Dear Amy: Recently my children and I were with my in-laws (their grandparents) at a crowded event where I relied on my father in-law to supervise my son (age 4) while I was with my toddler daughter.
My father in-law tries to connect with my son by “being silly,” which for him means nose pinching, tickling, tug-of-war while holding hands, and general rough-housing and clownish behavior.
Occasionally my son laughs with him, but more often I can tell by his body language that he feels assaulted by all the unwanted touching.
At one point he fell down and was sobbing because his grandpa essentially pushed him down via tug of war.
As we said goodbye and grandpa tried to jostle him into a hug (while saying “you don’t have to hug me if you don’t want to”), my son refused to say goodbye at all. I said our goodbyes and it began to dawn on me how much rough-housing had been happening, so I asked my son if grandpa “nudges” him too much.
He said (amazingly) “I love grandpa so much and every time I see him I’m so excited to play but he makes me so sad every time because he’s too rough.”
My question is, what is the best way to approach this?
I see a few options. My husband was subjected to this behavior himself as a child. I don’t think he would be able to effectively handle this with his father. I could encourage my son to advocate for himself to his grandpa.
I could tell my father in-law about what my son said, something to the effect of, “I can see you really want to connect with our kids, but what you’re doing is the opposite of connecting.”
I feel like he’s being a bully, but I am not sure if I’m projecting my own feelings onto the situation.
— Protective Mom
Dear Protective: It never ceases to amaze me that some adults can look at children who are obviously distressed — and not adjust their adult behavior.
Let’s stipulate that this grandfather is not intentionally being a bully, but he is behaving the way we knows how to behave — and has always behaved with children. He may justify this by believing he is “toughening up the little guy!” — but this behavior from a beloved adult is extremely confusing, as your son articulated so well. And, mind you, the last thing this grandfather wants is for this child to become so tough that he either retaliates (for which his grandfather would likely punish him) or simply avoids him.
Coach your son to express his needs: “Grandpa, no — too rough!”
Also pass along your son’s quoted comments and ask your father-in-law: “Can you dial down the rough-housing? It’s pretty hard on him.”
Dear Amy: My 30-year-old (younger) sister is transfixed by a man who in another time would be called “a rake.” He is handsome, charming, and has a reputation as a womanizer.
My sister “Cecile” is lovely, trusting and sweet — and a bit naïve. She has had a few relationships of varying duration and has been burned a few times.
My instincts to try to protect my sister are very strong, but I don’t want to overstep or alienate her.
— Protective Sister
Dear Protective: I appreciate the term “rake” as an adjective — because it brings to mind visions of various “lovable scoundrels” from English literature.
I therefore turn to Jane Austen for advice.
In her famous novel “Sense and Sensibility,” (a story about a protective older sister), the beautiful younger sister “Marianne” falls hard for the rakish Mr. Willoughby, while the somber and appropriate Colonel Brandon loves her from afar.
Brandon offers a most gracious blessing to the doomed couple, that I’ll paraphrase here: “I pray that she will be happy, and that he will somehow deserve her.”
What you can do for your sister is to hope for her happiness, and stand in her corner if things don’t go well. Weighing in — especially if you are not invited — will not help.
Dear Amy: Thank you for running the question from “Not Gifted,” the couple that was overwhelmed with multiple gifts from in-laws. The in-laws were not respecting the couple’s request to stop exchanging gifts.
My family dealt with this same issue. It took several years to basically “train” family members away from material gifts, but now we exchange and enjoy “experiences” together.
Dear Grateful: I love this idea, and hope many readers adopt it.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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