Affectionate Four-Year-Old

Our expert analyzes a husband's negative response to his son's affectionate nature.
I am a working mother of two children, one six year old girl and one boy who just turned four years old. My husband works part-time in the evening and takes care of our kids in the day. My daughter attends kindergarten and son, preschool. He has no problem or separation anxiety when I drop him off in the morning. He also likes to leave for Grandma and Grandpa's, etc. My kids only have full days with me on the weekends. My son has a very loving, "in-your-face" type personality. On Sundays while attending church, my son sits on my lap with his arms wrapped around my neck, (hugging me, occasionally kissing me on the cheek whispering to me that he loves me). Until its time for the children to be dismissed for Sunday School, he has no problem separating from me. My husband seems to think that by letting him do this, I am harming him or preventing him from being able to be a "self-sufficient adult." He claims I need to (pardon the bad pun) "pull him from the breast a little" and make him sit by himself during the singing portion of church. My thoughts are: soon enough my son will be a grown little man and probably be embarrased to even hug or kiss his mother in public or in front of friends! And I should let him love me or show his emotions as much as he wants NOW while he still wants to. I had a mother who was scared to even say "I love you" to me, my brother and sister, let alone hug, kiss, or show emotion to (it was just the way she was raised). I don't want to be that way with my kids. But my question you think I am wrong?? What is your opinion on this? I don't want to "hinder" his growth process as my husband says I am doing. Thank you for your consideration in answering

Dear Friend,

You are in no way hindering your son's growth process. I wonder if your husband's negative response to your son's hugging you in church would be the same if his four year-old daughter was expressing this physical intimacy. This could be a "man thing" - your husband believing that a son should not be so clingy/attached to his mother at this age. His opinion and discomfort with your son's behavior may be due to his own treatment as a child and his fears of his son being/becoming a "momma's boy".

You describe your son as having no separation anxieties that are affecting his emotional and social development. On the contrary, he appears to be developing very nicely at all levels. It's natural for little children (and not so little children) to miss their moms and to want physical intimacy with them when they see them. Given your family work/life schedule, his time with you is limited. You also need to consider the memories and feelings attached to your own childhood, devoid of physical affection and loving words from your mom, as a driving force in your desire to have a physically affectionate relationship with your own kids. I am sure that they are mirroring what you are "giving out" to them regarding physical affection and saying, "I love you."

As long as your son's physical and verbal expressions of love do not appear driven by fear or anxiety, I would not turn away his displays of affection. Your husband may also have an unconscious jealousy of your relationship with your son. Please don't allow your differences about this to confuse your son or make him feel uncomfortable about expressing his affection for you or any other family member. If this creates a major problem between you and your husband, please seek some counseling about it as a couple. I guarantee you there's a lot more behind your husband's protests than is being spoken.

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.

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