Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Affection Rules

Following the airing of this year’s Super Bowl the media was buzzing about a picture that revealed Bill Belichick, the New England Patriot’s head coach, giving his daughter a kiss following the team’s victory. The media was focused on the fact that he had kissed his daughter on the lips, and whether or not this was appropriate behavior. The few media pieces I saw brought a smile to my face because my father would’ve done exactly what Bill Belichick did!

In my family kissing adults within the family is a sign of affection and respect. As a child, it was expected that my siblings and I kissed our grandparents, aunts and uncles as we entered and left their homes. Likewise it was expected that when extended family members came to visit we were to stand up and give a “kiss hello.” At bedtime we kissed our parents good night every night and often lip-to-lip. Again, a kiss was seen as a sign of affection and respect. My father often touted that we were never to go to bed angry and for him a kiss was a sign that all was well.

As a child I do not recall ever feeling uncomfortable about the tradition of giving a kiss, even when these kisses were lip-to-lip. As a teen I had friends that made negative comments about this sign of affection. Yet for me, this was just how my family acted, and I never saw a need to change.

As an adult this expectation continues. When I see my cousins, brothers, sister, niece or nephews, a kiss is exchanged. Maybe not as much lip-to-lip, but to be honest, that would not bother me.

All families have expectations and rules about how feelings are expressed. Whether those feelings are love, sadness or anger, children are taught from a young age how they are to act when experiencing different emotions. Even in homes where children are not “told” what those rules are, they learn what is expected by observing what happens in the home. And it seems to me that these expectations or “unwritten rules” are very powerful.

For many adults, how they were taught to express feelings in childhood influences how feelings are expressed in adulthood. I know I have hear many adults say: I was never allowed to express anger as a child and I still find it hard to share these feelings. Or yet others who disagree with how they were taught to share emotions say: In my family we never hugged or said I love you – I am making sure my kids know that I love them.

The fact that these expectations are so powerful should come as no shock. Connections occur at an emotional level; it is the sharing of feelings that brings a sense of closeness and often comfort.

So, did I think the media reacting to Bill Belichick kissing his daughter was silly? Yes, yet I get it. The rules are different from family to family and I am grateful in my family that it is “okay” to show affection through a kiss.


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