Ask Amy: Granddad’s rough-housing leads to tears
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.