"I'll give you a dollar if you give me a kiss." My new husband, Robbie, was trying unsuccessfully to bribe my 3-year-old daughter, Katherine, to kiss him on the cheek.
We thought Katherine would latch onto Robbie with endearing affection since her biological father had died when she was a newborn. Not only were we wrong, but she was downright standoffish, too. Katherine had no interest in giving Robbie a kiss on the cheek — or even a hug. Two years later, she would still kick and scream if he tried to hug her. Playtime and conversations with Robbie were fine, even fun, but physical affection was off-limits.
The way of affection
Robbie came into the marriage with two sons. He was used to roughhousing with them, and he hugged and kissed them. But having a daughter was new, and he thought she was adorable. Being the teddy bear that he is, he wanted to hug and kiss his living doll, too. So he thought of ways to win her affection — most of which were not carefully thought through, including the bribe of money. When that didn't work, he sneaked around and kissed her on the cheek without permission.
I knew I needed to help this "new" father understand some rules for raising little girls.
"You can't steal kisses from Katherine," I told him. Robbie was appalled that I described his innocent display of affection that way. "She didn't want to give you a kiss, and you took one anyway," I explained. "That's stealing."
Learning the boundaries
God has built all of us ladies with an inner "creep" detector, no matter how young we are. And a stepdad is on the "maybe" list when he becomes affectionate too fast. Instead of earning her affection, Robbie was pushing her further away.
But that wasn't the biggest problem. As the man of the house, Robbie is the standard of manhood in Katherine's life. He's teaching her every day what a man ought to be. The way he treats her is the way she will expect to be treated by a boyfriend and eventually a husband.
Robbie was inadvertently teaching our daughter that men will get affection from you — even when you don't want to give it. He was encouraging her to take money in exchange for an act of affection. She was learning that men can't be trusted to keep their hands (or lips) to themselves, even when they are asked to.
I explained that she deserved the right to refuse affection to anyone she doesn't want to give it to. And he should respect that. Robbie must treat his stepdaughter the same way he would want any other man to treat her, now and later.
Robbie understood and agreed. He stopped all attempts to show physical affection. He listened. He played. And he respected her boundaries.
Then one day she changed ... on her own. It started with sitting close and cuddling. Then she started holding his hand. Soon came big bear hugs when he walked in from work. And finally kisses — given freely and liberally.
For Robbie to endure rejection from the little girl he was growing to love more each day took patience and self-control. But the payoff was worth it.Sabrina Beasley McDonald is the author of Write God In: Journal your way to a deeper faith.