We frequently hear that one of the best things we can do for our children is to nurture our marriages. When kids feel sure that their parents have an exclusive, loving relationship, it can anchor them with feelings of security and belonging. Healthy communication is certainly a part of this, as is mutual respect, but physical affection speaks volumes as well. We all know that couples naturally have differing levels of comfort with public displays of affection in general, but do the rules change when your children are around? How much PDA is OK in front of your kids?
Southern California-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Bette Alkazian strongly believes that it is good and healthy for children to see their parents being physically affectionate. She tells Romper, "Public displays of affection are very important for kids to witness. Knowing that their parents love each other is the foundation of them feeling safe and secure and in a loving home."
But how do you determine how much is too much? Alkazian suggests that the answer lies in the distinction between mere affection and sexual behavior. "When PDA crosses the line from affection into a more sexual nature, that is where kids become uncomfortable and it is no longer appropriate."
The argument could be made that what is considered sexual by one person may not be by another. Still, a healthy dose of common sense wouldn't be amiss here: If your actions are starting to make you ready to head to the bedroom, it's probably time to knock it off. Remember that sexual expression can be not only confusing or uncomfortable for young children, but can even actually be scary for them.
"Asking for private time is appropriate, affection is appropriate, but no foreplay, no blatant sexy stuff in front of the kids," Alkazian advises. "Keeping it private also models for kids that a monogamous sexual relationship should be kept between the two participants."
Speaking of modeling appropriate sexuality, as our kids age do the rules of engagement change? Most of us are aware that teenagers tend to be more quickly repulsed by their parents' PDA than preschoolers. Should we cool it off out of respect for their delicate sensibilities, or do the benefits continue to outweigh their protests?
"As kids get into their teens, it’s OK for them to know that their parents are attracted to each other (hopefully they still are) and that they have a healthy sexual relationship. Seeing it is another thing," Alkazian notes.
Today Parents contributor Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, reminded parents that, "Since kids take their relationship cues from us, avoid anything you wouldn’t want your teenager doing with his girlfriend. Keep anything sexual — whether verbal or physical — private."
But don't let the fear of going overboard keep you from showing affection. McCready maintained that, "Home is the best place for your kids to learn what a loving relationship looks like — and hugs and kisses are a big part of that, even for parents. And remember that even though your kids might pretend to gag when they see you and your spouse kiss, deep down it makes them feel more secure. When Mom and Dad are happy together, it creates a happier family."
So the next time you feel the urge to pull your spouse close for a long hug or kiss, don't hesitate to act on it, even when your children are present. As long as you keep your affections rated G, the kids will likely grow up with fond memories of loving parents in a secure home. Even if they fake gag about it.
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