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This summer, the internet went bonkers over a photo of a uniformed police officer bending down to kiss his 4-year-old daughter on the lips. How dare he? Right, Charlotte Reznick? Just a few weeks earlier, the child psychologist said that parents should avoid making lip-to-lip contact with their children, because it’s “too sexual.”
The mouth, she told the British newspaper The Sun, is “an erogenous zone” and that a kiss on the lips “can be stimulating” and cause confusion for children.
“If Mommy kisses Daddy on the mouth and vice-versa,” said Reznick, author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success, “what does that mean when I, a little girl or boy, kiss my parents on the mouth?”
Other child psychologists and lots of know-it-all parents were all too happy to jump up and begin shooting down Reznick’s theory. One of them claimed a kiss on the lips between parents and their kids is no more or less “confusing” than breastfeeding or a back rub. Parents started posting photos of themselves flouting Reznick’s admonishment.
But Reznick is right about one thing: The mouth is indeed an erogenous zone. Why is it okay to kiss some familiars on the lips but not others? Is there an age when parents should feel compelled to stop giving their kids smackers? Does the placement of the kiss matter? And why is it wrong for a married man to rub another woman’s feet? These are important questions, people!
You could be a child – like our son – and figure out that the way Mommy and Daddy kiss is a lot different from the way they kiss me.
In my large Italian-American family, I grew up kissing my parents on the lips but not my siblings. Because that would have been weird. And I turned out fantastically, the best person ever. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you, “Anthony Mariani is the best.” I still kiss my mom on the mouth, but I stopped lip-kissing my dad long before he died in 1994. I lip-kiss my oldest brother (10 years between us) but not my older bro (only 5 years), and I’ve kissed my older sister only on the cheeks. I suppose whether or not to lip-kiss depends not only on your security in your sexuality but also on your perceptions of how others feel about your sexual security. Or how you feel about how they feel about their sexuality. Or something.
For my wife and me, kissing our 5-year-old son on the lips just feels right, even though I don’t think my wife had any experience with intrafamilial lip-kissing as a child. (I’m too discreet to ask. I just have my suspicions.) Kissing our son is a great little pick-me-up. We lean down, our little man puckers up, and – smack – insta-cuteness. Nothing says love better than a kiss.
Affection comes in all colors and shapes. There are hugs, and then there are hugs. There are touches, and then there are touches. There are kisses, and then there are kisses. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to discern the difference. You could be a child – like our son – and figure out that the way Mommy and Daddy kiss is a lot different from the way they kiss me.
Would my son be less happy if Mommy and Daddy didn’t smooch him sometimes multiple times a day? Or maybe it’s too late to find out. Not kissing him now would create more problems than it would solve. The greater mystery is: Are there any parents out there taking Reznick’s advice seriously? Does anyone think kissing his or her kid on the lips is actually creepy? Most importantly, can anyone take these questions seriously in light of the current U.S. presidential election?
The mouth is indeed an erogenous zone. Why is it okay to kiss some familiars on the lips but not others?
I’ve had to pull back from mouth-to-mouth contact with my son. Something to do with my history of cold sores or something. According to my wife. But she hasn’t pulled back, thankfully. Watching them share that precious moment warms my heart like nothing I’ve ever seen. And I don’t want it to end. Knowing how attached our son is to us, I don’t think it ever will.
Affection, physical and emotional, might have been more important to us than to the average, traditional family. When we adopted Apollo about 3 years ago, he had spent the first several months of his life in an African orphanage, where he probably didn’t receive much affection, especially of the physical variety. From all that my wife and I had read about bonding, we knew we had to smother him with love. Infants who don’t receive adequate touch have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to all sorts of behavioral and cognitive problems. There’s no telling whether or not our approach has had any effect on him, but compared to the troubled children we’ve read about, Apollo is basically a von Trapp child. And we don’t mind that at all.
Anthony Mariani, editor of and art critic for the Fort Worth Weekly, a regular contributor to the Fatherly Forum, and a former freelancer for The Village Voice, Oxford American, and Paste magazine, recently finished writing a memoir that is obviously “too real, man!” (his words) for any U.S. publisher, reputable or otherwise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org