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'Affectionate' grandpa elicits a mixed response

Published Dec. 7, 2006

The letter you printed from "Anxious Dad in Ohio," who considers it a problem that his father is physically affectionate with his 2-year-old granddaughter, broke my heart. My dad was physically affectionate, too.

My brothers and sister and I didn't always appreciate the way he'd grab us and plant kisses on our necks or hug us tight. We'd wriggle and squirm and protest until he coaxed a smile out of us. Our dad worked long and hard to support us. Many's the time we'd walk away, rubbing at the whisker burn, but we'd always come back for a good roughhouse on the living room rug - all of us little ones wiggling and giggling and riding on our tired, happy father as if he were made of iron.

Dad wasn't made of iron, though. He died before any of his four grandchildren were born. So I'll never have the pleasure of hearing halfhearted shrieks of "No, no!" turn into giggles and kisses. And my little ones will never know the joy of opening their hearts to Grandpa's rough love.

- Peg B., Seattle

Your father, I am sure, was a wonderful and loving parent. However, as I said in my reply to "Anxious Dad," today's parents teach their children to assert themselves if someone's touch makes them uncomfortable so they will be less submissive if an adult tries to take advantage of them. Such lessons are a necessary and sad reality. Read on.

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I was alarmed at the behavior of the grandfather in "Anxious Dad's" letter. As a therapist who treats children who have been sexually abused, I agree with your response. I would like to add that when a child perceives that a parent is unable to intervene with another adult who violates that child's boundaries, such as that grandfather's aggressive hugs, the child is less likely to tell the parents if someone violates their boundaries sexually.

- Tracie in Tennessee

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I was the "little girl" in a similar situation 55 years ago. Although my grandfather only hugged and kissed me (raising whisker welts on my face), he restrained me and hugged me even harder as I struggled to break away, laughing at my pleas for him to stop. My parents did not want to offend him, and in my child's mind I interpreted that to mean they were more concerned about others' feelings than mine, and that they would not protect me. Consequently I was a fearful and anxious child, certain that my parents didn't want me. It took years of therapy for me to learn to trust others.

- Protect Your Kids, Seaside, Calif.

Universal Press Syndicate