My daughter had her big debut last week where she sang her very first Middle School choir solo in front of a crowd of about 300 parents and fellow students. She did a great job and I was blown away by the poise and confidence the kid showed. After her song, she stepped down off-stage and two or three of her closest friends came running at her screeching like only 13-year-old girls can do. That’s when it happened. Kid after kid went in for the hug. This seems to be about the age where the hug becomes the standard greeting amongst Team Double-X Chromosome.
As I watched from a few feet away, I focused in on my kid’s face as each gal pal went in for a squeeze. Each time the girl would go in for a genuinely excited embrace, my daughter would give her the full-body cold fish. Like a disinterested salmon, each friend was greeted with 80 pounds of nothing on the other side of the moment.
Now, I should say, my kids come from two parents whose family philosophy and up-bringing on “the hug” couldn’t be more different. My wife’s family, who are fantastic, plain and simple, are huggers. From parents to siblings to cousins to distant family friends, these people are firm subscribers to the physical greeting. You get a hug hello. You get a hug goodbye. And, in most cases, you get a kiss. It’s not optional. That’s how they operate and it’s 100% genuine.
My family…well…we’re word people. An affectionate goodbye means a 30 minute dialogue in the driveway versus the standard 20 minutes (dubbed “The Shaver Goodbye”). Sure, we’ll hug on special occasions, but more often than not a fist-pound will say everything that a hug could. But, if you do get a hug, it’s brief and always accompanied by the patented “Shaver Pat” from both parties. Most body-language and behavioral experts will tell you that the pat on the back during a hug means you’re trying to break up the hug. Let’s just say, they’re not wrong.
All that being said, we hug our kids. Always have. Always will. For as uncomfortable as it was and still is for me with other adults, I hug my kids multiple times a day with zero effort. I’m kind of a sappy emotional mess anyway, but my kids brought it out of me ten-fold. Hugs, kisses and “I Love You’s” are standard fare here. Yet, our girls got split right down the middle. Our youngest, we call her “The Love Valve” because her valve is always wide open. She gives the best hugs… always has. Even as a baby… the kid was a hugger. And because she’s freakishly strong, when she hugs you, you know you’ve been hugged. It just comes natural to her.
After the parade of prepubescent praise, I asked her about the experience.
“Dad… It’s not that I don’t think the hugs are nice. I just don’t like to be surprised. When I don’t know someone is going to hug me, I don’t expect it and it makes me nervous. They were coming out of nowhere. They’re like Hug Ninjas!”
“Well, you just have to remember that these people genuinely care about you. They’re super excited and they want to hug you to say congratulations. It’s a good thing. Plus, you’re 13… that’s kind of how kids are at this age. The hug is the 13-year old girl high-five. Maybe you should be proactive. Just expect the hug. Go in first. Surprise them before they can surprise you.”
“I like that. Then if they surprise me with a handshake, worst case scenario is I only have to do a handshake. This sounds like me.”
Though I found it hard to imagine teen girls going in for a firm handshake, the idea seemed to make her feel more comfortable. I congratulated her again on a great job on her solo and told her how proud I was of her today and always.
Then I went in for the hug.