I had a very normal-in-a-good-way childhood, and my family has a very typical-in-a-typical-way story. I am a middle child with two brothers, and we grew up in a small CT town. Our mom stayed home with us for ten years until she went back to teaching. My dad worked a lot, but still, I remember him making us bedtime snacks and reading us Benji and Goodnight Moon at nighttime. Like stereotypical New Englanders, we were never a particularly warm and fuzzy family. To be clear, my parents were very loving, but once I passed the little kid phase, we seldom showed affection toward each other in a physical way other than a quick and compulsory bedtime kiss/hug. In fact, at some point during my teenage years, I pretty much stopped hugging and kissing my family members altogether! “Hi” and “bye” consisted of little more than a wave.
During college, I met a guy who I eventually ended up marrying and then divorcing. My memories of that experience are pretty tainted, but I will admit that he had one positive lasting effect on my family. He hugged everyone all the time. And it’s funny because, coming into someone else’s family, you might think that you would take a cue from others and, you know, do as they do? Like the whole “when in Rome” concept? Nope. He hugged my dad (who had previously always gone in for the awkward man-shake). He hugged my unhuggable grandma (whose heart grew 3 sizes that day). He even hugged my cynical great aunt (SWOON). You would think that he might have felt awkward doing this, but actually, he was so confident in his shows of affection that he broke us down, and we joined in.
After a while we started to notice a little change in our family. It was subtle, but there was this warmth between us that had been lost somewhere along the way. When my marriage fell apart, there was a LOT more hugging in my family (thanks again, ex-husband! SARCASM), and I am happy to say that it has really stuck.
The epilogue to this story is that I went on to give birth to the least snuggly baby EVER who I think only learned to roll over so that she could roll OUT of my arms. Seriously, though, when she finally started giving unsolicited hugs and kisses a few months ago, it made me the world’s happiest mom, and I steal them from her whenever I can.
But my message isn’t just “hug your kids.” I don’t generally need a reminder to squeeze my little cutie-pie on the regular – though, granted, in the throes of a particularly cranky stage, that might not really be accurate. Really what I’m saying is to hug the ones you love. If you’re from a traditional New England family like mine and don’t do it enough, go out of your way to hug your mom. If you’ve been feeling disconnected, hug your husband. Hug your dad, your siblings, your grandma, your friends who you love like family. I think sometimes we forget what affection, a simple act of closeness and caring, does for our relationships with those we care about. To me, it’s one of the big differences between being “familial” and being a family.