From the time Margaret was a wee little one, my husband has told her this: “Margaret, if anybody, including me or anybody in your family including your aunts, uncles, and grandparents, tries to kiss or hug you and you don’t want to, you do NOT have to. You will not get in trouble. The only person you cannot refuse to kiss or hug is your mommy.” He’s drilled that into her head over the years. I never really understood this philosophy, but it seemed important him so I went with it. And selfishly, I liked that I was exempt from this family decree.
Coincidentally, Margaret is not particularly fond of affection, so this has worked out very well for her. As a toddler, she always seemed to wiggle out of a hug or pull her cheek away from my lips right before squishy impact (and that’s the best part damn it!). Now that she’s a teenager, her hugs are more like reverent bows (God forbid her torso actually touches mine) and my attempts at kisses are immediately followed by the Renee Zellweger face (you know that face – it’s the one you make when you’re eating a lemon).
I’m pretty sure when she has her own children, things will change. There’s no scientific data or crystal ball backing this up, but I’m basing this assumption on the fact that she’s fairly affectionate with her little sister (who is so ridiculously adorable that even Margaret has a hard time resisting the urge to cuddle her).
Ultimately, Margaret lets me kiss or hug her. But I fear it’s because that’s the rule, not because she wants to. And it’s just not the same. I don’t want my daughter to kiss or hug me because she has to. I want her to kiss or hug me because she wants to. Jesus was on to something, I swear.
Still, this reticence on her part is a constant source of frustration for me because unlike Margaret, I am a very affectionate person. Naturally, I’d always assumed I’d give birth to cuddle bugs.
Where did I go wrong?
When I was pregnant with her, I complied with all that healthy pregnancy advice: I didn’t eat sushi or eat soft cheeses like brie or bleu cheese. No deli meat or smoked salmon (not easy for someone who grew up Jewish!). Minimal caffeine. I didn’t smoke or drink alcohol (OK, champagne maybe once or twice but shhhhhhhh). Basically, meal time was hell for me. And did I mention that I nursed her for a year? That’s 365 days, multiple times per day and throughout the night (yup, Margaret was a grazer). So we’re looking at minimally 2,190 times. So basically, her mealtime was hell for me, too.
Thirteen years later and my breasts have still not forgiven me. Let’s not even go into how my 6-pack tummy fared with the C-section and post-birth surgeries. So you can see that I suffered with a capital S. And what do I get in return? Definitely not what I’d anticipated when I was reading Dr. Seuss books to her in utero dreaming of my life with an affectionate child. That’s for sure. But I respect that she is who she is.
A few weeks ago, the Girl Scouts of America released a statement on the dangers of forcing girls to hug and kiss relatives if they don’t want to. The Girl Scouts’ resident psychologist points out the importance of setting physical boundaries early on and how having these boundaries respected by others, including family members, will set the stage for girls as they transition into adulthood.
When I read this, I was thrilled to have my husband’s philosophy echoed by a such a widely respected organization like the Girl Scouts. But he was less right (he responds to that better than “he got something wrong” I’ve come to learn over the years).
The Girl Scouts are 100% correct. No, she doesn’t owe anyone a hug. And as much as it kills me to say this, not even me.
So, I’ve decided to amend the family rule. Margaret and her sister don’t have to hug or kiss anyone.
Well, except the cats.