Since I’ve had several questions about this post, I decided to make some explanations a regular post. [The real reason is that I spent a lot of time on this topic, and I don’t want to waste the energy, so to speak.]
To clarify, I don’t at this point forbid our children from hugging family friends or adults. I have discouraged physical affection among peers.
There are two issues here. First, I recognize how vulnerable young children are to abuse. Second, I am attentive to the patterns of relationships they are establishing from an early age.
We know that most children who are sexually abused knew their abuser. They are more at risk from a relative or close family friend than a stranger driving by their house on a whim and grabbing them. That doesn’t mean that I’m suspicious of any and all male relatives and friends, but I am careful.
Everyone is going to draw the line in different places. Specific family situations will make a difference in the comfort among one’s own family. I’m much more concerned about people, even good friends, whom I know far less about.
This is one reason I don’t encourage our children to hug and kiss dear friends, but it is not the main reason.
I don’t want the place of affection between my children and unrelated peers and adults to be common and normal. Realistically, when you have two eighteen month olds hugging and kissing, it’s sweet. At some point, it will cease to become sweet and become instead troubling to a parent. Ditto for bikinis on toddlers. The only difference between my position and other parents is that I am drawing the line at an earlier age than other people. I don’t intend to start teaching modesty and purity when my child hits puberty; I want these concepts to be a normal part of our family now. This makes the most sense to me, although certainly sensible parents make different choices than I have. Their situations are different, and God must give each parent the wisdom to respond accordingly. Even in my own situation, I’m addressing the issue earlier than I would like. Ideally, I’d be teaching by example and what I encourage (or don’t encourage). That would probably be sufficient with most children.
The age of my children, the particular set of peers they have (saved and unsaved), their personalities all have influenced the timing of our discussions. My conversations have been directed primarily with my five year old.
From my experience, I cannot say that an awkwardness with affection among unrelated persons necessarily translates to a difficulty developing physical intimacy with a new husband. We are an affectionate family. My husband regularly expresses physical affection with his children and me. Because I was taught a context for physical affection (i.e., marriage), when God gave that context I was quite comfortable making the transition from single life to married life.
I think the teaching of my parents by example and word was critical. Affection and physical intimacy are good, and they never communicated that these things were sinful and shameful. I want my children as they get older to develop the discernment to understand appropriate contexts for touch. I don’t want them to jump when a friend pats them on the shoulder. I don’t want my son to turn his back on a young lady who has slipped on the ice. I am praying for wisdom to know how to communicate these things as well.