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PLEASE! Don't Make Your Kid Hug Me This Christmas

by Catherine Kenwell 5 months ago in children · updated 5 months ago
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I love your kids but I respect them even more

PLEASE! Don't Make Your Kid Hug Me This Christmas
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I don’t want to hug your kids. I don’t want to hug them at Christmas, or when I visit, or when we run into each other at the mall.

Don’t get me wrong. I love your kids. Well, some of them, anyway. But the only way I’m going to give your child a hug is if they come to me voluntarily, without cajoling, force, or ridicule.

Your children want to throw their little arms around my neck for a big bear squeeze? I’m all for it. But please, please, don’t force your kids into offering their precious gifts to adults they hardly know. And for the sake of your children’s mental health, if they hesitate or act out or say no, pay attention and let them be.

See, I was thrown to the wolves when I was a little girl. My parents thought it was polite for me to hug my aunts and uncles and grandparents. Every visit, as soon as my little overcoat and boots came off, I steeled myself to be hugged and kissed ad nauseum. Sure, I liked most of my adult relatives—in fact, some of them were really cool—but I dreaded the closeness and forced affection. I don’t remember when I learned to hate it, but I can tell you this: When I was no more than three years old, one of them took advantage of my silent compliance and held my wee hand on their privates. More than once. Because they knew I wouldn’t act out and my parents’ credo was that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. So who would I tell? I was a perfect target.

I held that fear and shame and confusion long into adulthood. In fact, for years I thought it had been my imagination, that it couldn’t possibly have taken place. Because I couldn’t imagine the person who declared love for me, expressed that I was the favorite, would break my trust and soul by doing such a horrible thing.

But then I discovered an old family photo. And the memories came flooding back. I had photographic proof. Did I feel vindicated? Heck no. I’d told no one—not one person—about what I recalled. The only thing I began to understand was how much that individual and those acts almost destroyed my life. It all started to make horrible, disgusting sense.

Since then, I've carried around the weight of abuse. Until my dad died earlier this year, I cringed every time he mentioned this person’s name and how much they had loved me. Because I was their favorite. And this person was legendary, held in high esteem. So yes, in my parents’ eyes, I should have felt proud that I received the attention and affection I did. Lucky me.

For years, I had this irrational fear of hurting small children. I was a quiet, compassionate, and responsible kid, and abuse never crossed my mind, but I had this strange hesitancy when it came to getting physically close to kids. I was anxious. I held back. I was afraid to even touch them. Trust me, I babysat and cared for babies and toddlers and kids, and today, I count several as friends. But as children, they terrified me, and I couldn’t understand why.

Now I know. I didn’t want to mimic the acts I’d buried so deep that I couldn’t even articulate them. That just left me anxious and confused. No wonder I was self-harming by the time I was in my preteens. Somehow, I felt it was ok to hurt myself. Even to myself, I was a perfect target.

Years of therapy helped. I learned the impact of the damage done, and how it affected my ability to trust. I've grown into a big hugger, too. But I'm still very wary in social situations. You wouldn't know it--I'm mostly calm, welcoming, loving, and even funny--but I am also hypervigilant, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.

Now, I’m going to take the holiday rules and regs one step further. The same things apply to chatting on the phone during the holidays.

If your kid doesn’t want to wish Aunt Clara or Grandpa or Cousin Brian a Merry Christmas, don’t hold your hand over the receiver and gesture to them to get their little asses to the phone.


My brother and I both have social anxiety and telephobia (fear of talking on the phone) and I venture to say that its origin is our parents’ ritual of forcing us to say hello to whomever was on the other end of the phone line. Back when I was a kid, phones were still the primary means of communication—there was no FaceTime, or Zoom, or texting or even the Internet. OK kids, there weren’t even personal computers when I was young. Yep, I’m prehistoric.

But we’d be dragged to the phone to say hello and Merry Christmas, and I felt incredibly uncomfortable speaking to a disembodied voice. Again, not that I didn’t like my relatives—I just didn’t have much to say as a kid, and here’s the irony: my parents always told us that children were to be seen and not heard, yet they forced us to talk on demand. One might assume that part of the hesitation was lack of practice in speaking up at all. How’s that for confusing?

The phone would be passed around to every family member in turn. Each of us had to say something, whether we had anything to say or not. We’d be cajoled and shamed and teased if we didn’t feel like saying hello. It was horrible. But I came up with a plan.

Whenever the phone rang at Christmas, I’d run to the bathroom. I figured, if I pretended that I had to have a big poop and stayed in there long enough, I’d avoid the telephobic terror that came creeping into my belly. But no, my mom or dad would stay on the line and wait for me to return. Of course, they’d laugh and explain to whomever that wow, I must have been having a big poop, but all was well, here I was, ready to perform. How humiliating.

Speak, girl, speak.

So during this holiday season, when I say lay off, I mean it. Kids aren’t puppets or playthings, and they shouldn’t be cajoled or shamed into being an object of affection. Don’t force them to perform. Please.

And please don’t even think of teasing them into hugging me. If I phone your house on Christmas (which I will likely never do because, see above!), if your child says no when asked if they want to say hi, that’s super cool with me. Don’t make a big deal of it.

In some ways, I’m grateful for COVID. I don’t have to hug unless it’s someone I like who is very close to me, and the threat of sloppy kisses has diminished with the wearing of masks. Yeah! Wear a mask! And don’t kiss me please!

Now, imagine if the threat of COVID could work over the phone: maybe this year, I'd be able to get through Christmas Day without having to run to the bathroom for a really big poop.


About the author

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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