by | Nov 25, 2023 | Uncategorized

Confessions of a Recovering Ambush Serial Hugger

I was a serial hugger for decades. It wasn’t the hugging per se, that was the offence, but the ambush that typically came with it. My urge to hug came out with my family, friends, neighbours, heck, even my daughter’s super supportive math teacher.

I didn’t know I had a problem until a five year-old pointed it out. Elinor, my cousin’s daughter, walked into a family dinner, pointed at me across the patio before I could make a move, and shouted, “I don’t want to hug you, Auntie Beth!”


I jokingly replied that I didn’t want to hug her either. That was a complete lie. Elinor is SO huggable. Thankfully her younger brother toddled over and gave me a squishy squeeze.

Over the course of the next few days, I pieced together my emotions. I felt rejected. I felt guilty about how I responded. And, I was mad at myself for not doing better in the first place. I had no recollection of forcing a hug, and hopefully, I hadn’t. However, I had no recollection of ever asking her for a hug, either.

In fact, at that time, I don’t think I’d ever asked anyone if I could hug them. I was a serial ambush hugger and didn’t even know it. Besides Elinor, and likely the super supportive math teacher, I wondered who else I had offended, grossed out, surprised or made uncomfortable by my heedless hugging.

Turns out I hadn’t given much thought to consent in certain other avenues, either. My husband reminded me that our daughter’s Hallowe’en candy stash has boundaries, too. I explained that there were literally five pounds of candy in her room and that I had chocolate cravings mid-afternoon. He gave me his patented eyebrow raise.

I hate it when he’s right.

Perhaps my mediocre modelling of consent helps explain why my daughters borrow each other’s hoodies without asking first, get too touchy with each other and negotiate endlessly with me when I give them the answer they don’t want to hear.

Regular conversations about what a true ‘yes’ sounds like are happening more often in my home–for the benefit of the young and as well as those with hugging urges and chocolate cravings. We’ve come to agree that:

  • ‘Maybe’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’.
  • ‘I don’t know’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’.
  • ‘Not today’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’ tomorrow.
  • ‘Your sister isn’t home to ask’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’ until she returns.
  • ‘Mom is sleeping’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’ until she’s awake.

And ‘I don’t want to hug you!’ means just that, and don’t make anyone feel bad for saying so, Auntie Beth.

My generation wasn’t raised on regular discussions about consent and boundaries.

Today, videos of teachers letting children choose how they want to be greeted each morning
have gone viral. Fist pump. Wave. Smile. Personalized handshake. Dance. High five. Hip bump. Wink. Salute. Jazz hands. And of course, a hug.

I know what option I would have chosen.

Beth Elliott is a mother, children’s writer, and SEL supporter living in Ottawa, Ontario. Visit her at

This “Possible Greetings” graphic is available in the Building Community unit and the SEL Poster Pack.

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