Podcast: Enduring Affection (6:04)
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Welcome to the People Safety Podcast from Kidpower, teaching advocacy, boundary setting, and other personal safety skills for building happier lives and stronger relationships. I’m Erika Leonard with another Kidpower People Safety Tip.
You know, I have two cats. They sleep with me, they settle on my lap while I’m reading, and petting their soft fur is really relaxing for me.
Most of the time, the cats enjoy the affection that I give them – scratching, petting, snuggling, picking them up, stuff like that. Sometimes they don’t like it. I never have to wonder, though, because if they don’t like something, they let me know, usually by walking away. They’re always willing to say “no” in their own way to the touch and attention that they don’t want in the moment, and I like knowing that. I would never want my cats just to endure my affection, to put up with it just to try to make me happy or because I’m the one who opens the food container, so they feel like they don’t have a choice.
If I could listen to their thoughts, I’d be happy to know that they were thinking thoughts like, “I like this petting,” and then, as they hop off my lap, something like, “No more petting now. Maybe later.”
I would be really disappointed to find out that while they were snuggled on my lap, my cats were actually thinking something like, “I hate having her pet me like this when I’m trying to sleep, but I don’t have a choice. I have to do it, because I’m the cat, and this is how the cat has to show respect for the owner. I can’t wait until this petting is over.”
No, I like knowing that the affection my cats and I share is real. It’s authentic. I never doubt that. I never get grumpy at them for walking away from me, and I never believe that they left because they don’t like me, or because they’re disrespectful or ungrateful. They just don’t want petting right now, and sometime soon, they’ll want it again.
Unless, of course, I decided that I thought they were so cute I just had to pet them no matter what, and I started pursuing them all over the house to try to pet them when they didn’t want it! Or, if I tried to force them to be held by every single one of my relatives and friends who came to visit. Acting like that would really damage my relationship with my cats. We’d have a lot more stress, a lot less trust, and actually a lot fewer good times – because probably, those cats would be hiding behind furniture to avoid me and everyone else most of the time, because if you’re afraid others won’t respect your boundaries, then staying away as much as possible and never getting close can sometimes feel like the only way to protect those boundaries.
I like knowing that my cats are not just putting up with my attention, and the truth is, I feel that way about the people in my life as well. Human relationships are safer when both people have a choice about touch and attention to show affection, and children are safer when they believe that the people who love them will respect their boundaries about touch and attention for play, teasing, and affection. But also, human relationships are usually happier and stronger when people trust each other to listen to their boundaries.
If I could listen to the thoughts of the people I love, I would be truly disappointed to find out any of them were ever enduring my affection, just suffering through it, thinking something like, “Yuck, Erika’s giving me a big hug, and I can’t wait until it stops. But, I have to do it because she’s my relative, or because my parents want me to…” or something like that.
Learning to endure unwanted physical affection is not a safe life habit, and as an adult, I want to help the young people I know develop safe and positive ways of being with other people. I’m happy when a toddler tells me, “No tickling now.” I am honored when a teenager calmly says to me, “Please don’t touch my hair.” By expressing these boundaries clearly, they are demonstrating outstanding relationship skills that will help them be safe and thrive for years. And, by respecting their boundaries, I have the power to support the development of those skills and also strengthen the trust and the affection in our relationship. That feels honest and authentic.
I don’t want the people I know to endure my affection, or, like cats being pursued by overly affectionate petting hands, feel like they have to do everything they can to stay away from me in order for their boundaries to be respected. People don’t usually hide under furniture, of course, to try to get space from others who won’t listen to them, but they have other ways of hiding, and those aren’t helpful life habits or positive relationship skills, either.
As important as my relationships with my cats are to me, my relationships with people are more important. Those people, no matter how old they are, deserve at least what I offer my cats: authentic affection, respect for boundaries, and an understanding that when you are free to say no to physical affection, it’s easier to change your mind and come back for lots more when you can enjoy it together.
Visit kidpower.org for more people safety tips, and remember, in everything you do, stay safe, act wisely, and of course, believe in yourself!