I am a hugger. One of my foster kids taught me that not all want hugs and that hugs can hurt. She was pretty, almost sixteen, and had been much abused. I think she had been made to have sex with men as part of a ring of child abusers. The first time I spontaneously reached out to hug her, she froze. I can still feel her pain. So I learned to always ask, “Can I have a hug?” I also learned to be aware that some say “Yes” when they mean “No.”
I found this an interesting article but very unclear on the promise of the title: How to Comfort a Family Member – Families Who Don’t Hug – Oprah.com.
The other side of the coin came as a therapist. My boss commanded me not to hug. I chose to disobey. How when a kid is hurling themselves at you can you not hug?
There does come a time when most kids who loved hugs as a young child, no longer want to be hugged. Be attuned to this and don’t insist. The reasons are many and complex, mainly having to do with growing awareness of sexual feelings.
What is a parent to do?
Here are my rules.
First rule: If someone clearly wants a hug, do your best to be open to that. If you aren’t, acknowledge that you aren’t a very good hugger. “We didn’t do that in my family, so I am still trying to learn” might work.
Second Rule: When you want to give a hug, always ask first and make it clear you expect to honor their feelings.
Instead of a hug, the best way I have found to be there for the person is to say, “I care and want to help. What do you need from me?”
Usually the answer will be something you can do. When it isn’t say, “I can’t do that, I wish I could but I can’t. How else can I help?”
Stay strong and keep caring.
Katherine [Artwork by Defies]