I was feverishly completing a work email with a 5pm deadline. My kids had finished their homework and I could hear them arguing in the background. Soon the arguing panned into the foreground. Tears and screams got closer and closer to my ears but I was determined to power through...
“Mom. Mom. MOM!”
I stopped breathing because in the midst of all that noise I was able to author the most amazing response to an important issue. I didn’t want to lose this inspiration and this level of work consciousness… but the voice could not be ignored. The voice had a very serious request.
“Mom, can I have a hug?”
With a very guilt-free eye roll, I conceded; though I didn’t want to stop typing, I didn’t want to stop thinking about work. I didn’t want to turn and acknowledge her presence. But I did. I made a promise to myself after grad school that no matter what, any time my kids need a hug or expressed the need for affection, no matter what, I’d stop and give them one. I’ve never shared this with them because I know they’d abuse the rule and I’d be hugging people all day, carrying them around in fact. They do not know about the secret pact I made with myself to ensure my kids grew up feeling loved. I made this secret pact because I experienced a very dark and hug free period of parenting and I saw my kids suffering from it. During grad school I was separated from my husband, working full-time, and stressed out and filled with anxiety. I spent a lot of time not giving hugs out of a sheer lack of time and the extreme need for focus. The pact wasn’t a response to guilt, because if it were, there would be no point, the energy behind it wouldn’t be right and the motivation to make this change for my kids, wouldn’t come about naturally. Kids can tell if you’re faking it. So I took a deep breath and lovingly hugged my child for about five seconds, allowing her to melt into my chest. She exhaled. I exhaled. I knew that whatever had just happened was resolved. We both felt better. The noise was gone and I got my email out on time.
There are many benefits to hugs. Hugs help your pituitary gland release oxytocin which helps with bonding and connectivity. A 2013 study conducted at VU University Amsterdam revealed that people with low self-esteem experienced relief upon experiencing even brief touch. Hugging reduces stress and can help us fight infectious diseases. Remember when you played tag and you established a “base” - a free space within your boundary where you could rest up; strategize when your hand should release and run for it; and a slight opportunity to dodge your aggressor. Parent hugs are base for kids who are running and learning their way through life. The older they get, it seems like they don’t need to run back to base, but they do. They just need base to come to them.
By building confidence, emotional and physical connectivity, and lowering stress levels, hugs solve so many short and long term problems. Imagine how much different rush hour would be if everyone got a hug before they left for work, or if they could stop and hug the person in the car next to them? I see so many adults that just needed 5 more hugs either as a child or during their day. Just 5 more. You may be one of these people yourself. Hug deficits are everywhere. We mistake power as acceptance and we mistake sex with intimacy. We replace our lack of acceptance and intimacy with drugs and alcohol; aggressive behavior toward others; and self-destructive behavior.
Boys need more hugs. Girls need more hugs. Men need more hugs. Women need more hugs. Everyone's total number of hugs required is different, but one thing is very clear, each of us could use a few more hugs, especially children. During childhood we learn about social behavior and social interaction with our family. This lays the foundation for the way we interact with others and see ourselves as an individual and participant within the larger social construct. This is not to say that parents should spend their entire day hugging their kids in fear of their potential lack of intimacy and connectivity. But it’s important that parents, partners, and family members do their best to hug their kids (and each other) as much as is reasonably needed, to help relieve stress and anxiety, teach lessons on intimacy, and provide a safe space to come to.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.