Spousal Affection

What is traditional in a religious home when it comes to the spouses showing each other affection in front of the kids? I want my kids to grow up knowing that their mother and step-dad love each other and cherish their relationship. However I know that in many religious houses there is absolutely no public display of affection between the parents in front of the children. Ever. Why is this? Is it because it is not modest? How can it be not modest if the parents are married? We are not talking about making out here, just the occasional hug or quick kiss (obviously at times when the wife is not Niddah).

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  1. my (modern orthodox machmir) parents would like full body hug (long hugs that lasted like 30+ seconds) in front of me all the time, sometimes with kissing (although not like full on making out or anything). Actually come to think of it i do the same thing with my husband now… (long hugs are totally my favorite).

    My parents would also sometimes hold hands when we were walking around places.

    I remember once my parents got called into my high school cause I was in tr0uble (the principle thought I joined a cult, but that’s a whole other story), and when my parents went out to the parking lot afterward they did the long hug thing, and some other kids saw from the window and some made fun of me for it (??) So I guess maybe my parents weren’t completely typical?

  2. batya from NJ says:

    AE, i think it’s less common in the yeshivish world to be very affectionate in front of the kids but in the MO & MO machmir world it is more acceptable to show some physicality between the parents. growing up, my parents were very NON physical in front of us kids but it always rubbed me the wrong way & i always knew that i DID want my kids to see my husband & i being affectionate towards one another. of course, things backfire, ‘cuz the kids have been known to roll their eyes at us or even try to be funny & say, “Hey guys, get a room!” or “Ew” so i guess parents can never win!

  3. Lady Lock and Load says:

    I was taught that the relationship between husband and wife is a very special and holy thing and it should be kept private. I think my kids know we love one another even if they don’t see any physical display of affection.

    • Mark says:

      How do your kids know that?

      • Lady Lock and Load says:

        by the respect and care we give one another.

        • Mark says:

          But how do they know that along with the respect and care there is physical affection as well?

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            Kids need to know that there is physical affection between husband and wife? I was taught that this is something private.

          • Mark says:

            Now we are getting somewhere. When exactly should a person learn that there exists physical affection between a husband and a wife (and not between any other set of males and females)?

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            A person has to learn about physical affection between husband and wife?

          • Mark says:

            I don’t understand the question. Should it wait until the night of the wedding?

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            Why not?

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            How is an orthodox couple supposed to learn about it before their wedding night?

          • Mark says:

            Yes. If they never see their parents kiss, and never see a frum person kiss in public, how do they know that husbands and wives kiss each other? Details about more intimate marital relations will presumably be covered in Chatan and Kallah classes, but everyday “intimacy” outside of sexual relations are rarely covered in any detail (usually due to lack of time or due to assumptions on the part of the teachers).

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            Trust me, they will know what to do once they get married.

          • Mark says:

            Trust me, they will know what to do once they get married.

            So you are saying that kids should learn much what they know about intimacy from “the street” (friends, innuendo, overhearing, sneaking peeks at prohibited magazines, books, etc)?

            This is part of the problem!

          • Lady Lock and Load says:

            These type of kids will do all that anyways even if you “teach” them.

  4. Ariela says:

    Perhaps you should not be so concerned with what is done in other households. Do what feels true to your religious values.

    • Agreeing with Ariela here. I come from a very touchy feely culture (Hispanic) and I have always been a touchy feely person. My parents divorced when I was 4 and I never saw a healthy relationship between men and women. After I became Orthodox, I had a real hard time with shomer negiah. Eventually, it was taken out of my hands: “Air Hugs: Fibromyalgia and the Power of Touch” G-d willing, even though sometimes it is agonizing to have people touch me and vice versa, I will have my kids rolling their eyes over the signs of physical affection I show them and my husband.

      • hadassahsabo says:

        that article, Aliza, was so well written. I have never looked at negiah from a different perspective. thank you for that!

        I wanted to add that I am a very touchy feely person too (just ask the kids, being boys it drives them nuts) and the laws of negiah are very much a challenge for me too.

    • hadassahsabo says:

      I am not looking to be told what to do, we already do what feels right to us, but I am curious to know what other couples do…

  5. tesyaa says:

    My cousin joked that the reason her “older” daughter doesn’t have a shidduch yet is because the parents have been known to hold hands in public while taking a Shabbos afternoon walk.

  6. Lady Lock and Load says:

    I was going to say that when I see an elderly couple holding hands while taking a stroll I think it’s so sweet. Why should it be any different if the couple is younger? Very interesting….

  7. I honestly can’t imagine anything better for kids, than seeing their parents demonstrate their affection for one another. I’m not saying full -on make-out sessions but , hugs, holding hands, and even a kiss on the cheek or forehead can speak volumes to kids about the relationship you share.

  8. Lady Lock and Load says:

    Can affection only be shown in a physical way?

    • batya from NJ says:

      LLL, i think the physical is just 1 part of the whole picture but like i said, it bothered me that my parents weren’t the touchy, feely types with each other; even though we knew they loved each other. i guess i am more of an emotional touchy feely type so i think it’s important for my kids to see my spouse & I; being affectionate with one another. then again, it’s not like we’re so touchy feely while out & about on the street…

  9. Gavi says:

    I think it is important to show physical expressions of love in front of your kids, but they have to be “more affectionate and caring than erotic in nature,” according to Rav Eliyashiv Kenuel.

  10. Z! says:

    Although watching my parents hug or give kisses to one another or holding hands might have been a point of shame for me when I was younger, I now cherish that we got to share a part of their relationship that was private between them. I like that they still do those things now.
    It has definitely helped me to form a wholer picture of what a “good” relationship should include.

    • hadassahsabo says:

      exactly, if you never see it how can you know? they do not teach this stuff at the kallah classes. they teach about sex and initmacy in the bedroom, but not about simple things like holding hands, or a gentle hug…and if you don’t have a TV how do you know these things exist between couples?

      • Lady Lock and Load says:

        They learn once they are married. I don’t believe people have to be taught this!
        Kallah classes teach about intimacy? depends which kallah class.

        • Z! says:

          Well, some circles perpetuate hitting and physical abuse as a form of close physical touch between the sexes as a norm…
          and as for movies and TV and Advertisements on the street that show people how to relate…
          Wouldn’t it be better to show simple affection between spouses?

        • Uh some of them don’t. Trust me. A frum marriage counselor at Limmud LA had the most alarming stories about what people learn in their chosson and kallah classes.

  11. tikunolam says:

    I totally agree with Melissa. My kids smile and often want to join in when their daddy gives me a hug. They are completely accustomed to us holding hands in public or him putting his arm around me.

    With all the divorces and unhappy marriages in this world, I am so glad that my children can feel confident that they are loved (which is also often demonstrated physically through hugs and kisses) and their mommy and daddy love each other too. If words could convey love enough, my little son would no be leaning on me when he reads or asking me for a hug first thing when he wakes up in the morning. Every day, he stretching and says, “Mommy, I need a hug!”

    Hadassah. You found love again. What a great gift it would be for your children to experience seeing the expression of love between you and KoD knowing that love and marriage could be this way.

  12. Noah Roth says:

    My wife and I are physically affectionate in front of our kids, but our oldest is 7.

    As you mentioned in your tweet about Mikveh, the timing of that event is not typically shared, and as your kids get older they may become more attuned to these cycles (no pun intended. ok it was).

    Privately, my wife and I have discussed how we might handle physical contact, bed separation, and other visually identifiable rules of niddah as our children become more aware of the implications.

    I think that sensitivity- specifically around the timing of starts and stops- may be what drives some people to refrain from physical contact in front of their children.

    It’s also worth mentioning that for some this may be a function of personality/comfort with display of affection that has more to do with theiur parents than with a religious conviction of any kind.

    • batya from NJ says:

      noah, my husband & i have always separated the beds & put them back together over the past nearly 20 yrs that we’ve married. as the kids got older, we also discussed when would be a good time to stop that practice b/c the kids might start getting suspicious but the truth is we continue doing that till this day. you see, my parents always had 2 separate beds with a night table in between & i didn’t want that for myself b/c it seemed too un-cozy for a married couple. i love being to be able to connect the beds for at least 1/2 of every month. nowadays, a lot of frum couples have 2 full size beds & they sleep in together in 1 of them during the non-niddah times but that wasn’t the popular thing to do back when i got married & besides i like my space & full-size/double beds are a bit too small for my liking. in any case, i don’t think my kids think too much about the beds being pushed together & pulled apart. it’s just the reality of how things have been done here ever since they can remember. i’ll admit it isn’t ideal b/c i like to push the beds together when guests are over etc. & it’s not always easy to remember but this has basically worked for us over the years. my ideal master bedroom consist of either 2 queen/king-size beds or maybe 1 queen/king size bed for the non-niddah times & a smaller one for my husband during the niddah times since as i said b/f i’m the one who is likes more space for sleeping :) but until we win the lotto we’ll keep on with what has worked for us over the years!

  13. Lady Lock and Load says:

    Hadassah has BOYS who are oblivious to most things (as are most men). If she had GIRLS who are nosy and must know everything (well, some girls) she would understand what you are talking about. OOH, but she does have step girlies…watch out ;)
    Thanks NR for explaining this aspect of Taharas Hamishpacha. was hard for me to word it correctly.

  14. batya from NJ says:

    an interesting side note is that chassidish kids (not lubavitch, though to my knowledge) are told when their mothers are having babies, “mami, hot ge’koyfen a baby” which is yiddish & means “mommy bought a baby” & i’ve heard that many chassidish kids really believe it until they find out the truth when they are much older. truth is, i would guess that the more savvy ones manage to find out earlier that it is not exactly the way it works! i assume they prefer to tell that to the kids b/c they don’t feel it is tznius to talk about “the birds & the bees” but this practice is certainly very foreign to me.

  15. Keels says:

    I know that there are some couples who like to keep their beds together all the time -during nidda they would separate it when going to sleep and push it back in the morning.
    My parents did not display affection in front of us, but as someone mentioned, this was an issue of personality. (I’m talking physical only. Verbal affection was freely displayed).
    My kids are too young for this to be an issue yet.

    I dont think an explanation of “where baby comes from” has to include a discussion of sex. Kids are gullible. If you tell them Hashem decides when Mommy should become pregnant, they will not question that until old enough and mature enough to know the truth.

    • batya from NJ says:

      keels, i totally agree that there is no need to explain sex to kids (& certainly not at young ages) but i don’t believe it is correct to tell kids that babies are purchased in the hospital!! whenever i was pregnant, my older kids were very well aware that there was a baby developing in my belly & i didn’t feel the need to hide that info from them. & yes, i explained to them when they asked how the baby got there, that Hashem (G-d) was the One who put the baby there.

  16. Rachel says:

    I have a friend from a much more observant home from me…she is 24. She once told me that her parents, in all of her life, have NEVER touched in front of her…and that her mother has told her that her father has never told her mother “I love you”. She said that although it will be against her family ways, she plans on hugging her husband in front of her children…because of the nights she has lost in sadness thinking that her parents are in a loveless marriage.

  17. Lady Lock and Load says:

    That is sad. But once she has children it may be hard to have to explain why sometimes she is not allowed to give daddy a hug.

    • batya from NJ says:

      truth is LLL, i think that it makes kids feel good to remember their parents showing physical affection at least some of the time even if not all the time b/c it beats never seeing it ever. as i wrote earlier, this was how i felt as a kid as well so i can empathize with rachel’s friend…

  18. Lady Lock and Load says:

    but why did you feel bad about it, did you think your parents didn’t love each other? My parents are European and were extremely private and I never saw any physical affection but it didn’t bother me because I didn’t know anything different.

    • batya from NJ says:

      i guess i wondered about it even though they seemed to have a good marriage but maybe i just felt that in a marriage ppl should be more touchy/feely. maybe it’s b/c i read too many judy blume books or something ;)! i remember once as a little kid taking a walk with both of my parents & holding each of their hands & trying to get them to put their hands together (which may not have been possible for them due to niddah issues-but i surely had no clue about that back then).

  19. Lady Lock and Load says:

    That is cute batya, it reminds me of “The Parent Trap”.

  20. Rachel says:

    To me, it was just an incredibly sad thing to think that her mother had NEVER heard the words I love you from her husband…or that they had never once even touched in front of her. I think that you can be affectionate without touching (via looks and words) and obviously that didn’t even come through. Obviously it was just a difficult thing for her to witness…

    • batya from NJ says:

      i don’t recall my parents saying it to each other either but not b/c they didn’t love each other but more b/c it wasn’t their style to say it in front of us & if they did say it privately, i woudn’t know about it b/c it was behind closed doors.

  21. Dani from Colorado says:

    I have to admit that I am not Jewish, or really even very religious. I grew up in a Southern Baptist family where physical contact between married adults was supposed to be hidden. It was some big secret that didn’t learn until you got married.

    Now, I think I know why. I have a 15 year old daughter that very recently found her first boyfriend. They go to different schools, so really the only time they see each other is when we(meaning the parents) allow them to.

    I have found her physical relationship with him, and her apparent lack of decorum around us (meaning the parents) to be incredibly unsettling.

    My husband and I are very affectionate with each other, and now I am starting to feel that we have set a bad example. I believe that she thinks that because she sees us being affectionate, it is okay for her to be.

    I am a firm believer in leading by example. I never would have seen this coming. I though that if our kids new how close we were that it would be good for them. Apparently, it relays the wrong message.

    I don’t know how to handle it now. That’s how I found this article, I was kind of looking for other parents that have had the same problem.

    • Mark says:

      Dani – and now I am starting to feel that we have set a bad example.

      Don’t be so sure about that, and don’t be so hard on yourself. It could very well be that for this particular behavior, her (and his) examples are coming from their peers who begin public physical relationships much earlier than previous generations did.

      The stories I hear about boys and girls in Middle School are rather unsettling and sometimes even shocking. Those are kids ages 11 through 13! In my generation, 11 through 13 year olds were considered to be kids, not small adults. We dressed like kids, played like kids, and generally behaved like kids.

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