Excerpt from “Dear Prudence” on Slate.com
Recently, the following question was sent to Slate.com’s “Dear Prudence,” Emily Yoffe:
Q. Daughter Doesn’t Want to Visit Grandfather: My father is in his 80s and lives in an assisted-living home. He has always had an excellent relationship with his grandkids, including my daughter, age 13. My daughter is an early bloomer and very sensitive about her new body. She also looks much older than she is. A few weeks ago, when we were visiting my father, a few other male residents asked her to “come and give them a kiss” or “sit on their lap.” My daughter was mortified and now refuses to visit my father. We can pick him up and bring him to our house for a visit, which is what we did this past weekend. But part of me wishes my daughter could brush off these comments.
A: You are an adult woman who can easily brush off the creepy comments from old men who might not be fully in control of their faculties. But you are cruelly dismissive of what was a shocking and awful experience for your daughter. She’s a girl who is only just attracting the attention of men. To have your daughter be invited by old men to kiss them and sit on their laps should bring out the momma bear in you. Instead you expect her to have an understanding of senility and the ability to gracefully deflect these creepy invitations. Surely, your father enjoys an outing from his facility, so that’s how your daughter should visit him. And you should revisit your attitude toward protecting your girl and giving her helpful, empathetic lessons in empowering herself and being able to handle the many uncomfortable situations that will inevitably come her way.
Yoffe is spot-on in her response to this mother. We especially like her advice to “revisit your attitude toward protecting your girl and giving her helpful, empathetic lessons in empowering herself and being able to handle the many uncomfortable situations that will inevitably come her way.”
We would add that parents should start this empowerment by enforcing children’s boundaries for them from a very young age. This means not only allowing them to say “no” to physical actions like hugs, tickles, and sitting on laps, but never being afraid to say no for them. This mother shouldn’t expect her daughter to “brush off” boundary-violating comments, no matter what the situation. She should also talk to the facility’s management to see what options are available to allow the daughter to visit her grandfather without being subjected to situations such as these.
Bottom Line: We must teach our children that they can always say no, and that if they are too afraid or uncomfortable to address a situation, they can count on us to support them and be their voice.