I Stopped Hugging My Son (the doorway of our need)

He wasn’t quite three when we told him we were expecting twins.  I still carried him on my hip into the daycare he attended twice a week; I hung his coat and put on his shoes and treated him like the baby he wasn’t until I found out the twins were coming.  Then I changed course, and quickly, encouraging him to do for himself what I’d done for so long both to foster independence and because I could no longer do them.

At almost three he shed his soft toddler curves and grew into the gangly, boyish body of a preschooler.  My little boy who’d been so snugly and sweet was suddenly all corners and sharp edges.  When I sat on the couch the twins’ two bodies wrapped tight in mine jutted out in front of me like a dangerously exposed beach ball, ready to pop at the slightest pressure.  After one too many leaping, lunging hugs from my son with knees and elbows knocking, I learned to lean forward setting my arms like a protective scaffolding that surrounded my womb.  
I had to stop lifting him for the last two-thirds of the pregnancy and my lap slowly disappeared, vanishing inch by inch with each passing month.  He struggled to find a way to be near me and eventually took to perching on my shoulders while I read, mussing my hair and wrapping his little arms and legs around my neck in his desperate need to find a some part of me to call his own.
After the birth my stomach shrank back, but my arms and hands were perpetually full and my lap too as I sat nursing two for hours and days and weeks on end.  Whether the hormones were to blame or the sheer difficulty of managing two flailing bodies, I simply couldn’t bear to have my son sitting on the couch with me as I nursed.  I couldn’t stand the bouncing, jouncing presence, couldn’t handle one more person touching me.  The further away he sat, the better, and I was relieved when he took to watching me from a chair on the other side of the room, keeping up a constant stream of chatter – anything to stay connected. 
All of that is past now, my arms are more often empty as the twins are toddling along, but it occurred to me the other day that the distance between my son and I remains. 
I was standing in the kitchen, feeling lonely and blue, needing a hug, when I saw my son, so tall and thin, standing on a chair at the dining room table.  My own need for a hug awakened me to the fact that I had, at some point along the way, stopped hugging him. 
Oh, I hugged him at bedtime and coming and going on the days I left the house, but I’d stopped randomly grabbing him and wrapping him in an embrace, stopped seeing him as a potential source of affection, stopped feeding his body with the food of physical touch.

I crossed the room immediately and asked for a hug and he gave it, wrapping those spindly arms around me and holding tight.  I told him I needed a hug and in so doing I affirmed his need too, that had gone unmet for so long.
Since then I’ve noticed a change in him.  He snuggles up beside me again while I’m reading, twining his little arm through mine, and he dares to fight the twins, those territorial little beasts, for lap-space which causes no end of fighting. 

I hug him more now, every time I think of it, and I’m noticing he lets me hug him when he gets hurts whereas, for a long time, he would just run off to his room. 
It’s such a terrible thing for a mother to say, isn’t it, “I stopped hugging my son.”  I think of the little ways we starve ourselves and each other and the many countless ways we can be fed – physically, spiritually, emotionally – and I pray for the grace of awareness that I might not withhold that which I have to give.  
I’m grateful for the way my own need awakened me to his.  
I'm grateful, too, for this season of Lent that so deftly peels back the layers of comfort and compulsion that often hide our deepest needs.  For needs are a doorway, always, an invitation into deeper relationship with ourselves and others and God. 
May our longing, uncovered, awaken in us desire and may we have the grace to bend low, entering through desire's arched doorway into the deepest parts of our souls where the spirit of God dwells.   

This post is shared with PlayDates With God and Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday and A Dare to Love Yourself.


  1. My 7 yo has also had to wait for the needs of his two younger siblings to be met first. He doesn't doesn't go away quietly he shows it in other ways. Like you, I've been trying to go to him more instead of waiting for his approach but it's scary sometimes how busy we get and how many times I've heard myself ask him to wait a little more. He is such a sweet soul. I hate to think of his love that I have let spill to the floor while I've been shuffling others and things. I'm glad I've snapped out of it before he stopped offering.

    I seem to have accidentally started blogging myself this year. I found your site in December. I appreciate your thoughts and the way that you put them into words. I've referenced 2 of yours in my own. And I go back and re-read. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Reggie, I'll have to check out your blog! Yes, in many ways I'm grateful that my son is a more demanding type, he's kinda had to be. My daughter, who's the oldest, kinda just fades into the background, so I have to be careful to seek her out too. I don't feel judgment toward myself for what happened, it simply was what I had to offer during that stressful time, but I'm glad things have settled out a little and that I have more to offer him now.
      Thanks so much for commenting:) and blessings on your writing journey.

    2. Hey, drop me a link to your blog, I'd love to visit.

    3. It's funny reading my own comments later. The way that I posted "snapped out of it". I don't think that there was much that I could do differently either. -But I do still sometimes struggle with feeling guilty or wondering if I give them enough. It comes and goes and I am grateful for the awareness and second chances. :)

      Anyway, right now I am on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/FaithUnfolding
      Many Blessings

  2. these revelations are shocking, aren't they? i have them, too. all the time. your transparency and struggle and confession -- all that this post is -- is such a balm. feels like permission toward ruthless honesty for me in my doorways of need. and like i've got a friend who cries the ugly, brave cry with me.
    thanks for this. leaving blessed.

  3. oh friend. i love your honesty here. and how you saw him, needing you.

    1. Yes, Emily, there are times when "seeing" is a miracle in and of itself. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Kelly,

    Oh! This hurts... I ache for your son in this and want him to be hugged too. Aiye! It makes me want to go hug all my kids too. Thanks for your honesty here. It stirs in me too.

    Nice to meet you. I'm hopping over from Emily's link up.

    Jennifer Dougan

    1. Thanks for stopping by Emily. I enjoyed the link-up, it's kinda nice to be part of a smaller one, seems a little easier to keep the names and faces straight!

  5. I had a similar experience with my 3rd daughter. I got pregnant when she was just 4 months old, and I felt the need throughout the next 9 months to distance her from me so that I could focus on the next baby. I had also just started grad school. She weaned herself at 12 months, preferring her Nuk.

    God, in His amazing and mysterious Grace, allowed her to become deathly ill at age 3 with a brain infection. She regressed to infancy, and even began nursing again. She has since healed (mostly, although some special needs persist), but that return to her babyhood healed the wounds between us. She is now my most avid cuddler where once she avoided me, the anger emanating from her over my many pushes away. I am so thankful that God healed what I could not.

    Thanks for your bravery in telling this story. His redemption is everywhere we look, isn't it?

    1. Wow! That's amazing. Yes, that's how it is so often, God redeeming, healing the things we cannot (which are MOST things!) and all we need to do is lean in to the grace of it all. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  6. Oh, this nearly had me in tears. My youngest was born when our big boy was only two and he seemed so grown-up. when I look at pictures now, I see how much of a baby he still was. He went through a no-hugging stage in elementary but I'm grateful that we have come back around to it again, even though he's taller than I now. Lovely, Kelly.