One of the greatest joys of parenthood is smooching your kids as much as they will let you, isn't it? Some parents believe there's a right and wrong way to do that, though.
Recently, a photo of Victoria Beckham's kiss on her daughter's lips caused yet another battle of parenting styles, this time pitting non-lip parental kissing against lip smoochers. I was a little surprised by the vitriol, despite the shocked stares of strangers I've noticed when I kiss my own eight-year-old daughter on the lips. I had mistakenly assumed all parents kiss their children on the lips until the kids start pushing us away, but I was wrong.
Many parents, and even some psychology professionals, feel that lip-kissing is sexual and sends inappropriate messages to their kids. They worry it could create an assumption in children that it's okay to kiss anyone on the mouth.
It's ironic that in a world where children, especially girls, are sexualized by our culture and mass media in so many ways, kids being kissed on their mouths by a parent is causing such controversy.
Mom-of-two Andrea Traynor agrees. She has always kissed her son, 7, and daughter, 5, on the lips. "I liken kissing my kids on the lips to breastfeeding them as babies. It's an act of parental, not sexual, love from parent to child, and one that is nobody's business but ours," she asserts. "As long as my kids and I are both fine with it, it's really that simple. Frankly, I find it strange that anyone could find it remotely sexual."
"I liken kissing my kids on the lips to breastfeeding them as babies. It's an act of parental, not sexual, love from parent to child."
Nicole MacPherson, mother of two boys -- aged 12 and 11 -- has a different viewpoint. She has never kissed her boys on the lips and never will.
"I don't care what others are doing," she explains. "I don't kiss my sons or anyone else except my husband on the lips because that's not in my comfort zone; I think it's only for sexual partners. Plus, if I'm being honest, it's mostly the germs that gross me out."
She makes a valid point. Let's face it, sometimes between food smears, goober and a failure to brush their teeth thoroughly, kissing our kids on their lips can cause the occasional inward gag. I do it anyway because the moments my daughter even wants a kiss aren't frequent and will become less so as she gets older.
As for the sexual aspect, even my husband has kissed me on the lips many times without sexual intention, so the two aren't always connected in my mind. Our daughter doesn't kiss others on the lips because we've simply explained to her that lip kisses are with her parents only and she gets it.
Yes, as a toddler, she tried to open her mouth and stick out her tongue a few times when we kissed her lips, but at that age, kids put everything in their mouths and sex has nothing to do with it. She stopped once we explained families kiss with mouths closed, and as a kid who was kissed on the lips by my own parents, I can personally attest to never having urges to make lip contact with everyone I meet. As with most physical gestures, some framework around these familial kisses bears consideration.
"We can't discount the child's preferences, and some kids just don't like being kissed on the lips even if the parents are cool with it."
"The way we choose to express affection, and the meaning of those actions can vary widely based on the people involved, their individual boundaries and even the context in which that expression takes place," shares Toronto sexuality educator Dr. Nadine Thornhill. "This is true of most loving gestures. Depending on who’s involved and what the circumstances are, holding someone’s hand can be a bold romantic overture, or an act of parental care. Sitting in someone’s lap can mean, 'read me a story' or 'let’s get frisky!' Kissing on the lips is similar."
It's personal preference if parents kiss their children on the lips or not. In a world where consent is so important, the kids might just have final say in the matter. We can't discount the child's preferences, and some kids just don't like being kissed on the lips even if the parents are cool with it.
"As long as it’s consensual and non-sexual, there’s no problem with kissing on the lips," Dr. Thornhill confirms. "For many parents or caregivers and their children, lip-kissing is simply a gesture of love, care and closeness."
Caring affection with our children seems like just the right tonic for our world, whether it's kisses on the lips or not.