Many children during their first months at home have times of resisting affection or outright rejecting their parent’s touch. Last week one of my daughters had a couple of cranky days, and I found myself hesitating to reach out to her for fear that she would stiffen or reject me. Even a pat on the back or an arm over the shoulder felt risky.
Especially with an older child it can be tempting to give them some ’space’. But I realized after a day or so that my drawing back left her feeling even more alienated from me. No, kids sometimes don’t want a parent’s touch when they’re feeling cranky. And, yes, it can hurt your heart as a parent to have your touch rebuffed.
And yet, touch is a powerful tool for parents, and avoiding it has the potential to deepen the divide in the long run. One evening I told my husband how I was feeling about her rejection, but even as I talked to him I realized what I had to do. I had to move past my fear of rejection and hug her anyway. Yes, even if she stiffened up. Even if she huffed away. Even if my touch was like poison to her.
Because in the long run, the connection is what our kids need. When we consistently offer love, we show our kids how we feel about them, in a way that is louder than words. Sometimes as adoptive parents that means we have to be the grown-up and risk the rejection, and feel the pain — because the hugs are what our children need, whether they know it or not. Sometimes kids resist taking their medicine too, but we as parents have to be confident enough with our choices to persevere past their resistance and give them what they need.
The next day when I saw a pout coming on, I plopped next to my daughter on the couch, hip to hip, and threatened her with a tickle session. She turned her head away at first, but soon I saw her cheek curve into a smile, and pretty soon she was lounged in the crook of my arm with her legs draped across mine, chattering away. If I’d taken that pout at face value and avoided her, I would have missed that moment. But by putting myself out there, risking being hurt, we ended up with some sweet moments.
Some other approaches have not gone as well. Sometimes she rejects me truly, and I can’t get past her wall for a while. But even my reaching out shows her that I care. And so I will keep reaching out. Because that is what our kids need, whether they know it or not.