When I was growing up, my dad and stepmother didn’t show each other a lot of affection, but there was some. My dad would kiss her at every restaurant meal like clockwork when she would pass him “some sugar” for his tea. So, I saw a tiny measure of affection at regular intervals, but it was never more than a peck. I only saw them holding hands during prayer, and they never expressed love in any suggestive manner. Compared to couples who never even say “I love you” they might need to get a room, but on the whole, it was highly conservative. And though I’d never have admitted it then, I liked seeing it.
Contrast that with my mother whose sexual escapades were never far from sight. She and I once shared a bed in a hotel for a few weeks, and I awoke on the floor at the foot of the bed one night with the obvious sounds of sex coming from the bed beside me. She’d met the guy hours earlier in traffic, and my nine-year-old brain was more annoyed than anything. She held no qualms about affection in front of me, but I never enjoyed it until her relationships stabilized. Then, like with my dad and stepmother, I enjoyed seeing these regular reminders of love, despite my frequent gag faces and remarks.
Looking for Answers
I might not have ever put two and two together had the subject not come up in some of my own research. PDA was no concern when my wife was the only barefoot munchkin (she’s not that short, but don’t tell her I admitted it) running around, but a single pregnancy test changed all that. I read books, surveyed parents, talked with counselors, interviewed a shrink, and scoured the internet for clinical and anecdotal evidence. And of course, I searched the Word of God like crazy, digging into commentaries, lexicons, and translations. Perhaps it was a bit of necessary overkill.
You’re probably not surprised to read that what I discovered regarding parental PDA in both my soul searching and my research lined up. Children gain a sense of stability and security when they see regular affection shared between parents. Even in divorced situations like mine, they introduce a source of comfort. Such situations are inherently unstable because of the divorce, but stability can be reintroduced to some measure by good parenting habits. Or lucky guesses.
Kinds of Displays
On the one hand, I had a parent whose displays never delved into the sensual and were predictable. I remained unaware of sexual activity between them at all until I was out of the home and my stepmother mentioned it in passing during an emotional moment. That accidental “I have needs” comment when I was nineteen years old was the closest thing to a sex talk I ever got from them, which is a good indicator of how fixed their boundaries were. They were the typical Christian boundaries, though they weren’t practicing Christians, per se.
On the other hand, I had a parent whose displays ranged from light and sweet to whimsical and flirty to wantonly sexual. Sexual activity wasn’t done in front of me, but it certainly wasn’t hidden aggressively. She gave me the sex talk at eleven. Then again at twelve. And fourteen. And her casual confidence in this arena was only made awkward to me because it seemed to come with an agenda to encourage me to have sex early and often (though looking back, I respect her for at least trying). It was anything but the typical Christian approach.
Children should see, feel, and know about some separate kind of marital love shared between mom and dad.
So what are these limitations? What’s suitable in a Christian marriage? Well, the Bible doesn’t really offer any specific instruction, meaning it’s a call for wisdom and prayer. And each family may arrive at a different conclusion.
From this psychiatrist’s perspective, it’s all helpful up to a point. “It’s okay to be playful provided the activity isn’t moving into sexual intercourse precursors. Save that for mom and dad’s special time.” He said kissing is encouraged, even up to the heavy stuff, though he said the aggressive sensual “French kissing” shouldn’t be continued for long periods of time. He endorsed playful pats, semi-sensual petting or groping, but he drew the line at heavy petting since it’s delving into the aforementioned precursors. Basically up until a long and heavy makeout session with the kids watching, it all helps.
This constantly teaches something healthy to counter the constant barrage of ungodly media, pop culture, and peer influence.
The research I’ve done has reinforced these claims. Even anecdotal accounts repeat the idea. The kids who squealed “Gross!” When mom deeply kissed dad, who rolled their eyes when dad smacked mom’s butt, and who made faces when they talked suggestively would grow up thankful for what they’d witnessed. And the ones whose parents never expressed love (or narrowly expressed it like my dad and stepmother) had more doubts growing up and less questions answered by osmosis. Sadly these parents are often the same ones who didn’t answer such questions in other ways either.
So, show your love! Mrs. Parker puts it really well: “When you and your spouse hint at a quality sex life in marriage, it protects them against societal messages that sex is for singles or that sex drives die after the wedding.”