As the father to a twelve-year-old girl, it’s pretty easy to feel sorry for myself. After all, this is the age, right? That’s what they say. “This is the age.” The age of what? They don’t say. You’re just expected to know. The sad thing? You do.
I know it a lot of the time, but no more than I did the other day when I came across a piece of internet feel-goodery from the good folks at TikTok. It was a video entitled “This is what happens when you randomly hug members of your family.”
Oh boy, I thought as I rubbed my hands together. This should be good.
With sappy music playing in the background, I began the video and waited for the inevitable hitting to start. After all, that’s what Olivia does when I try to hug her. It’s not a violent outburst, but definitely a “don’t touch me” type of response. Part of me feels like this behavior is fairly new. Another part of me feels like it’s been like this forever.
Don’t get me wrong. We still hang out, watch shows together, tell jokes, and all that. Our relationship, while not as round-the-clock as it was a few years ago, is still just as strong. She trusts me and confides in me about things. In many ways, I’m lucky in that sense. The only thing that has been altered is the hug to hit ratio.
Sure, I sneak one in here and there, but it’s not like it used to be. Most times, she’s all amped up and riding an emotional preteen rollercoaster. The thought of letting me so much as put my arm around her can cause major meltdowns. The only one who she gives an occasional squeeze to is her little brother and even that is getting harder to come by.
So, I watched as this Ticker went from person to person in his house, lovingly wrapping his arms around each one. In every instance, they’d lower their gaze, put a hand on his arm, and respond with a look of affection.
And no one hit him.
Not one person.
Suddenly I felt terrible and, in all my Dadness, declared an edict, right then and there. I sent the video to my daughter with an accompanying text that said:
- Watch this. That’s how you should be. 😢 No more hitting. New rule.
I thought about it and, sadly, I started to question everything. Had I been wrong to allow her to push me away as she’s gotten older? I pictured her watching the video up in her room. What would her response be? Should a hug even be something I had to force?
A few hours later, I went upstairs and saw her sitting there. I made sure my message was received.
So, you got that? New rule? OK?
She looked completely confused and then, in typical twelve-year-old form, responded.
What? Oh, I didn’t watch it. Ah ha ha. What?
Half annoyed, half dejected, I told the tale of the online man who had been allowed access to family members without having his embrace met with fisticuffs. Then I declared the new huggable law of our land.
From now on, no more hitting or acting out. You allow hugs.
What came next could have destroyed me, if I let it.
Her face dropped. It was as if I told her she had to eat her puppy for dinner. It took a minute for me to process her expression and, had I let it, it could have left me crushed. To see your daughter’s look of horror over the thought of hugging you is like, well, seeing your daughter’s look of horror over the thought of hugging you.
But that’s when my Daddy-Sense kicked in. Something wasn’t right and I could feel. I don’t know how I got it, but I did.
Look, I’m not saying we have to spend the whole day hugging. That would be weird. I’m saying one hug. Maybe bedtime. That’s it.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
That’s when I realized that she was imagining a world where I was insisting on hugging her from morning to night. She had visions of me running into orchestra practice and insisting, “I’m sorry Mr. Music Teacher, my daughter needs to put this violin down and hug her father!” She saw me busting in on her facetime sessions to wrap my arms around her shoulders.
It was in that moment that I recognized the monumental difference in our thinking. Kids assume that adults don’t “get it”. They think we have unrealistic expectations and, in the absence of clear explanation, they always default us to the corniest level. Telling my daughter I wanted her to let me hug her seemed simple to me. To her, it sounded like a lifetime of Dad attached to her.
Left unchecked, that could have been somewhat catastrophic to our relationship. She could have responded with a terrified, “no!” I could have told her she was mean or being bratty. There could have been threats and punishments and silent treatments…all because of a pretty insane misunderstanding. It was a misunderstanding that could have happened so easily that I’m almost shocked it didn’t.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen and today, we’re on the same page. Before bed, I run up to her room, lean in, and hug her goodnight. On the first day, she let me.
On the second day, she did her usual flailing. So, leaned over with my arms outstretched, I whispered…
No, no, no. If you fight me, I up it to five hugs a day.
She relented. She even did the hand on the arm like that TikTok family.
Yeah, this might “be that age”. That doesn’t mean I have to surrender the ship and allow her to sail away. I’m not going to relent, but I’m also not going to force it. I’m going to compromise. One day, hopefully soon, things will even out again. When they do, I don’t want her memories of hugging her dad to be so far gone that it seems strange. I want it to be something she’s used to, even if it’s just once a day.