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Seven Words From A Distant Relative Left My Daughter Feeling Uncomfortable

Christmas -- the time of year where family are brought together from far and wide to celebrate the festive season.

A time that often includes the very distant relatives and ones reminiscent of Cousin Eddie from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (read: cringe worthy and strange).

For me, Christmas started early with an impromptu visit a few weeks ago from some relatives from interstate. In fact, I found myself in the midst of an early Griswold Christmas.

That's because one of these relatives is like my family’s very own Cousin Eddie, let’s call him Bob*. He is a middle aged man who my family rarely see and who my two young daughters have probably only ever met a handful of times.

Shona with her two daughters. Image: Supplied

Bob is an ‘interesting’ individual, even for those who know him well. With a distinctive look, manner and even sound, he is definitely one to see in small doses and one you most definitely need to prepare yourself for.

Upon entry to our house Bob, shook my husband’s hand, hugged me then turned to my two daughters (seven and five) and said, “Come on, give old Bob a hug.”

While my eldest obliged, although somewhat hesitantly, my youngest, Milla looked at me with an expression that suggested hugging Bob was the last thing in the world that she wanted to do.

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You see, Milla isn’t really a hugger, even at the best of times. So when a man, practically a stranger (at least in her eyes) and definitely strange (sorry Bob- you, know it’s true though), tells her to hug him, the answer is always going to be firm no.

“Milla doesn’t really like hugs,” I tried to explain to him at the time. But unfortunately this didn’t cut it as a satisfactory explanation.

“Oh don’t be silly, everybody loves a good hug. Now come over here and give me a big cuddle,” he responded, looking at by this stage, my wide eyed and fearful pre-schooler.

Shona's two daughters. Image: Supplied

When it was obvious, even now to him, that this wasn’t going to work, Bob proceeded to approach Milla to hug her himself and that was when she physically hid behind me.

At this point Bob’s wife thankfully intercepted and told him to leave it and I am grateful that she did. Although I wanted to make my distant relatives feel welcome, I also wasn’t willing to make my daughter partake in a form of affection she wasn’t comfortable with, particularly with someone she doesn’t really know.

As her mother I believe it’s my responsibility to protect her and respect her feelings as much as possible and if hugging someone makes her uncomfortable, then she doesn’t have to do it.

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With Christmas coming, often the prime time for forced interaction and affection between family that you often only see once a year, I totally get it. It can be awkward, uncomfortable and with those Randy like relatives, downright scary for a child (well, sometimes even adults).

As silly as it may sound to some, I fully believe that giving consent, for an interaction like this, even for a young child is important. I see no benefit in pushing them into hugging someone they don’t feel comfortable hugging but I can see the potential for a lot of damage.

While I know that 99 per cent of people mean well by their offer or request, even their demand of a hug, like anything, this feeling is not always reciprocated. Being mindful of that, especially for those from perhaps older generations, it can often be a foreign concept to grapple with.

Shona with her youngest daughter. Image: Supplied

But despite this difficulty, it shouldn’t just be ignored or accepted because it might create an awkward conversation while enjoying a pre-Christmas lunch beverage.

The reality is, with a plethora of other suitable greetings at people’s disposal -- high fives, a handshake (like my husband gets), a wave, perhaps even the blow of a kiss, there are many ways an uncomfortable hugger can greet or farewell someone that they don’t want to actually hug. On the flip side there are many ways those who would like a hug can instead receive a greeting.

So this Christmas when our family home is inundated with family friends popping in to wish Merry Christmas and family arriving to spend the day, my eldest will no doubt hug everyone who appears at the front door, while my youngest will deal out the high fives.

And that is completely okay.

* Names have been changed to maintain privacy.

Featured image: Supplied