I have something in common with Olaf, the snowman from the Disney movie “Frozen.” I like warm hugs.
I also don’t particularly like touching people if I’m not emotionally close to them.
So the holidays have always been a bit of a difficulty, as you see family and friends you don’t see frequently. Eventually, someone’s going to ask you to hug someone you just don’t feel like hugging. Most of the time, you acquiesce, just to keep the peace.
I’ve found myself on the demanding side of hugs in the past few years as a parent. When my children see a cousin they don’t feel close to, what gives me the right to demand they hug?
This Christmas season, I’m done demanding my children hug relatives and friends. Apparently the Girl Scouts have my back. In a post last month, “Reminder: She doesn’t owe anyone a hug, not even at the holidays,” the organization urges against forcing daughters to show signs of affection.
“Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection,” the oft-misunderstood post urges parents.
It’s fair advice. If your child doesn’t want to hug Uncle So-and-So, who are we to judge? How many of us adults willingly hug that same adult male?
I have about 15 people in my life I’ll willingly hug without reservation. The rest of the world gets an awkward shoulder thrown into them, as I genuinely don’t like being in close proximity to people if I don’t feel an emotional closeness to them. I’m not trying to be antisocial; it’s just my personality. I will, however, high-five anyone, as it feels like a much less intimate greeting and show of appreciation.
On the other hand, one of my daughters is a real hugger, so she might hug that many people in a typical day. If she feels comfortable expressing her affection with a squeeze, more power to her.
Another daughter is a little more standoffish when it comes to physical contact. What do we really gain from forcing her to embrace someone she doesn’t feel like embracing?
We’ve all been part of a hug that one side or the other didn’t want to be a part of it. It’s not affectionate at all. It’s awkward, like trying to give some a high-five and missing.
It’s better if we allow our children to express themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable. We don’t need toddlers, tweens and teens agonizing over hugging distant relatives. We should be able to draw our own boundaries for personal space without having to worry about someone we love, like our parents, forcing us to invite someone in to invade that space.
The Girl Scouts offered alternatives, such as a smile, a high-five or an air-kiss, should she be comfortable with those alternatives. I’d also suggest fist-bumps or shy waves as other ways to say hello or goodbye without pushing children into uncomfortable situations.
Their world is confusing enough. As parents at holiday gatherings, let’s stop making it worse by demanding they feign affection in ways they don’t really feel comfortable. Give them the chance to be themselves.