Why I didn’t let my mother hug me

It looks as though he’s holding the world, my 18-month-boy in his bed, the way his arms stretch out, and he’s asleep. And I’ve never seen anyone so vulnerable. The way he trusts, lying so extended in his blue blanket and shampoo-hair and I think of how I would curl up tight around the bones, feeling each of them before I fell asleep then hugging myself tight so the world, so my parents, couldn’t touch me.

At what point do our children go from believing in love to believing in hate? At what point do they curl into a fetus position and try to stop the world from getting in?

Try as we might we cannot stop the world, and it will get in, and no matter how we’ve raised our children to see themselves as souls with skin, their skin will get hurt, and their souls, too.

I wanted my mum to hug me but I wouldn’t let her, because letting her would mean feeling again, and I couldn’t afford to. My world was too easily shattered, my soul, too soft, and so I’d stopped eating to stop feeling, to barricade my soul from the beauty and the ugly of a world I couldn’t predict.

Food was something I could control. And in spite of being told I was beautifully and wonderfully made, I didn’t feel beautiful. I didn’t feel wonderful. My parents, try as they could, didn’t speak my love language, and so, I stopped speaking theirs. I wanted to punish them for letting me down. I wanted to hurt them because they were the closest thing to heaven that I knew of, and it had left me wanting.

Family can be a kind of heaven on earth. A child looks to his parents for reassurance that goodness exists. A parent can best show this through grace. Through the daily sacrifice of living Christ on cross. Through extravagant love, and enormous hugs, and grace. But no parent is perfect, and no eating disorder is the fault of a parent. Because evil exists, no matter how good and loving and holy a home.

Because family is seen as this “safe haven,” when evil does intervene, the child lashes out at the people he thought he could trust. When abuse happens, and a mother or father wasn’t able to stop it, the child lashes out. When a bully picks on a child at school, that child will lash out. Because home is where the heart is, and when the heart feels threatened, so does home.

And when the one place where a child can lay stretched out, asleep, becomes threatened, there’s no where else to go. And so a child turns inward, erecting a fortress, because that’s all he/she has left. The safety found in one’s own arms. Hence, the fetus position. The curling into oneself, and not letting anyone else in.

But some nights my mum would sneak into my room and if she thought I was truly asleep, she’d crawl into bed beside me, and hold me, and those were good nights. Because I knew, deep down, she was trying her hardest. I knew it wasn’t her fault the world was awful. And because all I wanted, deep down, was to be loved.

*For videos and discussion questions on how to walk in healing, please visit here.


18 thoughts on “Why I didn’t let my mother hug me

  1. this is so, so beautiful, emily.

    i stopped letting my dad hugging me when i was in high school. it was my way of punishing him for …well, mostly for abusing himself… which, in turn, abused his family.

    and then, healing. years and years of my own story and compensating for his downfalls (and pitfalls) and my own recovery and healing.

    and now i remember the last time i hugged him.

    and it would be the last time i would see him before he went beyond the veil.

    thank you for this remembrance.


    • this thing about your father abusing himself, i understand it, for i saw my father doing the same thing. he didn’t let himself enjoy life. he was always a martyr. and so he made the rest of us suffer too. i’m so grateful for the healing you’re going through and so sorry you lost your father, friend… it puts everything in perspective, this fact of losing loved ones… thank you for sharing and for walking with me on this journey. xo

  2. beautiful. This is so well said “And when the one place where a child can lay stretched out, asleep, becomes threatened, there’s no where else to go..” It’s amazing the lengths we will go as children to attempt to cope or protect ourselves…desperate to control something.

  3. fault. we search for it in all tragedies, disorders, addictions. like knowing will help somehow. but knowing doesn’t change it. and eventually we see,if we look hard enough, that it all goes back to th efact that we are fallen. only one fix for that.

    and i’m working on a guest post. i just don’t like it yet.

  4. I used to think if I did all the right things when my kids were little they would be ok when they got older. I told them about Jesus, told them I loved them, I would stay up and listen to them talk even when all I wanted to do is go to bed..I tried so hard to do it right…my kids won’t be like so and so or act like that. Then they became teenagers with ideas and feelings that were so complex. Anything I said or did seem to be the wrong thing. Then evil came in and took my daughters laughter and hugs away. How could that happen, I did “all” the right things. Maybe I didn’t love her enough for her to feel secure or maybe she didn’t think I loved her enough. I have learned through this experience that it wasn’t what I did or didn’t do but still I wonder if I said or did something just a little different she would of not experience this evil.

    • i’m going to write about this in the next post, my dear laurie, but i can tell you that no matter how much you love on your children, they will encounter evil at some point… we can’t keep them from that. but when they do encounter the darkness, we can walk with them through it. not try to fix them, necessarily, just walk with them. let them experience the darkness, and as we do, we pray, and we wait for them to long for the light again. i remember always wishing my mum would just come into my bedroom and ask me what was wrong. just listen to me. she sent me to a counselor, but she herself wasn’t able to walk through the darkness personally with me.

    • I’m adding onto what Emily said, I hope. I understand your desire to protect your babies, and shelter them from te hurt of this world. We take that and we carry it, wanting to be their hero, and be their bridge to God. And though we love them the best we can, we find that our being the bridge is the only thing separating them from Him. This is their walk with Him, and they have a purposes life. Some of which will be aches and pains and brokeness. If we were perfect and did it all right, where would their need for a savior be? Lost in us. It’s so hard to let go of the illusion of control and the sense of responsibility to let them walk in Him.

  5. “And when the one place where a child can lay stretched out, asleep, becomes threatened, there’s no where else to go. And so a child turns inward, erecting a fortress, because that’s all he/she has left.”

    I think our eating disorders are like our friends. Something we can turn to when we feel no one else will listen. The above quotation spoke volumes to me. As a teenager, I think I restricted in a way to cry out. Someone notice my pain. And no one did. I managed to lose myself in life, and in transfering addiction to addiction, and now here I am. back with my old friend. Except this time it is because I feel out of control and lack trust, and live in fear. This is what I know. This is what is comforting.

    And it’s almost as if I’m safe now. And I can’t feel safe. Don’t know how to function in normal. And so I find my friend to cope with my life changes, even if they are good life changes. I need to explore this more. It’s just coming to my mind as I write. I am not totally comfortable in my life because I am working through so many issues with my past, but there is definitely a level of comfort that I am not accustomed to. So I think its for so many different reasons that we go there. How I ache to be whole.

    I want to leave you with a song that I find heartbreakingly touching.

  6. oh jaime, what a moving song… i’m so glad you shared this with me. and what you said about us letting our children need their savior… wow. you’re so right. it’s about letting them know loss, so they know what, in Christ, they gain… such a hard thing for a parent. i love your insights sister. i love how you’re healing and growing and i want this too: i want to be whole. i think we can be. i believe God can fully heal us. let’s believe this together. xo

  7. I didn’t feel any different when I was little, but to ‘stop feeling’, I built myself my own little world of books, trees and my instruments. That’s how I went numb and eventually I shut everybody else out until I was in my mid- twenties.
    Thank you for sharing your story, Emily. *hugs*

  8. You’re an amazing writer. I love this piece. I’ve read this four time tonight just to try and fully understand this. You’re writing is beautiful. SO much soul. Don’t ask me how I came along this piece, but I’m happy I did.

    God bless you. AND Thank you. =D

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