behind the experience, there slowly but surely seems to be a shift happening in the perceptions around me.
While there are those stubbornly defending social conventions, reverting to the default setting from generations back, where children's bodies are not their own when it comes to adults demanding hugs or kisses from them, there is at the same time a growing awareness amongst mothers and fathers that this is the symptom of dis-ease rather than a sign of appropriate social conditioning. Other mothers are coming forward, publicly demanding that people Stop Asking My Daughter for Kisses as they finally find a voice for the unease that has been sitting with them unacknowledged for too long. This particular mother regrets that she has become a silent witness to her daughter's private space being invaded by relatives, friends, even strangers and how social conventions dictate that we stand by while our children are being manipulated or ordered into ignoring their own physical boundaries.
It doesn't take a clinical psychologist to understand that children who are not in control of when and with whom they are affectionate, will learn to override their natural instincts when it comes to emotional and physical boundaries. And while we all like to believe that we equip our children with the necessary tools to fend off abusers by repeatedly giving them the "my body is my own" and "private parts are private" speeches, we ignore the fact that statistically abusers are hardly ever scary lunatics or even friendly strangers but mostly trusted friends and relatives, the very same people we tell them to hug and kiss on a daily basis. Our words mean nothing when at the same time we disregard our children's basic human right to bodily integrity in the name of social conventions.
I now know first hand how alienating and humiliating it can be to represent the voice that shouts "no more" into the friendly, unassuming faces of those around me. How almost everybody agrees on a theoretical level with what I am saying, but as soon as it becomes concrete, as in personal, people feel the need to take sides and often gather around the self proclaimed adult victims and their hurt egos, rather than develop language and dialogue as mothers, fathers, friends and relatives of the children, whose experience should be the only one of any importance here.
Then again, this reactive model makes total sense, as it is almost "textbook guide" to enabling and supporting abuse: Instead of making our actions, motivations and ("innocent") mistakes transparent by talking about the issues in a manner that is open to a child's perspective, we perceive or interpret what is being said as a threat to the adults involved and hide behind extensive drama, thus avoiding any further probing into what is actually happening here. If we were more willing to engage in self examination and open conversation, it would no longer be a given that an abuser can hide behind a predictable social mechanism, which is silencing the no and enabling the abuse. Which makes for one scary truth: If we continue to silence the no's until we have proof that something truly sinister is happening, it will be too late - but if we don't silence the no's we allow for the (even tiniest) possibility that something truly sinister is happening, which is too scary (and socially unacceptable). So the silence continues...
The only way to break this cycle and to isolate the abusers from the "innocent" enablers is by truly examining and allowing dialogue around our own interactions with children - other people's and our own. This of course means we have to go to the dark places, where our own childhood and thus far unchallenged and unspoken rules might have to be questioned, where our need to fit in and to be liked might be an obstacle to acting in the best interest of our children, which ultimately is of course in our best interest. We have to be able to accept and admit that we can be "wrong" in the eyes of our children, that we can apologise for and re-evaluate our behaviour towards them and others. And most importantly demonstrate that we can have honest conversations about "It" all without shame or guilt and without losing each other in the process as friends and family. This more than anything we say will help our children recognize where boundaries are breached and empower them to talk about their discomfort - and ultimately protect them from becoming victims.
So my most important lesson in it all might be that often our children's voices get drowned in all the adult ego-drama. I was lucky that when my child voiced her discomfort I happened to be in a space where I could hear her and take action. I hope that I will always be so lucky. I also hope that - should the shoe ever be on the other foot, and I find myself in a position where a friend questions my or my partner's interaction with a child - I will have learned from this experience to be genuinely concerned and listen rather than become defensive and revengeful or cut them out of my life all together.
So instead of protecting our somewhat vague status as "the adult" - how about we develop and mirror strength of character to our children by allowing ourselves and each other to be imperfect human beings, too often remote controlled by unchallenged notions and rules from our childhood but willing and increasingly able to change our perspective in order to stand and learn together as friends and parents?
A lesson worth learning?