There are things you take for granted, as a mother. Sure, much of motherhood is being taken advantage of – you’re basically a food source, a chauffeur, a referee and a human Kleenex – but there are also hidden advantages. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately as I watch my husband with our two kids, a son and daughter.
The love my husband and I have for our children is unconditional. They make us batshit crazy, but we love them more than anything and tell them as much. We would both be considered affectionate parents, hugging and kissing our kids throughout the day. My husband tells each child that he loves them before leaving for work, and I do the same when I drop them off at school. There are cuddles at bedtime, kisses for scraped knees, and general expressions of affection around the house. Pretty normal family stuff, right?
So why is it, then, that I feel like I hold subtle privilege over my husband?
It’s because when I see my adult friends and relatives with their parents, there are noticeable differences in how they interact with their mothers versus with their fathers. Typically, I see people showing affection to their mothers, assuming there is a healthy relationship there. It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female – they’ll hug and kiss their mom, say ‘I love you’ out loud, and continue along the path laid out in childhood. Mothers are sacred, and while there may be some rolled eyes in the teenage years, most people will offer (or at least accept) a hug from their mom.
And then there are dads. In some families, dads exchange hugs and kisses with their adult children, regardless of gender. My family is like this – the men hug and kiss as much as the women do, across generations and with little exception.
But more often, I see a divide. An adult daughter will greet her dad with a hug or a kiss, but the son goes in with a handshake, or that awkward half-handshake, half-shoulder tap thing that replaces hugging at some point during puberty. At some point, the hug disappears – but only for dad.
My husband comes from a British family background. He and his father don’t hug, though they see each other regularly and have a good relationship. They shake hands or simply say hello, and I’ve always found it completely baffling. “WHY DON’T YOU HUG??” I demanded, early on in our relationship. “I don’t know…” he replied, unconcerned. “We just don’t?”
(It’s definitely a gender thing, because my sister-in-law and I both hug his dad, and my husband hugs his mom. I don’t know when the hugs stopped, or who initiated the first handshake. But whatever. They’re all fine with it, so I let them live their lives and go on silently judging.)
As you can imagine, my husband experienced a bit of culture shock when he met (and eventually joined) my family of man-on-man huggers and kissers. This was particularly evident when my tall uncle leaned over to peck my not-so-tall husband on the cheek and missed, accidentally planting a kiss on the side of his neck. It’s been almost ten years, and he still references “the neck kissing”. Truthfully, he’s grown accustomed to all of this affection, including warm hugs from an array of grown men that he didn’t meet until he was in his twenties. You’re welcome, my love.
So my husband’s a hugger now, and says he’ll hug both of our kids for as long as he lives. But I still feel privilege. I know deep down that my son will always, always hug me. I fully expect to be kissing him on the cheek when he’s a teenager or a grown man, right up until the day I die. I’m his mother. He’s my baby. I don’t want to be the creepy old lady from the Robert Munsch books who drives across town to cradle her adult son while he sleeps, but I would be devastated if either of my children started shaking my hand. GIVE ME A DAMN HUG! I’m your mother, and OUR LOVE IS FOREVER, like in the book! Just less creepy, and without any midnight break-and-enters.
The other day, my son was playing a game with my husband while I hung out nearby. They were cracking up about something that involved sabre tooth tigers (I don’t know, it’s their thing) and my son kept throwing himself into my husband’s arms, laughing hysterically. “You have the best daddy ever, don’t you?” I asked him. My son nodded and wrapped his arms around my husband’s neck. “Dadddddddyyyyy,” he yelled, still in sabre-tooth-mode. “I love you!”
And then he basically kicked my husband in the throat, but you know…the sentiment was there, and so was the hug.
I hope it always is.