Learning to Hug

“You’re rude. I want a new mom.” Our six-year-old adopted daughter was growling at me. Then, to get her point through, she yelled at me. “I hate you!

Sigh. “I’ll love you wherever you are.” My answer was completely emotionless. She ran off down the hill toward the lake. No, that’s not right. I need to act like I care. Why can’t I just be more cuddly? My response, though showing no anger, bordered on sarcasm. Her outburst bounced right off me. It was just a part of life ever since we invited her and her older brother into our home. I was used to it.

Seeing the next stage of passive-aggressive behavior about to unfold, I quickly called after her, “Your timeout will be in the grass, not the sand. I will start the timer when I see you sitting in the grass.” She ran into the sand and glared at me. What time is it? Only 9:30 am? This had been non-stop since she woke up. What broke? The past week had been going so well. Initially I thought she was just tired, but as the morning progressed arduously onward, it became clear this was an emotional problem. Something she mentioned had finally clued me in – she was worried about her birthday – and hoped a birth family member would be present for her party.

Birthdays! I rolled my eyes to myself in annoyance. They only came once a year, but even that felt too often. Birthday behavior. I couldn’t wait for yet another birthday to pass. She needs a hug. I don’t feel like hugging that girl right now – she wouldn’t let me anyway.


As someone for whom ‘physical touch’ is not a strong love language, I don’t care all that much for them. Socially with friends, hugs are fine; even encouraging. But at home with the kids, over and over again. All day. All week. All year. My space bubble has been invaded so many times I don’t know if it exists anymore.

Hugging is a work in progress for me. I go through seasons where I remember to hug the kids, then life gets a little crazy and the hugs get forgotten in the daily clatter.

The truth of the matter is, I am naturally inclined to hug some of my children, but not others. To be precise, at the time of this writing, I find four of the six are easily ‘huggable.’ Why this discrepancy? Because these four are easily emotionally attached to me. They tend to reciprocate love, and so, subconsciously I am inclined to give them my love. This is the essence of attachment. 

Is this wrong? No. This is normal. Humans were made to be in relationships that reciprocate; otherwise we would be emotionally drained all the time. However, when raising children with attachment challenges, remember, all their efforts to push you away are a sign that they desperately need you to pursue them.

Just because you don’t feel that soft, cuddly emotion we humans call ‘love,’ doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. Love is a verb. It’s the daily duties we perform to keep our families fed, safe, warm and…together. Sometimes the warm fuzzies show up as well, and that is nice. But the warm fuzzies don’t define love. Anyone who has been married longer than a week understands this concept.

Back to our six-year-old. Hugging her is one of the most challenging parts of my day. Hugging her is proactive. I am so, so excited when she initiates a hug, especially with her words. But I don’t sit around and wait for that. This is an area Austin and I are continuing to grow in: The proactive hug. Some days, the proactive hug feels akin to dragging fingernails across a chalkboard; it is completely counterintuitive and takes everything in me.

On this particular morning, the behavior dragged on and on. I tried to hug her after timeout, but she wouldn’t let me; the hug became a power struggle. Several hours later, after lunch was wrapped up and we were back at the sand and water, an opportunity arose, and I grabbed it. She was ready to interact with me in the water, and I led our swimming and silly game into some hug time. For our six-year-old, the proactive hug works best when things are calm and we are having fun. And it’s ok to sneak in more than one hug. We go for a handful, if her guard is down.

Each hug is one more step in knocking down the emotional walls around her heart.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash