At what age do we stop hugging our children? I’m writing this at 30,000 feet, having been away from my family for six days on a business trip. I miss them terribly and, an hour away from landing, am envisioning walking out of the security area and clutching my two 9 year olds to me. I’m visualizing squeezing them, telling them how much I love and missed them, trying to make up in a few moments for all of the affection I wasn’t able to give them this week.
My 17 year old won’t be at the airport; she’s out this evening celebrating a friend’s birthday. When she comes home she may give me a cursory “hi” and head upstairs to her bedroom, she may allow me to greet her with a hug, or she may come sit on my bed and tell me every detail about her evening and week. You never know.
But I do know that she’s planning to go away to college next year and in preparation (dread?) I’ve been replaying the last 17 years in my head. And I’m realizing that somehow we’ve gotten to a place where hugs aren’t easy or frequent.
Just like reading her a bedtime story and combing out her hair after a bath, I didn’t notice it slipping away, I only realized one day that it was gone.
It probably began in middle school, as she started to stretch her wings, feeling the pull to become more independent from us, along with the conflicting feelings of wanting to remain our little girl. My hugs were frequently rebuffed, in fact she would sometimes recoil in horror, not wanting physical contact with me – especially not in public! I, in turn, likely withheld, fearing rejection and hurt. We certainly didn’t, and don’t, have a contentious relationship. It’s just that neither of us had experience navigating pre-adolescence and the transition to independence and adulthood. And, frankly, with two younger daughters I have unlimited opportunities for requited affection.
But today, as I’m so very aware of her impending departure and of her fragility and anxiety as she faces the future, I have one last chance to transfuse her with my deep, deep love.