To Hug, Or Not To Hug.

I love, love, LOVE a good hug from a friend or family member – but I’m also very socially awkward. So, if there’s any sense that hugging is not the “right” move then I avoid it (because I don’t want to be the one who TRIES to hug an unreceptive person) and that sometimes is the wrong call and then it looks like I am the one who dislikes the hug and so sometimes I give off the “No Hugging!” vibe which sucks because I love a good hug!

What I don’t love so much is the “hugging line” that tends to happen at the beginning or end of a gathering. Some people walk into a gathering of friends or family and just run down the figurative line, hugging everyone and that just feels WEIRD. Some people do that when they leave too. I prefer to walk into a gathering and greet people organically, as I move around and talk to people. And if that person is someone I would like to hug and it seems like they would like to hug? I hug them! But often I don’t. And I usually only hug someone upon leaving that hosts the gathering, as a way to sincerely thank them for inviting me.

But the problem is, I’m often in situations where the “hugging line” is norm and it’s often family and so my kids are there too and I’ve never really felt great about insisting they do the hugging. As a matter of fact, I never really have. I was never really able to pinpoint or describe how or why I didn’t want to “force” them into the hugging lines, I just didn’t do it. I didn’t make a big deal about it either way – but I always noticed my kids were often the odd man out – the only ones NOT doing it. I think part of the reason why I just let my kids do their own thing (Other than me telling them, “Go tell everyone bye!” or something) is because my Dad never forced us down any sort of Hug Line as we were arriving or leaving gatherings. So, just by association, it never really felt right to do that with my kids.

On the other hand, every family is different and Donnie’s family is VERY affectionate. His extended family gatherings are HUGE and EVERYONE is super affectionate and it’s great and warm and welcoming, but that’s not really something you can teach an adult. You can’t bring an adult into your family of huggers and kissers and just expect them to be comfortable with it. And while I don’t think I’ve offended anyone with my hesitation, I do often worry that I might accidentally upset people I love.

Very…VERY recently I’ve started learning about the concept of “body autonomy” and especially how it relates to teaching lessons about consent. It hit me that this was the idea I think I was trying to hold onto with my kids and even myself, I just didn’t have the language to describe it. It’s how my Dad raised me, even though I don’t think it was deliberate. Here is a good article that talks about body autonomy and parenting. And part of me reads it and screams, “YES! THIS! EVERY BIT OF THIS!” But the other part of me also feels the love in the rooms full of affection and worries about those people and their feelings.

But it’s definitely something I’m trying to think about more and more often. If I were to “force” my kids to go through a “hug line” even if they’re uncomfortable, then what happens if someone they are supposed to trust (coach, teacher, etc) wants to hug them and they get a weird vibe or are uncomfortable with it? How long will they push away that sense that “this is not right” because I’ve taught them to push it away every time I force them through a hug line? Instead, isn’t it better to just, “Hey – if you want to hug so-in-so good bye, go for it. But if not? No big deal.” Then they learn to be more in tune to actually making decisions on their own about affection. And if they make those decisions early on, then they trust them later.

I don’t know – there are definitely moments when I’m teaching myself to look at things this way that I worry I’m going to upset someone. I think more and more people are becoming accepting of this idea, I’ve seen other parents talk about it a lot lately, but still. You know your family loves your children and you, and if you’re not FORCING them to give hugs, are you upsetting them? And y’all – I don’t want my kids to be rude, that’s for SURE. And is it rude if Great Uncle Wilfred wants a hug but my kids don’t? Because Great Uncle Wilfred is going to think so, that’s for sure.

Recently I tried to recognize a young child who did NOT want to give me a hug when their parents insisted and I tried to switch gears for a “high-five” instead. And that’s fine because I’m me and I am not offended as I’m trying to learn this idea too, but would Zoot of yesteryear had her feelings hurt and worried? I don’t know.

This is really just me throwing this out there as a way to try to make myself feel better about several things:

1) Because I worry about times in the past when I wasn’t teaching body autonomy to my kids.
2) Because I worry about the trail of family I’m leaving behind at every gathering who may think me and my kids rude.
3) Because I worry that some day my kids might allow BAD affection because they’ve not been taught that it’s okay to deny an adult who wants a hug.

There’s an article I stumbled upon recently that discusses the “extra work” aspect of this philosophy:

Refusing to order her to hand out hugs or kisses on demand means there’s more work to keep the relationships going and keep feelings from being hurt. Most of our extended family live far away, so it’s my job to teach my kiddo about people she doesn’t see on a daily basis.

We make sure to keep in contact with calls and Skype and presents. In advance of loved ones’ visits, which often means an all-day plane ride, I talk a lot about our guests, what they mean to me and what we’re going to do when they arrive. I give them plenty of opportunity to interact with her so she can learn to trust them.


Like I said, this is still a very new concept in my world. I’ve unintentionally been abiding by it in some situations for sure, but now that I have an actual “principle” of body autonomy, I’m trying to be very deliberate about thinking about it with all of my decisions with my kids and interactions with others.

I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot as it relates to trying to control my daughter’s “smiling” which I touched on a little here. If I’m worried she’s being rude so I ask her to smile, is that kinda taking control of her body in an unacceptable way? Especially because – like I mentioned in the other blog post – if my son isn’t smiling I don’t have any alarms in my head that say “RUDE! RUDE! RUDE!” But for some reason with her, I do. So my instinct is to be all, “Smile, honey!” But why is it okay for her brother not to smile?

It’s new. I’m new to it. I just saw a parent reference all of this in terms of when we great a baby and take their pacifier out and try to make them laugh. We’ve taken away their security and then we’re refusing to give it back until the child smiles. I’ve done it 14 million times and it just occurred to me that it is a move that relates to the “give everyone a hug” move. So I learned another lesson.

What do you all think? Have you heard of this trend/concept? Do you apply it in your parenting? Do you wish your parents had applied it to you? Neither Donnie nor I had parents that “forced” us to be affectionate and we’re grateful, but we definitely still have to think about it with our kids. The hug line was never “forced” but it was “expected” and sometimes that’s a way of forcing it, you know?

Either way – I just tell my kids now, “Say goodbye!” when we leave gatherings, or I’ll say, “Tell so-in-so ‘thank you’ for inviting us!” or something. I tell them to use their WORDS but it’s up to them if they want to give hugs or kisses. It’s a new concept, no matter how much it fits with my instincts and I still very much worry about people thinking my kids rude.

11 thoughts on “To Hug, Or Not To Hug.”

  1. My husband’s family hugs and kisses EVERY TIME they see each other (even if it’s on consecutive days). My family never did this. It still does not feel comfortable to me twenty-seven years later! I’m all for the spontaneous hug, though!

    My sister-in-law’s son and daughter-in-law have three boys who since they were born were told to “kiss everyone goodbye” (we saw them maybe twice a year). I always felt sorry for them because they didn’t really know me, but they dutifully walked around and hugged and kissed everyone. Not very genuine, but the poor kids were doing as they were told. I’m perfectly fine with a “see you” and a wave.

    My two boys tended to be on the shy side – I just made sure they acknowledged adults politely (at least a look in the eye or a handshake).

  2. I’m very much a reactive hugger. Usually if someone else initiates, I go for it and I’m fine, unless they hug overly long or something weird. I’m hesitant to initiate because I’m kind of awkward at reading body language and don’t want to force somebody into it that doesn’t want to. I’m trying to think back to when I was a kid and I can’t really ever remember a time I was forced to hug or when it was even expected. But yet we are a family of natural huggers overall and so a hug and a kiss are kind of the norm, even if it’s a quick one-arm or half-hearted smooch. I dunno. I read the article you linked to and really liked it and oddly enough, I had a dream about this topic last night. I’ve definitely had people tell their kids to hug me bye and the kid didn’t want to, so I try to shift to a smile and a wave or high-five, too, but I don’t know what to say when the kid doesn’t want to and the parent keeps insisting. I don’t think the kid is being rude, he just doesn’t want to hug me right now. And that’s cool with me. I’m not a mom but I secretly worry about being pregnant and people wanting to touch my belly. Friends and family, maybe. Complete strangers? Heck no! But I have a feeling will be inevitable and I don’t know how I will react so I’m trying to think ahead. And my husband laughs and tells me not to borrow future worry, but still, it’s this nagging thought in the back of my mind. Anyway. You are not the only one who frets over this kind of stuff. Also, congrats for surviving yesterday! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I didn’t grow up in a hugging family–sure I’d hug my grandparents when we left but we didn’t go around hugging everyone all the time. I found as I moved out into the world on my own that people hugged a lot! It was very awkward for me but I kind of figured it out as I went along. I ended up with a very shy daughter who didn’t want to talk to people much less hug them. I tried to never force her and let it happen naturally. Now that she’s 15 it’s much better and she hugs who she wants naturally.
    My biggest problem is in the work world. I work with both men and women but most of my closest contacts are with women. When I travel to other offices I tend to hug the women & shake the men’s hands. At times it feels awkward because I go from one to the other and I can tell the men aren’t sure if they should hug me or not. Its really weird with my boss (a woman) and counterpart (man) because I hug her but not him. I just don’t feel comfortable hugging other men than my husband. Sorry to write a novel but this is always on my mind.

  4. I am not a hugger. I’m pretty sure my mother has never heard of body autonomy but she’s not a hugger either so she never made me do it as a kid. (Hilariously, she used to reference that old movie The Three Faces of Eve, in which a woman is plagued by multiple personalities because when she was a kid, her mom made her kiss the deceased at a funeral. Of course that’s a super-rare worst case scenario–my mother likes to let her imagination run away with her–but I’m so grateful she never forced me to kiss or hug people.) No one is entitled to anyone else’s body, what is what demanding a hug or kiss IS, no matter how you dress it up.

    I think if these are people you’re really close to, you should be able to explain WHY you don’t make your kids hug/kiss people and have them understand the reasoning behind it. (Of course you know *they’re* not a child molester but forcing your kids to ignore their feelings and give adults affection sets a bad precedent, they can express their affection in other ways, etc. etc.) That way they don’t get their feelings hurt, even if they don’t quite get it. (And if they’re people you’re not that close too, it’s better to err on the side of them thinking you’re “rude” rather than forcing your kids–or yourself–into intimacy they’re not ready for.)

    Also, there is a distinct possibility that the adult you’re trying to force your kids to hug/kiss doesn’t want any part of it either! (Raises hand.) In that case, I usually just insist “no, no, that’s okay” and suggest a high five like you did, or shaking hands (which kids seem to find hysterical).

  5. My son is 3, and we are teaching him the same. We ask him to say hello/goodbye, but hugs & kisses are up to him if he wants to give them out. This goes for EVERYONE. If feelings get hurt, then I’m sorry, but I’m more concerned that my son learns that his body is HIS, and he gets to decide what happens to it/what he does with it. We don’t set ourselves on fire to keep other people warm, ya know? ๐Ÿ™‚ I do try to encourage at least some form of acknowledgment, like a high five or a fist bump, which he is almost always willing to give out. Continue following your instincts, you’re doing great! You’re giving your children autonomy and control over their own bodies, and it will build their confidence and enable them to trust their own gut feelings. Lots of (virtual) hugs to you and your family! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. We are raising my son (age 3.5) to know he doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone he doesn’t want to. This also extends to being tickled. He loves the book we got him about it called “Your Body Belongs to You” ( which teaches the phrase, “No, not right now, please.” (He asks us to read it to him a few times a week!)

    We have had to warn/remind our parents about this concept, since I was raised to be forced to hug and kiss my relatives (and have strong memories of hating it). I explain it in terms of rape culture/consent and they act like they get it but it’s so ingrained in them that reminders are necessary.

    We also flip it the other way to remind my son he shouldn’t hit or do other things to other people’s bodies because their bodies belong to them.

  7. My family tends to hug goodbye & occasionally spontaneously, but usually not as a greeting. My mother in law always hugged me in greeting, from the day I met her. It always felt awkward. I’m not a natural hugger. I’ve got to warm up to a situation and to a person first. I enjoy spontaneous hugs from close friends who I haven’t seen in a while or when saying goodbye or when one of us has expressed something that needs a hug. I don’t make my kids hug anyone. My parents didn’t either, although my grandmother was always insistent about it. i usually ask kids if they want a hug, even if their parents have told them to hug me (usually my nieces and nephews). My son loves hugs but he too has to be ready and comfortable with the person. I think in some cases I’ve missed a hugging window with friends because I wasn’t quite ready & then they decided I didn’t want hugs. I do like hugs from good friends, including you!

  8. I worry that I’m hurting family’s feelings a lot. But I still think it’s important for O to know she can say no to physical contact. And I don’t want her to feel guilty if she doesn’t want to hug someone, like she’s obligated to hug family and feels bad for not really wanting to. I think that was always big for me, if I hugged someone out of obligation, I felt TERRIBLE for not wanting to (and yeah, I’d say that translated into romantic/sexual relationships later). I usually tell her to say good bye and then she initiates hugs if she wants.

    Her preschool was very big on teaching the kids to ask for consent. You know how preschoolers are, they get excited and tackle hug one another every day, like they haven’t seen someone in WEEEEKS, but the teachers worked on making them stop and ask a person if they can give a hug. I keep trying to work on that one too.

  9. It’s so important to teach children (especially girls!) that they alone are the ones who get to decide when and to whom they give their affection.

    As an educator, I’ve gone to this woman’s workshops, and it was then I understood the enormity of the issue.

  10. I spend a lot of time with my boys on “it is their body, they get to say what happens to it” and “no/stop” means you have to stop re: tickling, wrestling, whatever, all with the consent stuff in mind. I stick with the “tell them goodbye” option for the same reason. I only have issues with one older woman at day care who wants to hug all the kids she took care of as babies and my oldest isn’t into it. When it happened unstoppably, we talked out the feeelings/options afterward and that seemed to work. Maybe you can ask them how they feel about hugging all the family and whether they want you to intervene? Kudos for even thinking about it – I feel so bad when I see kids forced to do this stuff!

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