Missed connections: The importance of friendly contact

I have a confession to make: I’ve broken the rules. Nothing major; I didn’t orchestrate a mass indoor gathering or attempt an illicit choir rehearsal, but I went to the park to see a friend and her baby, and when I saw her, I hugged her. I couldn’t help it; we’ve known each other for nearly 25 years, and it was instinctive. It was the first time I’ve hugged someone who isn’t my son or my husband for over three months, and it felt really, really good to feel connected to her. It was a little while before either of us let go.

A couple of weeks ago, I added a guest post to the blog from a lady who visited us last year, when physical contact between members of different households was something that could happen without a second thought. In it, she mentions that when she spoke to one of our volunteers, she touched her hand. Another instinctive touch, the kind of thing you wouldn’t even have thought about before this year. The last time I touched hands with someone who doesn’t live with me, we both jumped back as though we’d given each other an electric shock. How long will it be before we can do that so casually again?

I’ve always considered myself quite a tactile person with my close friends and family. I like giving and receiving hugs. I adore hugging my son, especially now he reciprocates and even asks for cuddles, which I’m only too happy to give. I love it when he snuggles onto my knee while we’re watching tv, or when he takes my hand. But the fact that my son seems to see me not only as a dispenser of hugs and the almighty mistress of the Paw Patrol wand – sorry, I mean “person who knows where the remote control is” – but also as a human climbing frame, punching bag, and target, has meant that my attitude towards being touched since I became a mum is now a little bit more complicated.

I think it’s because it’s all on his terms. I resent feeling like my primary function is to meet the needs and absorb the blows of a little person who is entirely dependent on me and who doesn’t understand how exhausting that is or why I might not want to be clambered all over like a piece of soft play equipment. The feeling was, perhaps unsurprisingly, most intense when I was breastfeeding, when I felt so in demand that on bad days any additional contact could make me feel cagey and unsettled. There was a large part of me that was very relieved to be able to stop and regain some autonomy. Then about a year ago, my son went through a short-lived biting phase, which made me tense up every time I saw him coming towards me. I hated feeling like that, but I couldn’t help it: it’s a bit difficult to feel unalloyed joy at the sight of someone when they have a penchant for taking a chunk out of your leg. Currently, my son is two and a half and seems to be going through a phase we shall call Experimenting With Violence. This seems to be within the spectrum of normal toddler behaviour rather than a reason to seek further help, though I have been doing a bit of frantic Googling to try to assess what precisely is a “normal” level of violence for a kid this age; nevertheless, I’m hoping this one is going to be over fairly soon too. All the advice I’ve seen recommends not losing it yourself, but I defy anyone to remain calm after they’ve received an electric toothbrush to the head. I mean, if this was happening in a workplace, I’d have reported him long ago and it would have been sorted out immediately. Unfortunately, my family doesn’t seem to have a very robust HR department, so my only option seems to be to attempt to guide him towards more respectful interpersonal behaviour and to reach a state of serenity where I become one with the toothbrush. Perhaps I need to start practising tai chi. Or dodging.

So, although my life definitely hasn’t lacked for physical contact recently, it was wonderful to see my friend and experience an interaction where neither party demanded a biscuit afterwards or tried to headbutt the other. I won’t pretend it was enough to make up for all the missed connections of the past few months, but it meant so much to be able to share that moment, to feel slightly more human again. Maybe next time we’ll get really daring and hug twice.

For anyone missing the feeling of connection with other mums, we’re still here even though we can’t meet in person. You can listen to our podcast, find us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram to connect with us.

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