It’s a familiar outcry in our home, uttered at various times and in various locations. It’s usually used by the younger set of kids now but has been part of the repertoire from early on in our parenting experience. It goes a little something like this:
“Ewwww!!!!! Gross!!!!! Look out~~they’re kissing again!!!”
I kiss my husband. And my husband kisses me. A lot. In front of the kids. We hold hands. We embrace. We are very affectionate.
I don’t know if it’s because we starting having children so early in our marriage and were still something of the honeymooners when our oldest kids were little. Or maybe Mike and I just have some weird threshold for blocking out the chaos in our house and grabbing a little romance in the moment. But for whatever reason, our kids have had to grow up with a lot of parental PDA going on.
One of the great things about having such an age span of kids is that whatever we test drove on the older kids, we can now do some research on and see if we still want to parent that way with the younger kids. It’s sort of a modification process that plays out in real time. We’ll ask the older kids what we could have done better, what worked, what didn’t, what they would have changed. Their feedback is great, getting their perspective and experience, now that they are young adults. We laugh about the discipline ideas that fell flat, find out about the inner dialogue when Mike or I delivered what we thought was a powerful piece of parenting preaching (only to find that the receiver was a million miles away in their own mind) and learn which kid was actually responsible for eating up the stash of hidden chocolate. And our young adult kids give us powerful insight into what it was like for them growing up in our household.
On one item, they all agree.
Our older kids tell us that our public practice of romance was very, very good for them. They tell us that it demonstrated for them that affection and physical connection ARE the provenance of marriage. They tell us it made them more comfortable to come to us with their questions about sex and babies and dating and relationships, since it was already a culture present in our home. They tell us that knowing romance was a present facet in our marriage helped them see its place in a committed adult relationship. For too many teens, the only place they see physical affection is in films and between their teen friends. Adults in marriage relationships aren’t going to be seen as having much to add to the conversation if they themselves seem immune to the joy of a long kiss in the kitchen, never hold hands with their spouse, never get ‘caught’ in an embrace. If we want our kids to make us the first people they come to for information, if we want to be seen as ‘experts in the field’, we have to demonstrate ourselves as having a healthy relationship. If we only present ourselves in the view of our children as some kind of monastic friendship, we have missed a crucial opportunity.
“Well,” some might say, “I’m not comfortable with public displays of affection. I think all affection should be private…”
Respectfully…get over it. Our kids need us to show them the way. When we make affection and romance and sex a forbidden subject in our homes, only awkwardly discussed in preparation for a daughter’s or a son’s looming puberty, we have already in our silence made a huge statement. That statement is that mom and dad are uncomfortable, uninformed, and uptight. And when you go looking for information, the uncomfortable, uninformed and uptight are not going to be your go-to. Respectfully.
I’m not talking about being flagrant with displays that show skin, show behavior that would make a PG-13 movie blush. What I am talking about is making sure that the physical contact displayed between you and your spouse is different, is reserved only for them, is differentiated in its tone from the cuddles and kisses you give your kids. I’m talking about the meaningful looks and the inside jokes and the hand on the waist. Give your kids a reason to tease you. Let them ‘catch’ you sometimes. Give your kids a reason to occasionally bleat, “Ewwwwwww!!!!” and make gagging noises.
Because, later, after they get over being grossed out, they will thank you.