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.