Before I explain why you sometimes shouldn’t hug your child, I’m going to start this post with what might seem a ridiculous question, but bear with me. The answer might seem obvious but I’d like you to consider this for a moment:
Why do we hug our children?
There are many reasons, of course: to show them that we love them, to comfort them, to make them feel safe. Hugging has deep roots, too; it’s not just humans that hug their young but other primates too. It’s clearly something that goes right back into our evolutionary past.
There is, however, another big reason why we hug our children. While I’ve been planning this post I’ve paid more attention to it and realised just how big this one is. We hug our children because WE like it. At the end of a long day, or if I’m just feeling a bit frazzled, a cuddle with D makes a big difference. It gives a few moments to breathe, to relax, and to put things in perspective. Recently I’ve noticed that the majority of cuddles I have with him are ones that I’ve initiated.
What’s wrong with that?
As far as I know, absolutely nothing. But there is one thing that I’m always conscious of, and it’s why I say we sometimes shouldn’t hug our child.
Imagine the scenario: You’re tired. For whatever reason, it’s been a hectic day. You really need a hug and your child is the only other person in the house so you say to them ‘can I have a cuddle?’.
The child doesn’t even look at you; you just get a nonchalant ‘no’ and they go about their business.
We’ve all been there and it comes as a bit of a blow. How could they refuse you a quick cuddle? But I made a decision about the time D was born that if he said no to a hug, that was it. No persuasion, no getting hold of him and cuddling him anyway, no sticking out my bottom lip and saying ‘oh, please’ in that way beloved of grandparents. His no is final.
A child’s ‘no’ is still a no
By taking D’s ‘no’ as the last word, I hope I’m starting the process of teaching him about consent. I want him to know that what happens to his body is within his control and that he can expect other people to respect that. It’s not just with hugging, either. Like all small children, D loves being tickled. Inevitably, though, there’s a point where he says ‘stop’. When I was a child, my ‘stop’ didn’t always stop the tickling. I remember it being strangely fun, but there was definitely a worry there as well: What if they never stop? Being tickled is exhausting – I knew I couldn’t keep it up forever. I may have been overly sensitive but the lack of control was a bit scary.
With D, when he says ‘stop’, I stop. It’s never long before he says ‘go!’ again, but he knows he’s in control.
It’s not just about your child
There is also a wider reason why I believe you shouldn’t coerce your child to hug you. The lessons they learn about their own body are incredibly important, but you’re also teaching them to respect others too.
I’ve had enough of men being in the news for all the wrong reasons. For the sake of his future partners, I want him to know that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘try harder’. It doesn’t mean ‘pretend you’re upset and guilt trip me into changing my mind’. It means that you stop. Yes it can be disappointing, and you don’t have to like it, but sometimes you don’t get what you want.
I do sometimes wonder if I’m being a bit over the top. It’s possible that I’m making an issue out of nothing and that it would do him no harm if I occasionally persuaded him that he should give me a hug. Maybe he’s far too young to learn anything about consent and I’m just being a bit ridiculous.
The conclusion I’ve come to, though, is that I would rather start it too early than too late. I’m no parenting expert, and I don’t pretend to be. But I do know that at some point he will need to learn these lessons so the sensible thing seems to be to start at the earliest opportunity. That way, whether the right time was six months ago, next week or in three years time, he’ll get the same message. Even if he’s not learning anything, I’m not depriving of anything except for some cuddles that he didn’t want anyway.
So, for now, I’ll just swallow my pride when he says ‘no’. Besides, it just means that when I do get a cuddle from him, it’s because he wants to. And that means a lot.