Whenever an article about raising children advises that we hug our teenagers more – I inwardly cringe. For the record, I do think that it’s fantastic advice. Everyone can benefit from a good hug, especially a kid in the midst of all that horrific teenagery stuff like peer pressure, acne, dating, and hormones. I understand the benefit of insisting, “Come over here and hug your mother,” when they’re acting all prickly and avoidant. I can see how a sheepish, “Aw, ma!” is really masking how relieved they feel to be so safe and loved. And yet I rarely hug my teens. Not because I don’t love them, but because I think they might actually hate it.
I know full well the value of human touch. I raised my kids with lots of hugs, kisses, and even group hugs and family dog piles. But now that they arch their backs to get away when I hug them and beg me to stop, I hold back. My instinct is to say, “You’re still my baby so come over here and hug your mom!” I don’t say that though. As much as it feels like it, teenagers are not just little babies in adult bodies. They are young men and women. They are almost adults. They are individual people with their own preferences and comfort levels and personal bubbles. That bubble can get pretty wide with all those teenage hormones and angst and confusion.
I totally get it. If there’s one thing I learned from my teenage years, it’s that there’s nothing worse than feeling like an adult but being treated like a child. When I was a teenager I hated hugging my mom. I later learned that I’m just not a big hugger in general. I do thrive on hugs from my husband and children, but I get real awkward anytime I’m expected to hug anyone else.
I feel a little guilty not giving my teens something I know (whether they know it or not) could benefit them, but I just can’t put them in a situation I wouldn’t want to be in myself. If my kids don’t want to be hugged, they probably aren’t feeling neglected when I don’t hug them anyway. Looking back, I can see how my kids have always valued their space. When one of them was 4 years old we made a “special place” for him in a corner with blankets and books just so he could escape from other people for awhile. Another kid started sleeping through the night when he was only 3 months old. I had been used to rocking him to sleep but one night he was totally inconsolable. Getting frustrated, I decided to lay him down so I could take a breather. He was asleep in five minutes. From that night on he had to be alone in his bed in order to fall asleep.
Regardless of how much space our kids want or need, they still want and need to feel our love for them. So how can we show them if they don’t like being hugged? I’ve made an effort lately to make sure I verbally tell them I love them every day. Occasionally they say it back, usually they don’t. But that doesn’t matter. It matters that they heard it, and that they know it.
One thing I noticed was that my kids tend to feel appreciated and validated when they are listened to. As a frazzled mom of 5, being pulled in so many directions, it’s hard for me to give them my full attention. If I took just a few minutes each day to look my teens in the eye and listen and respond to what they are saying, they would definitely appreciate it. They would probably feel more loved that way than if I gave them hugs all day long.
I still want to hug them. And every so often I’ll ask for a hug and they’ll actually give me one. Once I even got a spontaneous hug initiated by my 16-year-old because he fell on my leg and it felt like he broke it. He felt really bad and so just gave me a big hug. Though I don’t recommend that method of getting hugs, I was appreciative all the same.
For the most part though, I’ll just keep telling them how much I love them and listening to them. At least then I’ll be there when they’re ready for another hug.