When my kids were little, they scuttled into my room in their jammies first thing in the morning. I’d greet them with a high-pitched squealing voice and outstretched arms. “Good morning, sweetie! Come here! How did you sleep? It’s so good to see you, lovebug!” I’d scoop them up, stroke their hair, and savor their cuddles.
I didn’t realize things had changed until I was watching a family video from many years ago. I heard a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time—my own. It was my high-pitched greeting voice, the one that eagerly embraced my kids when they walked through the door. Although it’s probably a good thing I lost my high-pitched voice, I wondered where my eager greeting went. It seemed that over time, my greetings had turned into an onslaught of questions about my kids’ homework, hygiene, or chores. Somewhere along the way, saying “hello” became more of a punch card than a warm welcome.
I wondered, Do my kids know I’m happy to see them? Do they know I want to hug them and hear about their day? I wanted to make a change. I wanted to get back to greeting my children with a smile and enthusiasm. I wanted them to look back and remember a mom who was always happy to see them when they walked through the door. I wanted to ensure the first words out of my mouth were edifying instead of editing.
I didn’t realize what I was up against. One of my teenagers seemed to have his headphones perpetually glued to his ears. To get him to notice me walking into a room required me to perform a Cirque du Soleil act. Once I finally got his attention, I had to mime my enthusiastic greeting. I got a head nod in return.
Also, I was up against my own brain. I had to fight against all the rapid-fire questions I wanted to ask them. Did they brush their teeth today? Is she picking her skin again? Why do his shorts look like he spent the day rubbing them with a tire? Did he forget his reading log? I had to learn to put my running list of questions on a shelf for later and focus on connecting first.
When I picked my girls up from ballet, I made sure to give them direct eye contact. I wanted to pause and take my time greeting them. Be present. Be in the moment. Let them know you care. But my girls looked at each other, then looked at me, and wondered if they were in trouble. When did I become so awkward?
I wasn’t going to give up, even if it meant more awkwardness. So, I kept smiling and waving and hugging and loving—even if I only got a “Wassup” in return.
One day, I asked my oldest daughter what the best part of her day was. She said, “When you walked into my room to say hi after work. You smiled and gave me a hug and seemed happy to see me. I was buried in homework and it was a bright spot in my day.”
Our kids may act nonchalant, hug back with the energy of a brick wall, or even roll their eyes. But the truth is, they need affection. Family therapist Virginia Satir says that everyone (including our teens) needs “four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth.” And according to Emily and Amelia Nagoski, co-authors of Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle, hugging someone you love for 20 seconds a day is the key to alleviating stress and beating burnout.
Life is moving faster than ever, with each family member juggling a mental checklist of tasks and responsibilities. It’s easy to shuttle from one thing to the next without stopping to make much-needed connection points. But in a modern world, we still need age-old wisdom. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” We need to preserve gracious words and gracious greetings because even though our kids grow out of their jammies, they’ll never grow out of wanting to feel loved when they walk through the door.