She might have been twelve, maybe thirteen, certainly old enough to know her own mind and draw her own boundaries. She was with her father and two younger brothers. I was in a long lineup waiting to pay and they were, on my right, in the bakery section of the store. They had stopped because the father had run into a cousin, I know this because it was fairly loudly stated upon their meeting, and the two men were chatting.

Then father turns to his kids and says, “Come over her and give you cousin a hug!” The two boys complied each quickly and briefly hugging their much older cousin. The girl just stood where she was and gave a shy wave but did not come over. Her father, embarrassed by her behaviour, made it clear by the tone of his voice when he reissued the command, “Come and hug your cousin!!”

Again, she didn’t.

Mother joins the party, sees her husband’s cousin and embraces him in a big warm hug. They kiss, both cheeks and then embrace again. Husband speaks to wife, in a language I don’t know, indicating their daughter. Mom addresses her daughter and tells her to come and give a hug, and stop behaving so badly.

Daughter, again, waves, but doesn’t move.

Mother goes over and dresses down her daughter. I don’t know what she was saying but she was saying it passionately. Daughter is crying now. Mother slaps her on the back of her head as the daughter moves over to give her cousin a hug.

Cousin gives her a quick hug and says, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

Um … yes sir, it was.

You could have stopped this at any time. You could have just waved back and let it go. You could have done something.

Hugging a crying child, whose tears are because they are being forced to hug you, is unthinkable.

Forcing your child, who is establishing boundaries and saying ‘no’ to a physical interaction that they don’t want, is unthinkable.

It may be unthinkable.

But it happens all the time.

We all say ‘no means no’ but it most often doesn’t, does it.

Most often, ‘no means force’.

And that’s got to stop.

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