As a child, during my growing up years, ours was never a family that believed in affection being expressed in physical terms – as in hugs, kisses, pats on the head, a simple ruffling of the top of the head or whatever.
For as far back as I can jog my memory, hugs were virtually non-existent in our family, as were smiles or laughter. Our parents did not hug us and quite naturally, as we grew, our minds equated the lack of hugs as a normal part of childhood, of growing up.
There used to be some children at school whose parents used to fetch them from school and I remember one family in particular – sometimes the dad used to come over to school and at other times it used to be the mom. In this family, there was always a shower of affection in the form of hugs – huge, warm bear hugs on some days and light hugs on other days. Some days, there would be no hugs but just an arm thrown around the shoulder or a quick side hug – these were a part and parcel of their lives as a family.
That was when I remember feeling the full force of desirous envy, in a way I never had before. I used to wish I could experience it too – this special bond that they shared, hugs and the open, warm laughter – the kind that flowed between family members as easily and as naturally as water on a river bed.
I guess that was when I realised this gap, this void (if you may) in my childhood – this need for hugs to be a part of our family as well. Well, it never happened during my childhood but it did cement in my mind the value of such simple physical forms of affection among family members. I remember with distinct clarity, proclaiming to myself, feeling like a Bheesma Pitamaha of sorts, on that dusty school playground, that if and when I had kids, they would grow up in a family where hugs were as natural and as much a part of life as breathing, I guess. No, the heavens did not shower me with flowers on the dusty playground! Just thought I’d clarify, before someone asked! 😉
Ours, now, is a family that believes in the power of hugs, of open, unguarded laughter and receptive communication. The one lesson I took away from my childhood was this – yes, children do need food, water, clothing and shelter, these being the basic necessities. Apart from these, what is also needed is a liberal sprinkling of love, affection and warmth because these go a long way in making children feel loved, cherished, appreciated and secure.
That said, situations start to get a bit sticky when relatives or friends start to assume that kids would be just as liberal with them, when it comes to hugs or other forms of affection. Some relatives, especially the older relatives, sometimes insist on hugging children or getting hugs from them, in turn. As a parent, this could well lead to situations wherein the child does not want to be hugged by a relative or does not want to hug a relative. The parent, here, is caught in the cross-hairs, right? We have had our share of such sticky moments as well.
It takes me back to my own childhood yet again when an uncle of mine used to insist that I prostrate in front of him, just because he wanted me to. He used to think nothing of resting his hand on my shoulder and I distinctly remember hating even being around him. Every single time he came over, he would say “prostrate in front of me otherwise I won’t give you what I’ve got for you”. I never used to want whatever it was that he brought in and there were lots of times when I wished my parents would step in and say something to him.
Sometimes, elderly relatives do bring guilt or emotional blackmail into the picture, all in an attempt to get the child to hug them or whatever it is they have labeled “ways of showing respect and affection”. At times like these too, if children are uncomfortable with what relatives/friends expect of them, parents do need to step in, assess the situation and talk to the children and the elders, if necessary. Not together, though! As part of the parental responsibility, I think children need to be enlightened to this fact of life: that guilt trips and affection have never quite gone hand in hand and judging by the fact that they are two totally contradictory feelings, they never will.
A few months back, I noticed this family in a bus, on my way home from school. The child in question (who must have been around 7 years old) did not want to sit near his mom’s friend. She, in turn, kept insisting. The parents talked to the little boy who kept refusing and finally, the little boy was offered a lollipop for going over and sitting next to his mom’s friend. I guess it was the lollipop that did the trick but the child did not look comfortable in the least. However, the friend in question was gushing over and over, time and again as to what good parents the couple were . The child sitting next to a lady he did not want anything to do with, was here being construed as good parenting.
We live in a big bad world of today when it is necessary for every parent to teach their kids the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch”. On one hand, we tell children not to let people touch them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable and on the other hand, if we, as parents, are to enforce on the child, physical contact (albeit in the form of hugs or kisses) with people they are not comfortable with or are not familiar with, does this not end up sending the mixed signals to the child?
Hugs and kisses are meant to be a rather spontaneous display of affection and both Macadamia and Pecan have grown up, secure in the knowledge that they are in charge of whom they bestow those hugs on. There have been situations when we have had to intervene on behalf of the kids (with an extremely insistent relative or friend) and make it clear, albeit very diplomatically and gently, that hugs are never forced upon, at our place.
They always respect elders, they are polite and they do not go around hitting, kicking, biting or swearing at people. But when it comes to situations involving physical touch, they make their decisions on whether it is going to be a hug, a high five, a handshake or at times, just a friendly smile and conversation.
The argument here is simple. They are the owners and the masters of their own bodies. Their bodies do not belong to us, to their grandparents, to their uncles or aunts or to their parents’ friends. While they do need to treat people with respect, they do not necessarily have to substantiate this respect with a show of physical affection, just to please them. Respecting a person and pleasing a person are two entirely different things and they are not inter-dependent. Sooner children learn this, the better for them.
A penny for your thoughts ?
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.