When is it time to stop "canoodling" with our children?

An essay in the New York Times explores the sensual attraction between mothers and kids.

By Lori Leibovich

Published December 9, 2005 1:57AM (EST)

I'm curious to hear what Broadsheet readers think about "Mother Must Muzzle the Nuzzle," an article from last Sunday's New York Times. The essay, by Linda Baker, begins provocatively:

"I'm in Powell's bookstore cafe, and the young couple next to me are canoodling: staring deeply into each other's eyes, holding hands across the table and smooching.

"I would say they're starting to annoy me, except, the thing is, I'm canoodling too, with my gangly, 65-pound, 10-year-old son.

"It started out very innocently. He was reading Asterix and Obelix and making an unholy mess out of a chocolate chunk cookie. I was reading the newspaper and sipping a cappuccino. But before I knew what was happening, he was seated firmly on my lap, hands thrust into my hair, and I was stroking his cheek and punctuating my caresses with tiny kisses  But what can I say? I'm finding it difficult to keep my hands off my son. And frankly the feeling is mutual."

It was at this point in the article, that I got a bad case of the heebie-jeebies -- who uses the word "canoodling" when discussing her son? -- but then quickly chastised myself for being judgmental about something as natural as parent-child affection. These seesawing opinions lasted through my entire reading of the piece as Baker grappled with a rarely discussed parental dilemma: when to squelch the "complex sensual attraction" we feel for our children.

It's an interesting question and, as Baker notes, society doesnt help us answer it. "If we Americans are prudish, we are also prurient  When it comes to physical affection outside of the sexual, we are curiously limited in vocabulary and imagination."

Baker decides, after some vaguely humiliating public displays of affection, to set some ground rules with her kids. They are only allowed to give her a maximum of two kisses on the cheek. And she outlaws full body hugs, lap sitting, lying on the couch hip to thigh and arm stroking. But she mourns the loss of their physical intimacy, and her kids do too.

When should parents stop excessive cuddling with their children? Is it different for every parent, or is there a particular age when we should really put on the brakes? Did Baker's article creep you out, or did you relate?


Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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