parent child hugging

Why does a parent-child hug come with an expiry date?

One of these days on a damp rainy morning, I was just lying on the bed in a dazed slumber when my son came cuddling to me. It’s one of the many rewards that comes with parenting whilst with an expiry date. So, in that partial sedated state of parental bliss, my mind went wondering on why these little joys were so time-bound. The irony of parents is that they first want their children to grow up quickly, to show some signs of independence. And then suddenly they wish that their children wouldn’t grow up so fast. Of course, because with years they become annoying instead of adorable and because parents have inherent fears of their own.

Fear that you might not be as much a part of their lives, fear that you might not be a part of their secrets, fear that you might not be as indispensable to them but most importantly that they might not come to you for those cuddly bedtimes and bone crushing hugs. There is certainly something therapeutic and benign about hugs, proven by ample studies. It’s a gesture of solidarity, affection, support, comfort and love whether it’s an embrace between lovers, or a bear hug between a grandparent and a grandchild or a casual one between friends. By nature, living creatures long for a physical connect and touch that envelopes them in a nurturing secure warmth. And hugs do just that releasing oxytocin and dopamine, entailing both physical and mental wellness.

The fact is that we need these human touches or gestures at any and every age. In times of joy they heighten the cheerfulness and in moments of despondency comfort the loneliness. Then why do these salubrious, sanguine simple hugs begin to dwindle as we grow up and as our children grow up? Of course, I am not writing as a generalization or norm but still a fact relatable by enough people.

I am in my late thirties from the subcontinental background and this is what I would say about myself that I grew up with a lot of love but not as many hugs. By and large it is especially true of men. Coming to think of it, it’s so strange that most men in my generation have no recollectible memory of hugging their fathers. There’s a certain wall of discomfort or apprehension at the thought of it, like there’s a desire to do it but it seems completely bizarre to reach out and accomplish it. As if men, whether a father or a son don’t need or deserve that reassuring hug ever?

A part of it is wider cultural phenomenon, a certain part is family phenomenon and some part is individualistic. Even while we were kids, the hugging tradition wasn’t very prevalent back then. Fathers wouldn’t molly coddle their children for unobvious reasons especially publicly. It was the accepted social structure in most Indian societies.

Three decades later the roles are reversed and things are evidently different. We are cooler and friendlier with our kids and more open in displays of affection. But as these kids mature into adolescents, will the equation of affection still be so conspicuous and apparent? Or will they shy away from it, find it embarrassing? My father-in-law has a great fondness for kids and it’s his sublime joy to be surrounded by four grand-kids. However, these days he often asks my daughter, “Amaya, have you grown up too big to hug dadu?” She is barely seven and I do notice that she isn’t as forthcoming to run and hug him as she was two years ago. She says she feels shy and I wonder how long before she and my son shy away from their parents too?

The significant aspect here isn’t limited to the act of hugging but the expression of feelings and affection through words, actions and gestures. Interestingly, the need for warmth, comfort or love doesn’t diminish with age for anyone. Sadly, the expression does substantially for most, in all relationships. It befuddles me why do we hesitate and find it so awkward to express our feelings? I have found myself in several such situations, holding myself back for reasons I cannot articulate. It just throws us off our comfort zone, needing to bypass the formalities of a relationship as framed and conditioned by society. My children still give me a goodnight hug saying “Love you” but I have no recollection when I said it aloud to my parents last.

We have had a relatively conservative social fabric where display of affection in any way was contrite. Our generation and before us grew up in an environment where display of respect and protocol mattered more than the expression of affection from children. Folding hands, touching feet, covering the head, lowered eyes and other community specific traditions.

Times stand changed today, so does our socio-cultural backdrop. However, in the passing of the years, the innocence, simplicity and naturalness of relationships is still subtly bludgeoned by self-consciousness, unease and decorum. And it’s the worst change in a parent-child bond. Emotions are a pointless encumbrance unless let lose to reach across the road. And a hug is the simplest way to let the feelings travel. It surpasses loquacious words, fancy objects and elaborate arrangements. In fact, it even goes beyond bitter words, old scars and pricky complaints.

As I am typing the last few words, I am wondering if any reader, parent or child who hasn’t expressed their love despite the love, will find the courage to give that procrastinated hug now? But I do know that it will take much more than this article. It will take the realization that you might deeply regret not having it done while you had the chance to do it.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels