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If it feels weird to have to force your kid to hug their relatives, there's a reason.

It's your little inner voice saying, 'There is another way.'

If it feels weird to have to force your kid to hug their relatives, there's a reason.

Lots of parents know this scenario.

The in-laws get in after long travels for the holidays, and the first thing they want when they walk in the door are hugs and kisses from their darling grandbabies.

Super sweet.


Except when the kids aren't feeling like freely giving affection. What happens next?

"Please don't make me give hugs!" Image by Capture Queen/Flickr.

We parents sometimes cave to the societal pressure to show off a kid we know to be loving and affectionate, even when they aren't particularly in a mood to be those things.

Sometimes in the moment during family get-togethers, we pressure them to show physical affection when they just aren't up to it. If you've been there before and had that nagging feeling afterward, it's OK to learn from that and do it differently next time.

The whole hugging-relatives thing can seem complicated, but I'm going to break it down. First, with some reasons why forcing our kids to be that person is a bad idea. Second, with why we get confused for a moment and think it's a good idea. And third, with some middle-ground solutions that balance diplomacy with your child's feelings.

1. It's a bad idea to force snuggly-wugglies that aren't genuine because:

To begin with, the bond between you and your child has got to be first and foremost.

Whether it's trusting you enough to come tell you mistakes that they've made or knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are on their side if someone ever violates their trust, it's crucial for your kids to never doubt your allegiance. So when you force Isabelle to hug people who she's telling you she doesn't feel like hugging, it kind of sends a subtle but lasting message that you care more about being on Team Grandma or Team New Stranger than being on Team Isabelle.

Additionally, forcing kids to give physical affection they aren't feeling tells them to ignore their own feelings to appease others.

A certain amount of rising to the occasion is a good skill to learn, but not at the expense of physical comfort and psychological well-being. While YOU may know that Grandma is harmless, it's less about the actual inherent risk and more about the practice of teaching your children that their boundaries matter and will be recognized. A child who learns early on that their "no" means something is an empowered child. It's not going to turn them into a spoiled brat just because they get to decide who they want to demonstrate physical affection with. There are other ways to raise a balanced child than insisting they give up bodily autonomy.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, reinforces this point in The Guardian:

"There are certain things we [should] make children do which is quite different. We make them brush their teeth, for example. That is quite different to forcing them to kiss an uncle they don't want to. It's about boundaries. And this blurring of boundaries [by forcing them to kiss someone they don't want to] can indeed blur their understanding of what is right and wrong, about their body belonging to them."

2. Why it seemed like a good idea at the time to push the kids to hug their family:

In the moment, when Granddad's feelings are hurt because his kiss got rejected, it can seem like a good idea to cajole your child into acquiescing.

We want the world to see our children in their best light, as we see them — the cuddly, adorable, and loving little creatures they can be. We want the world to see we've raised well-adjusted, outgoing, socially successful beings. We don't want family members to feel rejected or embarrassed. We don't want our kids thought of as brats. All of those feelings and competing objectives are real, but none of them trumps the facts that you are your child's teammate and they get to make the final call on what they do with their body. Those are still the most important things in such a situation.

It's always better when kids are giving hugs because they want to, anyway! Image by Brent Payne/Flickr.

3. It doesn't have to be a choice between making your kids hug people or letting them be rude.

There are plenty of other hug-diplomacy options in between.

  • Before big events and family functions, practice an age-appropriate alternate response with your child. Having a prepared talking point can be a lifesaver for a kid in an awkward position — you've just given them a tool for dealing with life AND you've cemented yourself unmistakably in their corner. You can teach 2-year-olds that it's OK to high-five instead of hug. You can teach 6-year-olds to say, "I've had a long day, let's just fist-bump." Teaching children not to be unkind is important, but it should always be their choice if they wish to go above the minimum kindness of acknowledgement. If they spontaneously decide they want to offer a hug, then great! But if not, they have a dignified "out" and the pressure is off.
  • You can prep family and friends before events if you talk to them. Let them know your little ragamuffin is not always up for hugs and kisses and not to take it personally if that's the case. It's not bad for adults to be reminded to be gracious and not put kids in uncomfortable situations, either.
  • Have a joke ready to ease the embarrassment if a situation gets fraught — as long as it doesn't make your child the punchline. "If we all were as cute and huggable as he is, we'd be running the other direction from everyone, too!"

The bottom line: Relax about it (which will help everyone else follow suit), and make sure your kid knows you have their back even as you work your role as chief manners-enforcer. If millions of parents did this, imagine the healthy boundary-setting skills of the next generation!

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."