While in grad school for teaching, I participated in a ice breaker activity in which we were paired up and asked to talk about personal space; our own experience with it growing up and how we experience it as adults. I remember thinking it was something I hadn't really ever thought about as contributing to the way I experience life - but while speaking to my partner, we giggled about how our childhoods differed in the experience of personal space - hers included clear boundaries while mine...not so much.
Growing up, my family and I were very lax about personal space. We shared couches, fell asleep on top of each other in the backseat of the car,
shared stole each other's clothes and shoes, and walked in and out of bathrooms while someone else was using it. My family is notorious for announcing half apologetically when parting ways with someone we only met for the first time; "We're huggers," before scooping them up in our open arms for an (sometimes awkward, sometimes totally grateful) embrace. It is not uncommon to see our family (to this day), holding hands, eating from each other's plates, or sitting tangled among each other's limbs on the couch.
Compounded with my upbringing, Brandon and I started dating in the zero-personal-boundaries era of the teenage years followed by six years long distance which helped cement our feelings that personal space is totally overrated. We sleep just as comfortably together in a king size bed as we do in a twin or on a couch. One of Gigi's favorite stories about me goes something along the lines of knowing it would never be a dull life when her future daughter in law makes herself comfortable right next to her in bed watching tv.
And now with small kids - personal space is precariously near extinction in our house. Books are read with kids on laps, movies are watched while we all share a couch, our 90 lb. pitlabs believe they are lapdogs, and in the morning it is not unusual for our bed to hold all four humans and at least one dog who have all mysteriously gravitated to us at some point in the early morning.
Our kids are 'huggers' now too, offering hello and goodbye hugs to whoever is present at the time. They play within a radius of only a foot or two between each other regularly. Their punishment for arguing is separation from each other or us; basically the worst thing ever at our house.
They like to play rough; ninja fighting and chase/tackle - but also gently; mumma/daddy and baby, or owner/pet; either way very near each other. We all sit, lay, and relax close together. We have our own hashtag on instagram (#bigolesnugs ) as it's such a normal thing in our life to be all snuggled up together.
Because 'hold you' is the most used phrase in our house and our kids get into legit arguments over who gets to lay with us first - we've gone so far as creating words for the spaces that someone can lay around us on the couch! Most people know about The Spoon (laying in front of someone), but we also have other options for sharing couch space: The Ditch (squeezed in the space behind someone and slightly on top of the person), The Nest (sitting or reclined in the space created by bent knees), and The Garage (the open space below a person's feet). The Spoon is the most coveted spot, but the others provide decent consolations when the Spoon is already occupied.
|photo credit: Greyson 4yrs.|
We talk about some of the following to help bring awareness to our kids about personal boundaries and space:
- Recognizing when we need our own space (when we feel too hot or when we feel angry) and using the words, "I need my space right now" when we feel like this
- Watching our friends and other people for cues on how they want to say hello or goodbye. Talking about other ways to say hello or goodbye besides hugging: high fives, thumbs up, etc.
- Practicing consent while playing: stopping what we are doing when a playmate cries, says 'no,' or says "I don't like this."
- Using our words to tell someone when we feel uncomfortable, "I don't like that," "that is too rough," or "please don't tease me."
- Practicing saying, "No, thank you" if we don't want to hug someone else
As poor examples of personal space ourselves, we want to make sure to be taking steps to help our kids recognize other people's need for personal space and how important it is to be aware of it and respect it. We recognize and want to help our kids be aware of when they make someone else feel uncomfortable by being overly affectionate.
Even more so, we know it's an important lesson to start teaching early, as they are only young now, so as to make sure that as they get older, bigger, more grown-up in appearance - that they are familiar that personal boundaries are something to respect of others and important to create for themselves.
Surely as they grow up, they'll pull away from us in various ways - both emotionally and physically - but until then, we'll be all snuggled up on one couch together breathing each other's air. What can we say - we're huggers.
Does family share the same physical space too? Or do you create and respect each other's personal space in ways in various ways?