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Joanne Stern, Ph.D.
Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Have You Hugged Your Husband Today?

How modeling affection promotes positive and more resilient children

When you hug your husband, it's not only a boost for the two of you; it's also good for your kids. When they see you happy-and happy with each other-it makes their world.

In fact, why not make hugs the norm for everyone in your family?

Hugs bring smiles to faces and warmth to hearts. They are uplifting when you're down, encouraging when you're in the midst of challenges, and celebratory when you've reached your goal. When someone hugs you, it gives you a sense of approval and bolsters your self-esteem. Hugs strengthen friendships, and increase feelings of love, support and loyalty.

And they're free! So there's no reason to hold back.

Some parents may hug their kids, but think it's inappropriate to show affection for each other in front of the children. Recently, a therapy client told me that when she was growing up, she never saw her parents display affection towards each other. When her dad came home each evening, he gave her mom one quick, stiff, perfunctory hug-and that was the sum total of the "affection" she ever saw them share. There was no juice in that hug. No love; no joy. Her parents were civil; they were polite; they were friendly. But they weren't loving to each other. And my client grew up wondering what was wrong in her home.

When she went to her friends' homes, she saw the lively, loving interactions of her friends' parents that she longed for in her home too. But it never came. She became embarrassed to bring kids to her house because her dinner table was emotionless and rather antiseptic by comparison.

In therapy we worked on learning how to love and show affection-something she should have learned naturally at home.

Have you ever seen your kids break into a big, wide grin when you hug your husband? Usually, they love it. If not, maybe they feel left out and jealous because they want to be hugged too. Let them know how valuable they are to you; how much you love and treasure them. Kids want to feel like they belong, so include them in family hugs and be sure to show them how hugs cross gender boundaries. Dads can hug their sons as well as their daughters. Being held, cuddled and kissed is not a sissy thing. It's a human thing.

When you model affection for your kids, it promotes a more positive attitude which makes them more resistant to challenges in their lives.

Let me tell you how.

1. It makes your kids feel safe and secure. In a world where strife, dissonance and divorce are rampant, your kids want to know that your family is solid and rooted. You can have disagreements with your husband in front of your kids as long as you treat each other respectfully and sensitively. Your kids understand that occasionally two people don't see eye to eye and they need to talk it through and come to a resolution. But when they see you hug, they know their world is safe and in tact.

2. It models for your kids what healthy love looks like. Parents teach much more by example than by words. And kids imitate what they see much more than what they hear. So when you hug your husband, treat him with respect and show sensitivity to his feelings, you're teaching your kids invaluable lessons in relationship.

Loving relationships don't just grow behind closed doors in the bedroom. They spill out into the whole house. When you and your husband are playful-enjoying each other and having fun together, it gives your kids the opportunity to see how all encompassing your love is. They absorb the lessons without even being aware of it.

3. It teaches your kids how to create their own happy love relationships when they become adults. Kids see plenty of dysfunctional relationships on a constant basis-on TV, in the movies and in the neighborhood. Adults who treat each other with scorn and ridicule; adults who fight and throw out abusive words; adults who seem to have only their own interests at heart and are neither caring nor compassionate to their partners. What a gift you can give your children to counterbalance the unhealthy models that surround them. When they see a bad relationship on the screen or in real life, they'll notice how dramatically it deviates from the standards they're used to at home. They'll be much more likely to reject similar situations for themselves and choose healthier relationships.

4. It shows kids that affection can be expressed in a variety of ways. Of course, a good part of your love for your husband should be expressed privately. But a great deal of love for family and friends is shown through gentle touch, kind words and thoughtful behaviors. By modeling these three manifestations of love with your husband, you teach your children to be comfortable with affection. They'll learn to be generous in giving it and generous in receiving it.

5. It makes you a happier wife and a better mom. Every time someone hugs you, it reinforces their love for you and increases your joy. Ask any kids which he'd prefer: an unhappy mom or a happy one. You already know the answer. When you're happy, you're also more tolerant, more patient and more fun to be around. You'll increase your chances that your kids will talk with you, share their feelings with you and be close to you. And that makes you a better mom.

Let your affection flow abundantly. Watch everyone in your family light up when you hug your husband. It's good for your coupleship and it injects happiness into your home.

For tips on effective parenting, please check out my book, 'Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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About the Author
Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in family and couples counseling, as well as the author of Parenting Is a Contact Sport.

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