Every family has different practices for showing affection…some are kissers, some are huggers, some are snugglers, some aren’t. But what happens when a family that kisses on the lips is blended with a family that doesn’t? Let’s ask Margo:
Dear Margo: My husband and I married earlier this year, and we have a great relationship. We both came into the marriage with children. The one thing that seems to be driving me crazy is that my husband kisses his 5-year-old daughter on the lips. It’s just a peck, but it aggravates me to no end. I have a daughter, and I always kiss her on the cheek. I even explained that you do not kiss on the lips unless you are married. I have mentioned that I’m totally against the gesture; he said he will do so until the day he dies. Fine, but I feel this is intruding on our relationship, as I see it being a sexual gesture and very inappropriate. I have read articles about this, and it is very controversial. I am not sure that I will be able to handle this much longer. Is it wrong of me to ask him for “only my lips or no lips”?
— Want My Husband’s Lips for Myself
Dear Want: Personally, I agree with you and have always found it kind of creepy. But I have seen many people kiss their children like this, and I don’t think it’s seductive. Gestures mean different things to different people. To your husband, kissing on the lips is his sign of affection. To you, it’s a boundary violation.I would open the discussion with him in a new way. Perhaps the act itself is less meaningful than his resistance to granting your request. Does he resist your suggestions in general? Might he experience you as eager to weaken his relationship with his daughter? Is there guilt about divorcing the child’s mother? Ask yourself why you feel so possessive of his lips and whether it is hard to share his affection. Frankly, I think this issue will subside when his daughter becomes an adolescent and becomes embarrassed by parental affection
— Margo, probingly
Yee–full-disclosure, I come from a family that, historically, kisses on the lips. Both my mom and dad did this occasionally when I was little, mixed in with a variety of other hugs and kisses, and I have always seen my grandma kiss my mom and aunts this way. It’s really not different than giving a kiss a half an inch to the side. And if you think about it–a hug is a reciprocal gesture, while a kiss on the cheek, forehead, or top of the head is very much one-sided. With a peck on the lips, the gesture goes both ways–and you don’t even have to resort to air-kissing three times.
(all of this, of course, reminds me of that scene in Love Actually after Colin Firth proposes to Aurelia and he’s promptly and soundly smooched by all of her neigbors and relatives, male and female. Wanted to include a good video clip, but couldn’t find! There are dozens of Love Actually remixes on youtube and they all cut out this part! Sad.)
But anyway–what concerns me here is not whether various family members are comfortable kissing on the lips or not. If you weren’t raised with it, it probably won’t seem like a natural thing, and that’s totally fine. No, what worries me in this case is that the way this mom states her discomfort (“my lips or no lips!”) creates a rivalry between her stepdaughter and herself for her husband’s physical affection. And now I’m uncomfortable.
It’s all well and good for her to have explained to her child that you only kiss on the lips if you’re married (really?), but what does she recommend that he say to his daughter? Anything I can imagine that he would say, that would satisfy what she is looking for, takes what this daughter sees as perfectly natural and normal, and turns it creepy and weird.
If he says something about only married people kissing on the lips, he’ll have to find a way to justify to his daughter why they’ve done this all along and/or give complicated explanations about their relationships. If he tries to say something like you’re only allowed to have one person at a time who you kiss on the lips, now she’s been demoted/replaced by stepmom, and her relationship with her father has been identified as interchangeable with his relationship with her stepmom. And even if all of this goes over her little head, at the very least she’ll get that her stepmom has decreed that kisses are no longer allowed.
The most innocuous thing I can think of for this woman to do is…..nothing. Because there’s nothing really wrong here, and even with her ick factor, she seems to get that. And because anything she could say or do, or ask her husband to say or do, will only introduce weirdness and resentment between stepdaughter and her. It sounds to me like she is pretty insecure about her new stepdaughter–but the least she can do is try not to let the insecurity spread to the child, too.