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Is Mom Too Affectionate with Sons?

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I am the mother of two sons, ages six and ten. My husband thinks that I am often too affectionate with my ten-year-old -- tightly embracing him in hugs, kissing him on the lips, etc. My son is very affectionate and usually initiates this contact, even in front of peers. My husband is trying to be sensitive to our son's emerging adolescent sexuality and thinks my affectionate responses might be confusing for our son.

I want him to grow to be a man who isn't afraid of showing affection, and I don't want to put him at arms-length when he still desires a lot of affection. However, I wasn't raised with any males and I might not understand the confusing signals mothers might inadvertently send to sons. What do you think?

A: I understand both you and your husband's concerns regarding the "appropriate" degree and nature of physical affection that is healthy between a mother and her ten-year-old son. Your son is clearly comfortable with his physical exchanges of affection with you and you mention that he usually initiates this contact, even in front of peers. Adult-like lingering kisses on the lips and anything closely resembling the sexualized physical behavior between adults that your son has observed would not be healthy to exchange -- this could confuse and possibly trouble him as he grows into his preadolescence. But this isn't the behavior you describe.

I would not suddenly terminate displays of physical affection with your son. A peck on the lips or cheek and hugs from you are fine, as long as they do not produce discomfort or inappropriate responses from your son. At age ten, he is indeed becoming a more sexualized boy, as his hormones are kicking in. However your exchanges of affection may change, as he grows older, you never need to stop displaying some physical affection to him.

Physical displays of affection between sons and daughters and both their parents are healthy, positive, nurturing manifestations of the love and should continue as long as everyone is comfortable with these displays. Don't be surprised or take it personally if your boy stops initiating these displays of affection in front of his male peers. It may become "uncool" for him to do that soon because boys of this age think they are too old for that kind of "mushy stuff" -- at least in public.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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