Twenty seconds. According to Jill Lash’s research, that’s the time it takes to give the perfect hug. And as she’s the Free Mom Hugs Southeast Michigan chapter co-leader, she’s likely more qualified than most to know.
“I’ve read and they say 20 seconds is the perfect hug because [it affects] the chemicals in your brain and about developing trust and respect and all of these things,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s true but it sure feels like it.”
“A Lot Behind the Hug”
Free Mom Hugs is a nonprofit organization that encourages its members to provide affirming, emotional support by offering hugs, high-fives and occasionally linking those in need with resources specific to the problems they are facing. Resources can include providing food, clothing, a ride or even emergency housing. For the group, pride season is a busy time as it will be present across Michigan at Pride celebrations ranging from the Motor City to Cadillac. Lash has been in her current role co-leader since April and she said that she’s excited to kick off her first pride season with the group.
“It just felt so right to me. … I was always the mom that would be like, ‘Could you drive us to pride but not tell Johnny’s mom,’ or, ‘This friend is in trouble because of this, and we were always that family that kind of rescued everybody else,” Lash said. “So, when I saw that there was someone out there who was actually doing something about it and kids who are homeless or disowned or abused or whatever, I just knew that in the state that our world is in right now we just need love. If their parents won’t do it I’m going to have to.”
So Lash “jumped in with both feet” when she saw a Facebook ad for the group and contacted event organizers at Free Mom Hugs to get involved.
Now in 46 states, the organization is built on a foundation of active parents like Lash who felt that they needed to act to further LGBTQ equality. Free Mom Hugs was established by Sara Cunningham, a devout Christian Oklahoma woman who was forced to grapple with her religion when she found out her child was part of the LGBTQ community. Eventually reaching the conclusion that the LGBTQ community and Christianity are able not only to coexist but thrive together, Cunningham formed the organization as it exists today. When asked if she had a similar experience Lash said no because she isn’t religious, but she added that her work consistently reaffirms that she’s doing the right thing.
“I went to the mall and I happened to go when Jeffree Star was opening his store because I knew that [the LGBTQ community] was part of his demographic. I did have someone come up to me and I had a moment where they cried and it was very touching,” Lash said. “I’ve had a few like that where they weren’t at an official event, actually, it was just some kind of random moment with a stranger. And I think maybe that’s because at pride those things are expected, you are getting an outpouring of love.”
The Importance of Consent
Lash said that she didn’t expect to be asked for hugs more than she offers when she wears her Free Mom Hugs shirt or button, but she agrees to provide them just the same. When asked about the importance of consent in her efforts, Lash said that she always makes sure to follow the existing Free Mom Hugs guidelines to ensure that she’s not hugging someone who might be uncomfortable.
“Of course, if someone doesn’t want a hug I’ll ask, ‘Can I offer you a free mom hug or high-five?’ Because, sometimes, they don’t feel comfortable and I’ve had people who were OK with a high-five but they weren’t quite ready and they exchanged a few words,” Lash said. “Sometimes, if they seem awkward, I might do something cute like ask a silly mom question like, ‘Have you eaten today? Are you getting enough rest?’ Those kinds of things just to get a chuckle and sometimes, then they’ll hug you. You can see the thought process in their heads and for anybody missing that at home or anywhere.”
This process is also something she highly encourages potential huggers to look at incorporating in their efforts and viewing the official guidelines online.
“The most basic step is just to be a hugger and all that we ask is you read our event policy information on how to deal with consent and all these touchy subjects,” Lash said. “We have a list on how to do it with consent and respect and then represent us with a shirt or a button or something and go hug.”
And for interested fathers, Lash said there’s space for “Dad Hugs,” too. She added that Free Mom Hugs has only been expanding, with thousands of participants being added across the country on a regular basis, she hopes to expand her chapter’s involvement with Southeast Michigan’s community well past the summer Pride season.
“Come fall we really hope to educate and advocate for the community and work with some churches and schools and we’re going to start adult ally training soon in the area and have some workshops on gender expression and identity,” she said. “Because a lot of parents are saying, ‘I want to learn more.’ We are working so that once pride is over and school starts again, we can go out there and work with several youth groups that were trying to find the right fit and there’s a lot. Once we’re done hugging this summer we have a lot of plans.”
To find out more about Free Mom Hugs visit freemomhugs.org or check out the Michigan group’s Facebook page to see where they’ll be hosting events next.