I’m kind of day dreaming last Sunday morning in Church when I notice a boy in the bench ahead of me nuzzle his head against him mom’s shoulder. In response, Mom places her arm on her boy’s back and begins to gently massage him. Mother and son are completely un-self-conscious, just taking pleasure in each other’s company, expressing their love for one another wordlessly, silently through the sense of touch.
From the pulpit, the priest was preaching on the gospel but I confess I didn’t hear a word he was saying. My attention was focused on the young boy and his mother. A part of me was jealous. I never remember being touched like that by my mom as a lad. We were not much for demonstrating our affection in those days, especially publicly and heaven forbid, not in Church.
As I watched the boy continue to snuggle against his mom, I was thinking that he’s a lucky kid to be on the receiving end of a good hug. Even today, there is not enough hugging to go around. My thoughts wander to the kids I am working with at the Children’s Village and I wonder how often they have experienced this kind of intimacy from their mom or dad.
Oh, they have been touched all right, physically beaten, sometimes sexually abused, but not hugged by a loving parent. You can see it in their eyes; they hunger to be enfolded in the arms of a parent or grandparent who loves and accepts them.
I recall reading Ashley Montagu’s book on “Touching” a while back. For him, the sense of touch is like the forgotten sense. We don’t begin to realize how important it is especially as a part of parenting our kids. Kids need those hugs and kisses. We all do.
We walk around in our little bubbles, independent and lonely as hell, unwilling or unable to reach out and touch another human being. Crazy isn’t it. Even crazier is that when we do bring up the subject of hugs and touches, we are more likely than not to speak of inappropriate touches. We forget that NOT giving our kids a hug when they need it is also inappropriate, not to mention cold or unloving.
A woman friend of mine told me that, growing up, she had a close relationship with her Dad. He was not only her Dad but also a trusting adult friend to hang out with. Their relationship was all that a father-daughter relationship could be, until she reached puberty. Then she noticed her Dad withdrawing from her. She was confused, not knowing what she had done to sever their warm relationship. But losing her Dad’s male influence at a time in her life when she needed it most was devastating. She was angry and hurt and, in turn, withdrew from him.
Years later, she figured out that her Dad was afraid to get too close to his pre-adolescent little girl. He no longer kissed her on the cheek or gave her hugs because he was afraid his affection would be misconstrued. It was his issue but he was treating it as her’s.
I wonder sometimes if, in our concern to avoid even the appearance of touching kids “inappropriately,” parents, childcare workers, coaches and folks who work with children, withhold from children the kind of caring and affection that only a good hug can convey?
What I do know is that the scene I witnessed in church, with a mom lightly massaging her boy’s back, was more than just appropriate. It was an act of love. Wise parent. Lucky kid.