Raising Mary: Some kids like affection, while others don’t

“Another hug, Mommy.”
I’m dropping seven-year-old
Mary off at school, and we’ve
already hugged and kissed each
other’s cheeks four times. A little
impatiently, I lean down again.
The bell is about to ring and I still
have to walk our four-year-old,
Adelaide, around to the other side
of the school.

Mary isn’t embarrassed about
showing affection in public.
However, in this moment, I worry
she looks clingy. Is this a problem?
Do I hug her too much?

I’ve chalked her affectionate
tendencies up to individual
temperament. Adelaide, by
contrast, doesn’t want to hug me
when it’s her turn. She actually
squirms away, clambering to get to
her kindergarten pals.

Affection from Mom and Dad
is as essential for babies and
young children as vegetables
and vaccinations. Sure, everyone
loves their children, but that’s not
enough. You have to demonstrate.
You have to represent.

I was showered with affection
as a little kid. I remember my
mother’s warm hands, and my
grandfather’s arm around me.
In those moments I was safe and
loved.

In our house, there are lots of
hugs and kisses on the cheek. We
hold hands in public. Sometimes,
I cup a little face in my hand, look
into big eyes and smile warm
Mommy smiles.

It’s not just me, either. The girls
know their Dad likes his back
scratched. I have an adorable
photo of Mary obliging while the
two of them play a game together
on the iPad. And it’s the cutest
thing when the girls say goodbye
to their father and plant kisses on
his bald head.

On Sunday mornings, we’ll call
out “family cuddle in the big bed!”
and the girls will come running
like mice, launching themselves
between us.

Since they were babies, my girls
have heard a whispered refrain as I
tuck them in each night: “Mommy
and Daddy will always love you, no
matter what.” Maybe that’s a little
sappy for some. So be it!

The day may come when my
girls won’t put a soft, delicate hand
in mine. Or when Adelaide will tell
me not to rub her back at bedtime.
I’ll respect that when it happens.
I’m not in any hurry, though, and I
hope they aren’t, either.

Expert Advice ~ Sara Dimerman says:

Everyone has a different feeling for the amount of physical space that is
comfortable between one another. Some people enjoy sitting next to
or in the same room as their family members, but begin to wriggle with
discomfort if you invade their personal space. Sometimes you can predict
at a very young age whether your child will be a cuddler or a little more
distant. However, even children who once were comfortable with being
very close to their parents when little, often pull back in the presence of
their peers as they grow. This pulling away is not typically a refl ection of
their feelings toward you, but simply a normal developmental change as
children work towards increased autonomy and independence. So try not
to take their actions personally. Respect your child’s need for increased
space and when you are allowed in, enjoy every single moment.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 7, and Adelaide, 4.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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