I’m a pragmatic woman, and that’s translated into my parenting. My son is seven and my daughter is ten. In ten years of parenting I have not uttered the words “don’t hit”. In our family the mantra is “don’t hit first”. If you hit hardest, it’s entirely likely I’ll take you out for ice cream. Why? Safety.
My son Alexander is a red head, not just any old red either. Alexander’s hair is an incredibly rich shade of deep red that doesn’t quite shift into auburn. Alexander started wearing glasses when he was four months old, and as wisps of pinkish red hair sprouted from his head people started touching him. At first he would cry, and the old ladies would retract their hands apologetically. After a time, Alexander became accustomed to the world touching him.
As I would push my double stroller down the street people were rubbing my son’s head, and my daughter who is three years older was watching. We taught both children to say, “don’t touch me”. At first Jane, who was just older than three would try out her new found power with her Grandparents. “Don’t touch me!” she would declare. My parents would honor her requests and dutifully release her from an embrace. It would only be a matter of seconds before she would return for a snuggle.
Our family taught our daughter that her body belonged to her, and she never failed to tell folks, “don’t touch my brother”. To the casual observer it might have appeared that we were in the process of raising two terribly rude little children. To my husband and I, it was a parenting success. We would deal with nuance when the kids were older. We are duty bound to empower our children.
When Jane attended Kindergarten there was a lot of pushing. I told her to not let the boys push her, but I didn’t know exactly how that would happen. “Just don’t let them” I would say. At some point, Dad just needed to step in. I held my tongue and my heart skipped a few beats while I watched my husband show my wisp of a girl how to throw a punch. I knew that if she ever dared punch someone it would only hurt her knuckles. I also knew that my husband had some pretty strong feelings about how his children were going to be raised, so I watched and waited. The kindergarten teacher regained control of her unruly lunch lines, and Jane never needed to punch anyone.
Until third grade.
Jane punched a boy. She slugged him hard, many times over and exactly as my husband had taught her. Jane’s school called us to let us know that she’d been caught slugging a kid, they sent an email admonishing her and with a wink and a nod they also reminded us that every little girl should have a strong right hook.
You see, Jane didn’t just hit a boy. Jane hit back. I’ve taught both of my children that their bodies are their own. Although the schools tell them that there is a zero tolerance for striking a peer, I’ve told both of my kids that I will always be on their sides. I will always defend my children in their right, their need to defend themselves. We’re not raising bullies in this house, but we can’t raise doormats either.
For the most part the kids don’t worry much about being bullied. They go to a tiny school and they have a spectacular peer group. Still, I rest easy knowing that my kids have boundaries. Jane will date one day, and I don’t want her to be worried about anyone’s feelings. I want her to worry only about herself, and her body. We need Jane empowered. We need Alexander secure.
So yeah, when my kids hit back, I reward them.
But only when they hit really hard.