When Hester Mundis visits her 5-year-old grandson, he runs to her shouting “Nini!”
“He waits for my kiss and then immediately looks to see what I’ve brought him,” says the 80-year-old Kingston, NY, writer. “Growing up in Brooklyn, I always got grandma kisses. Didn’t everyone?” It’s a tradition Mundis carries on with her grandson, James, who lives in California. “We both know what to expect and take great delight in the routine.”
Their delight could be curtailed if an Australian program that teaches kids about sexual consent makes its way around the globe.
“Respectful Relationships” tells grade schoolers how to say no to unwanted contact — including a grandmother’s kisses. “They can respectfully say, ‘No thanks, Grandma, let’s have a hug instead,’ ” childhood educator Margie Buttriss told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Or if it’s someone they don’t know, ‘Let’s high-five, let’s fist bump.’ ”
Sure, hugs and high-fives are fine for some — but those who go by Grandma, Nana, Gammy, Nona and Nini traditionally expect more.
“If the kid doesn’t want my kisses, he probably won’t want the toys that always come with them,” says Mundis, former head writer for “The Joan Rivers Show.” She says that if kissing was OK before, stopping it now “engenders distrust and fear.” Besides, she adds, “Why they’re using Grandma to represent the purveyor of unwanted kissing is baffling. Why not Grandpa?”
When it comes to Grandma, Jamie M. Howard, a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Disorders Center of New York’s Child Mind Institute, says she “can’t think of a more benign role in a child’s life.”
But the Aussies may have a point, adds Howard, who once worked with a 9-year-old boy who didn’t want his aunt to pat his bottom anymore, and asked his mom to intervene. “Some of the training they’re doing in Australia is probably very useful if kids feel better-equipped to have those conversations.”
Biba Milioto, a 38-year-old Park Slope mother of two, agrees. “I’m for anything that accepts that we can’t force kids to do stuff, in the same way you can’t force grown-ups,” she says.
Kate Levkoff Hardy, a Flatbush mother of three and co-host of podcast Nursing and Cursing, is divided on the Aussie program, which includes the rhyme, “From my head to my toes, I say what goes.”
“Your body, your choice,” says Levkoff Hardy, 37. “You can’t be forced to kiss anyone, even Grandma, at any age.”
But while she approves of showing kids how to set boundaries, she draws the line at turning the other cheek to Grandma.
“Subordination to your parents and grandparents is a fact of childhood life, and it’s pretentious and precious to think otherwise,” she says. “Plus, being slobbered on by the matriarchy of your family probably has some primal significance.”
Adds Helen Kor, 54, a Jackson Heights mother of a 14-year-old son: “What has this world come to if you can’t get a kiss from Grandma and Pop-pop, even if it is unsolicited?”
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