I have an issue with religious Jews. They have this thing about not showing affection in public. You would never see a very religious couple holding hands walking down the street and certainly not kissing in public, as it is considered immodest. But I think this teaches children that affection is bad and romance is taboo. How will they ever get married if they don't see affectionate parents?
Here is a true story that happened to a family I know. They are observant and G-d fearing people, and indeed the parents never showed physical affection, even in front of their own children.
It once happened that this family was out driving in their van, parents sitting in the front, and their large brood in the back. While stopped at a red light, one of the children pointed out a scene that caught his eye. Right beside the car, on the side of the road, was a young couple engaged in a very public display of affection.
The kids expressed their strong disapproval, with "ooooo" noises and calls of "yuck!" The oldest, a girl of twelve, loudly declared, "Disgusting!"
Now the parents had a few options as to how to react to this situation. They could have encouraged their children's innocent aversion to street corner romance by telling them not to look at such a yucky thing. Or perhaps they should correct their children's hard-line view and tell them that there is actually nothing yucky about love between two people. Or they could just smile to themselves and let it pass.
But any good parent knows that there are certain teaching moments that don't come along too often, and if they are not grabbed they will be missed. Some lessons are better taught spontaneously. Rather than the parent sitting down the child to talk about an issue, it is sometimes better to wait until the child sees or hears something, makes a comment or asks a question, and use that as an opening to address the topic. An alert parent will have a store house of lessons at the ready, and patiently wait for the right opportunity to share them.
This was one such moment. And the wise father of these children, who had labelled an act of love as disgusting, jumped at the opportunity to teach them a lesson for life.
"It is not disgusting," he told his children. "It's just in the wrong place."
I heard this story as it was told by the twelve year old daughter, now a mother of children of her own. She said that all these years later she still remembers what her father said, and what an impact his simple words had on her. At first she was shocked. Her father, a rabbi, didn't think this was disgusting? Do my parents do this too? But then it dawned on her. Of course they do. They love each other, and when people love each other, this is what they do. Just some things are supposed to be private. Not because it's disgusting, because it is precious, it doesn't belong on the street.
There are couples that no one will ever see touching each other, but anyone can see the deep love they share. It is reflected in the way they speak to each other, the way they look at each other, the way they talk about each other. And then there are couples who are all lovey-dovey-kissy-huggy, but it is no more than a show for the onlookers. How intimate can affection be if every passer-by is privy to it? Does romance have any real meaning if it is shared with strangers?
When a couple is secure in their love for each other, they don't feel the need to demonstrate their affection to others outside the relationship. And yet, everyone, including their children, will know that love is there. Physical affection is more powerful when kept private. It is not disgusting, as long as it is in the right place.