The evolution of the hug

Having two children hovering around either side of adolescence brings up new concerns to both to worry about and anticipate. 

Some concerns tap you right square on the nose and make your eyes water. They get you when you least expect them. 

As both of my kids encounter the talked about “change,” I’ve been doing some introspection on the way they give affection and receive my love as a parent. 

In our arms 

With babies, even in our most depleted, sleep-deprived states, we can be comforted by holding our precious children in our arms. We receive as much as our tired arms can give as we stare and admire their long lashes and perfect skin. We even find it within ourselves to muster sweet words and the soft hushes of lullabies. 

The daily tasks of changing their diapers, feeding them and bathing them gives us the opportunity to mutually experience the benefit of touch. 

As they grow into toddlerhood and the school years, we sense their physical needs change. It happens so quickly we hardly realize it, even with seeing them every day: We hug less, we touch less, we sing to them no more.   

By our side 

I realized one day that my 13-year-old son was a foot away from me on the couch and we weren’t touching. There was something in me that sensed he noticed it, too.  

Now let me assure you, when he was 10, he wasn’t sitting on my lap to watch TV: No way. But something about hugging your children makes you feel like you’re nurturing them in a way that words can’t. 

And somewhere along the way, I began to hold back.

When I realized it, I started trying to reach out for him a bit more: I didn’t want there to be a gap between us. 

I would give him a pat on the leg or a quick scratch on the back and got that same “I’m not sure about this anymore” feeling from him.

Round two

About a year and a half ago, my then 11-year-old daughter started slamming the door shut when she got dressed in the mornings. At 12, she outright told me she did NOT want me to go into the dressing room with her when she was trying on clothes. (But what about dancing around to our own beat as I hung things on hangers and she grabbed her next thing to try on? Is that just … gone?!)

At almost 13, she’s gotten to a point where she hugs her dad with a special concave hug — arms in full embrace without the chest touching at all. 

Hug ’em through it

I’ve done all the reading on the developmental benefits of 12 touches a day from a parent. 

And now, with the years ticking by, I’ve realized this is my chance to give them those touch points — while they still share a roof with me. 

I’m so thankful for a husband that senses his daughter’s discomfort and chooses to hug her through it. He gives a lot more tickle torture than ever before. 

I make it a point to kiss both of them right when they wake up and when they leave. I rub their backs when they’re focused on their homework, and I reach over and rub their heads or feet when we’re on the couch. 

And yes, I’ll bake them cookies, send them encouraging texts and let them have noisy band practices in the basement. 

But I’m going to hug them. 

Face to face

When he was 14, my son, when he stood up in the morning, made it a habit to align his shoulders with mine, as if he were taking a measure of his growth from the night before. 

There was a satisfaction that came when, one day, he could look me straight in the eye. 

Now that my son is 15, I have to look up at him when he gives me the alignment hug in the mornings. I think maybe he’s still checking out — and affirming his progression into — the idea of adulthood. 

And he has this new thing now: He tells me he loves me every time he comes and goes. And then, he gives me a kiss on the top of my head. 


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, daughter and son. Write her at jwizbowski@mnparent.com.