To kiss or not to kiss

Would you kiss your chil­dren in pub­lic? Would they al­low you to? Share your thoughts at star2@thes­tar.com.my.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - By TEE HUN CHING

MY son had some of his friends over the other day and I took the op­por­tu­nity to in­vite their mums along as well.

We have bonded well since our boys were as­signed to the same Pri­mary 1 class three years ago, and still catch up when­ever we can.

While we chat­ted in the din­ing room, the boys played else­where in the house. Then one of them came over, put his arms around his mother and sank into her warmth for a few sec­onds.

She smiled and hugged him back. Af­ter he left as abruptly as he had ap­peared, she asked some­what sheep­ishly: “Do your boys do this? Still come to you for hugs?” We nod­ded.

“I thought what he did was re­ally sweet,” I told her. Just as how we charge our phones when­ever the bat­tery runs low, wrap­ping him­self around his mother for a spell clearly charged him up again.

Yes, but he would do this at ran­dom, mul­ti­ple times a day, she said. Such as mid­way through tack­ling his home­work, for in­stance. “I’m won­der­ing if it’s a bit too much,” she added.

An­other friend ex­pressed the same con­cern. Her son not only hugs and kisses her in pub­lic, but also in­sists that she re­cip­ro­cates in kind. He would do this when­ever she drops him off at his en­rich­ment class, even with his friends watch­ing.

“I told him to stop em­bar­rass­ing him­self be­cause he is al­ready 10, and ev­ery­one is look­ing. He said, ‘Who cares about what other peo­ple think?’” she re­counted. “I’m the one who feels em­bar­rassed.”

At the heart of her ex­as­per­a­tion lies a knot of worry. What I see as un­bri­dled af­fec­tion, she per­ceives as a sign of im­ma­tu­rity. “I’m scared he will turn into a mummy’s boy,” she con­fessed.

Therein lies our dilemma. Much as we adore our sons, we moth­ers feel com­pelled to dial down phys­i­cal demon­stra­tions of our love once they hit a cer­tain age.

We are all ad­her­ing to what Amer­i­can clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Wil­liam S. Pol­lack termed the “boy code” in his 1998 best­seller, Real Boys: Res­cu­ing Our Sons From The Myths Of Boy­hood.

This, es­sen­tially, is so­ci­ety’s un­help­ful def­i­ni­tion of man­hood and mas­culin­ity, which de­mands that boys mask or sup­press their emo­tions and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties from young so as not to ap­pear weak or needy.

Forc­ing boys into this gen­der strait­jacket from an early age risks im­pair­ing their emo­tional de­vel­op­ment for life, warns Dr Pol­lack.

Boys, he wrote, grow up amid what he calls “so­ci­ety’s shame-hard­en­ing process”.

“The idea is that a boy needs to be dis­ci­plined, tough­ened up, made to act like a ‘real man’, be in­de­pen­dent, keep the emo­tions in check. A boy is told that ‘big boys don’t cry’, that he shouldn’t be ‘a mama’s boy’.”

Con­se­quently, we become un­sure of how in­ti­mate we should be with our sons as they ap­proach or en­ter ado­les­cence, even as they them­selves start con­form­ing to so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions.

Al­ready, I’ve seen my 10-year-old re­cal­i­brate his phys­i­cal in­ter­ac­tions with me in pub­lic.

He still hugs me un­re­servedly at home or among close friends, but no longer flings his arms around me openly.

He still reaches for my hand au­to­mat­i­cally when we are out, but has, since last year, re­fused my of­fers to carry his school bag or any­thing he hap­pens to be lug­ging.

He wants me around, but not too close. It’s not time yet to snip the apron strings, but he needs a longer leash.

In front of his friends, I am care­ful to limit af­fec­tion­ate ges­tures to a quick ruf­fling of his hair, say, or a few pats on the shoul­der. He has reached the stage where mums can be a ma­jor li­a­bil­ity.

But even when they morph into sullen teenagers who re­buff or, worse, re­coil at our lov­ing ges­tures, par­ent­ing ex­perts ad­vise navigating new and ap­pro­pri­ate ways to show our af­fec­tion in­stead of sev­er­ing phys­i­cal con­tact.

Such dis­plays show that we care, they say, and are in­te­gral to their emo­tional growth.

Lau­rie A. Cou­ture, a men­tal health coun­sel­lor who wrote the 2008 par­ent­ing guide, In­stead Of Med­i­cat­ing And Pun­ish­ing ,says par­ents fear cross­ing a bound­ary when they are phys­i­cally af­fec­tion­ate with their ado­les­cents.

“But, re­ally, in the ado­les­cent years, chil­dren are the most vul­ner­a­ble and most in need of the par­ent’s af­fec­tion.”

And mums are usu­ally the pri­mary source of emo­tional warmth and se­cu­rity for our kids.

So for as long as my son wants and al­lows it, I will keep dish­ing out the hugs and kisses. And each time I do, I will pray that it won’t be the last. – The Straits Times/Asia News Net­work

So, you have an ur­gent point to make, one that you feel is worth shar­ing? Make it at star2@thes­tar.com.my to be fea­tured in our oc­ca­sional col­umn, Talk­ing Point.

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