Kiss childhood goodbye: Mom deals with kiss diss

I called his name, and my not-so-little-anymore fourth-grader turned to give me that knowing look, fully aware that we had skipped the morning ritual.

So after trudging back into a quiet house, I did what any mom in the modern age would do: I updated my online status to say the missed kiss had gotten me down. Within minutes, I was comforted to know I was not alone.

"That started last year for me. I'm sad about it too," Laura wrote about her 9-year-old son.

"Aw-w-w ... hated when the boys did that," added Linda, the wise mom of two sons, 14 and 12, who then warned: "Soon it will just be a head nod in passing as a hello!"

With my son's ninth birthday quickly approaching, I figured that he was embarrassed and that the dissed kiss was another sign of his growing independence.

My instincts were right. The shunning of parental PDAs usually happens sometime in grade school, when kids' social scenes are expanding. That's when they're more aware of people's perceptions of them and don't want to be seen as little kids, said Liz Pungello, a developmental psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"It's about them and their social scene and has hardly anything to do with us," she said, making me feel marginally better.

My spirits rose further when George Scarlett, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University, said children whose parents have developed a nurturing relationship with them should be secure enough around this age to tackle the outside world. Leaving without the kiss is a sign that they are feeling confident and autonomous and are making their own healthy friendships.

"Not kissing, then, means a parent has done his or her job!" he said by e-mail.

Job satisfaction aside, it still hurts. But Scarlett says parents shouldn't feel bad because their children's love, though no longer visible in public, is likely to be just as strong - if not stronger - than when they were toddling around clinging to their pant leg. "I strongly suggest that parents laugh at their feelings of being jilted lovers and not act as if they are being rejected because they aren't," Scarlett says.

It's just that the public smooch is "too threatening to the wish to be big and independent and respected by peers," he said.

Still, parents should try to keep up the rituals of public affection, but in a more low-key way, to keep the practice alive, Scarlett says.

My friends had some solutions. "We do the 3 hand squeezes for I-L-Y," wrote Melissa, of her almost 10-year-old son. Heather reports that her 7½-year-old-son deemed a kiss "OK as long as I do it before the bus comes."

Others are unwilling to give up the buss at the bus and resort to force. My cousin Lisa, a black belt in karate, grabs her fifth-grade son to kiss him on the head. "Sometimes, I block the entrance to the bus," she wrote.

Of course, we can give our children a squeeze or a peck - that feeling of safety and security - at home. "They still need that affection and warmth from us. They just need it to not be in front of their friends," Pungello said.

With so many moms of boys weighing in, I wondered if I'd be back in this situation in four years, when my kissy-face daughter reaches the age her brother is today. To my relief, my friends told me, the girls keep on kissing a bit longer.

That's true, Scarlett said, because a mom's kiss can be threatening to her son's developing masculinity.

"Kissing by mothers is something that makes boys look childish, unmanly, babylike - not tough, as most boys wish to be perceived," Scarlett said. "Girls, on the other hand, can work out independence and autonomy while still being kissed - because being kissed doesn't threaten their being feminine."

So the good news for moms of those burping and bathroom-humor-loving boys is that they will likely embrace a parent's public affection again when they're older teenagers or young adults, experts said.

"Sometimes you have to turn your back on the past to get through the door to the future - and that's what happens when a child gets on a bus in the morning without kissing mommy goodbye," Scarlett says.

I'm not looking to rush my son's childhood away. So these days, I'll happily settle for giving him a big goodnight kiss, right in the privacy of his room.
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