“Dear Ignacio, my husband’s father has come to live with us during the lockdown. With him around my young children all the time, I am noticing how he likes to constantly interact with them and get physical. My kids are being polite but I can tell he sometimes makes them uncomfortable. I even saw him once manhandle my 5-year-old daughter in a way that made me cringe. How do I handle this?”
Thank you for sharing your concern. First off, I want you to think about what is stopping you from speaking up about your children's obvious discomfort. Can you identify the barriers that are preventing you from confronting the rough housing? You may be struggling with the #fear that you are overreacting, or you may be feeling uncomfortable talking to your father-in-law. Whatever the reasons are, find them.
The little things that hold us back from standing up for our children illuminate our own thinking around what is or isn’t acceptable, and how we set #boundaries for ourselves and our family. There may be an issue around #safety. If you think your father-in-law’s playfulness is physically hurting your children, or emotionally harming them, then I encourage you to raise the issue as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may want to have conversations with your husband around finding playing styles and interests that suits everyone.
You and your husband can also open these conversations up to your children and discuss issues of bodily autonomy. You can model problem solving for them, and show them that you are a trustworthy and safe place for them to come to for support. Sometimes, parents take for granted that children will run to them first if anything happens. Earning our children’s trust is important work that we need to continue to do.
You may also decide that you need to have a conversation with your father-in-law about how your children feel about rough housing, and how you are raising them to speak up about their bodies, and boundaries. This could be a collaborative discussion around ways to include physical activities that feel good to the children, especially ones where your children have a say in what happens. Being frank can often work wonders. Your father-in-law may need to be told, “Just so you know, the kids aren’t enjoying the rough housing. They’d rather …”