Is the way my mom touches/tickles our daughter weird?
April 10, 2019 6:42 AM   Subscribe

My mom like to gently rub/caress my daughter's back and torso to help her relax, and my wife feels a bit uncomfortable with it. Help us figure out if there's anything objectively weird here that needs addressing, or if it's no big deal!

Just looking for some perspective here because this is a weird one and I’m curious what other people think – I’ll try to be as neutral as possible in my description. My mom – who has a really good relationship with my wife and daughter, and is a part-time caregiver – likes to gently caress or rub my 2 year old daughter’s back and torso in a really slow and gentle manner, and it makes my wife somewhat uncomfortable. She doesn’t think there is any creepy or malicious intent at all (there are no concerns in this regard whatsoever), but when she does it, my daughter is almost in a weird hypnotic trance, just kind of lays there frozen. She definitely seems to enjoy it, and has now started asking us to tickle her back or side to help her calm down or relax at bedtime or when she’s wound up. I’m not quite as bothered as my wife, but I do understand why she’s uncomfortable – it’s sort of a weird vibe being in the room while our daughter is laying there kind of frozen while being gently touched like that. I think my mom did this with my sister when she was little, and also does it with my sister’s kids, and clearly doesn’t think anything of it, as she doesn’t hesitate to do it in the presence of other people, and the kids seem to like it.

Anyway, my wife seems pretty uncomfortable with it in general, and has mentioned her concerns being 1) the particularly slow and sensual way my mom does this, and 2) concerns about confusing my daughter about boundaries and appropriate touching as she grows older, and we have discussed whether this is something worth bringing up with my mom at all. I definitely feel like my wife shouldn’t be forced to feel uncomfortable about the way someone interacts with her daughter, but I also really worry about embarrassing my mom about something she clearly hasn’t given a second thought to, and I’m worried she will feel defensive and maybe not react super well (she maybe doesn’t react the best to constructive criticism in general).

What do people think of this? Should we say something, or accept this is not a big deal? I don’t want my mom to think that we think she’s some kind of pervert (we don’t), but my wife just feels uncomfortable with it all. And just in case someone wonders, my wife has no personal history of abuse or inappropriate touching in her family or background at all – that’s not the source of her discomfort.
posted by noboru_wataya to Human Relations (54 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t think having your grandmother rub your back and tummy as a toddler is going to make you into a weird touch-a-holic, but I speak only as an adult human that has some grandkids and was raised by a loving grandparent. Your wife needs to talk to your mother about it, I’d say. Getting in the middle of this is just going to add a layer of telephone game that will not redound to your benefit. But, again, random internet person here.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:48 AM on April 10, 2019 [15 favorites]

Reading this description makes me think of the way my own mom rubbed my back when I was having trouble getting to sleep as a kid, which I definitely experienced as calming and soothing — "trance-inducing" would be an exaggeration, but maybe only minor one — and also as loving and respectful and un-creepy.

I don't think there's an "objective" answer to this sort of thing, and I don't know if your situation is actually precisely the same as mine. But. This general sort of thing is a real common way to help a kid relax that happens in totally healthy families.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:50 AM on April 10, 2019 [50 favorites]

For what it's worth, my mom did this to my brother and myself when we were babies to help us sleep; my brother and sister in law went on to do it to their children at bedtime, who love it. I think I know the type of slow circular touching you mean. For us it was the palms of our hands we liked having rubbed in that way. I think my niece likes it on her back. (She's 3.)

Sorry, I am not sure how helpful this kind of anecdotal answer is and I'm also aware that a key difference here is that in both cases it was the parents who administered the touching, but just to say it really does not come across as weird at all from where I am standing.
posted by unicorn chaser at 6:53 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

It seems perfectly normal to me, as a parent of a five year old.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:53 AM on April 10, 2019 [12 favorites]

If you're concerned about boundaries, it should be uncontroversial to ask your mother to just ask your daughter before she does this. Phrase it as teaching her about personal space and bodily autonomy. I don't know if that would help your wife feel a bit better about it, it doesn't sound weird to me but I can see how it would be to somebody not from a touchy-feely family.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:55 AM on April 10, 2019 [47 favorites]

Relaxed toddlers are little glass-eyed sleepy zombies. Your mother is using baby massage patterns to relax your child, which is a nice thing. Your daughter is literally inviting this, so concerns about boundaries seem like a straw man to me. My greater concern would be teaching your daughter that perfectly fine touch which she enjoys isn't okay, which would be confusing.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:58 AM on April 10, 2019 [119 favorites]

OK so my mom used to touch me like this, and I touched my daughter like this when she was little and now I touch my two-year-old granddaughter like this. Probably not exactly like this but pretty close. The one difference is that my grandkid does not go into any kind of zoning out. What she does do is make it super clear when she doesn’t want me to touch her or when she wants me to stop, and I immediately follow her lead.

I don’t think this is weird, and it makes me sad that something that your daughter obviously enjoys might disappear because your wife finds it odd. It makes me sad in general that human beings often don’t get the kind of nonsexual touch that helps us thrive. Because I’m on my phone it’s not easy for me to find links at the moment. I would encourage you and your wife to actually research this before you decide that your wife’s feelings of discomfort should be privileged over the benefits of touch to your daughter as well as the strong relationship that they are developing.

If it feels weird now, how weird is it going to be when your two-year-old is asking family members to touch her in that way and grandma has to say no and thus communicate to your daughter that touching in that way is bad and wrong?

Please note, I shut down a stranger on the subway recently who kept touching my grandson on the subway. Not in a sexual way but I had to intervene and say, “we are teaching him that people need to ask permission before they touch him.” It’s entirely OK to ask grandma to ask for permission before she starts this with your granddaughter, because that is an excellent opportunity to start teaching about consent.

Your daughter is not too young to hear that question and to respond Yes or no either verbally or with body language. Might that solve the problem for your wife? It may be the consent piece that is missing here and making your wife uncomfortable, and that seems totally understandable to me.

I also know some people who are not touchy at all. They don’t really like to be touched except in very specific and explicit circumstances. If your wife happens to be that kind of person, then the touching may also make her uncomfortable because it’s just not her thing. I hope the two of you will take some time to explore various aspects of this issue before making a decision. Finally, your wife is entitled to her feelings, and I’m not trying to make her “wrong” in anyway.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:01 AM on April 10, 2019 [72 favorites]

This might be a bit out of left field but does your wife have any somewhat unusual stuff about being touched herself? Because personally, objectively, what your mom is doing seems normal to me but as someone who can be finicky about being touched (not because of any history, just sensory stuff) I sometimes (irrationally) feel pretty uncomfortable even watching the kind of touch that wouldn't feel good to me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:02 AM on April 10, 2019 [15 favorites]

It makes me really sad to think that this normal, healthy, sweet interaction between your daughter and her grandma might be curtailed because it seems ‘weird’. It’s understandable and normal that a parent would want to ensure that nothing untoward happens with their child, but as you’ve described it, this is not in any way untoward. Children who get healthy physical affection from people they trust are less likely to see out unhealthy physical affection elsewhere. I would gently suggest that your wife try to re-baseline her feelings about this interaction.
posted by cilantro at 7:04 AM on April 10, 2019 [45 favorites]

Also, just wanted to note some language you used: “particularly slow and sensual”. That is an adult perspective that conceivably includes overtones of judgement about sexuality. But humans are sensual critters. Like a bunch of critters, we respond to touch. Slow and sensual touch feels good.

I still give my grown kid foot rubs. They are not hasty and superficial. They are slow and sensual because that is literally what feels good. I like giving them to her; she likes getting them. I will be sad if she decides I don’t get to have that connection with her anymore but of course, that is up to her.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2019 [32 favorites]

If your wife doesn't think it's of creepy or malicious intent, I'm wondering what is troubling her? I wonder if it's just that toddlers don't have the social skills that would lead them to close their eyes when they're in that blissed out state to avoid freaking people out? I can imagine, for example, if someone gave me a footrub, I'd sit back, go into a kind of relaxed trance, but I'd close my eyes. All your daughter's doing is the same thing we all do when we get a massage, she just doesn't know to close her eyes.

I agree with DarlingBri that it's hard to see what a positive outcome would be out of broaching this with your mom. Quite apart from her own hurt feelings and awkwardness, the only thing she can do to accede is to refuse your daughter's requests to do it, repeatedly, giving her the message that there's something wrong with it.

It sounds to me like a really positive thing that your daughter's learning so young to recognise when she's wound up, and to know what the cure is and ask for help with it.
posted by penguin pie at 7:13 AM on April 10, 2019 [30 favorites]

Would a good compromise be limiting it to the back? That seems 100% normal/typical and might ping fewer of your wife's weird-o-meteres than belly/stomach touching does.

I also think having your mother ask is a great idea.

The ultimate decision here should be your wife's, I think, because it's her kid, but any solution you can offer up that can keep this nice connection going is good.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

When you differentiate between back and "torso" do you mean chest? If your wife is feeling weirded out about the kid getting rubbed in a place that you will in the future be designating as a "private part" or "bathing suit area" or whatever, then that might be where the issue lies? I do think though that the positive value of loving, trusted, touch is not to be underestimated but that adding a question of consent and maybe focussing on the back in that case could be a good balance.
posted by Iteki at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

I wonder this myself -- I'm a really really touchy mother to my kids, who love backrubs and having their hair rubbed and I wonder if they will be addicted! But I've come to the conclusion that it fosters our bond, that humans and especially babies need touch (seems strange to push baby massage and baby wearing and pull back) and that much of the discomfort is our hyper-awareness of molestation -- obviously a good thing and also something that could interfere with other, healthy, touching relationships. I remember reading a memoir (obviously unscientific) of a man who said that his molestation by a coach started with him being hugged by him, which felt so good because he was starved for healthy touching at home. But obviously if it still makes your wife uncomfortable, I would try to stop it, though I can't imagine your mother will not be offended by the implications.
posted by heavenknows at 7:28 AM on April 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Another point of anecdata: that kind of touching happens regularly in our house with the three year old, and he has consistently asked for it long before he was verbal. Like, when he was under a year old, he would grab your finger and pull your hand to his belly, and then if you moved your hand away, he'd go and grab your finger again and move your hand back.

Has it always bugged your wife, or only now that the kid is (slightly) older?
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:34 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I hate being touched or rubbed and even I can't see any problems with what your Mother is doing, it's pretty standard touching procedure with kids. I mean I wouldn't want it done to me but can totally understand how it would sooth a toddler that liked being touched. Does your daughter show any sign of not liking it is the issue you should be focused on?

As your wife doesn't like it, but touch is very obviously a way your mother shows affection, can your wife think of a compromise that wouldn't freak her out? Have Grandma ask permission before she does the back rubs and get clear consent. She could also just stroke her head or something instead. Then your daughter would still get a chance at a loving touch from Grandma & not feel rejected & learn about consent.
posted by wwax at 7:42 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the many reasons I enjoyed pretending to be animals as a small child is that I loved being massaged like you describe, and it's much simpler to ask people to pet you when you are currently a puppy. (A talking puppy.)

I agree with the above recommendations to use this as an opportunity to have conversations with your daughter about consent and bodily autonomy and to research the best ways to talk to her about this. That way you can get your mom on Team Teaching Daughter About Consent and have grandmom explicitly ask for permission every time she starts petting daughter and every time she touches a different part of the body, that kind of thing.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:43 AM on April 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm a childhood sexual assault survivor and I think it's kind of weird that your wife thinks this is weird. I touch my kids in exactly this way. My mother and grandmother also rubbed my back and stomach in this manner when I was young. I've also seen my children's daycare providers use this method to soothe them at naptime up until around 3 years old. Now that my oldest is almost 6, I don't initiate this anymore but wait for him to ask me to cuddle first.

We have a lot of discussions about consent in our household and never touch or hold our children when they don't want us to (unless it's for safety or hygiene reasons). I agree that it's a good idea to talk about consent with your mother. Both of our sets of grandparents took a while to come around to asking permission and not forcing hugging, but it really helps reinforce the concept of bodily autonomy for our children.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:47 AM on April 10, 2019 [12 favorites]

The one question I'm left with is - your mom did this to your sister but not to you? Why the difference?
posted by valeries at 7:55 AM on April 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

My mom did this with me when I was a kid -- I remember her switching to very lightly rubbing my arms as I got older (like, age 6 or so). It was very, very soothing, and calmed me a lot -- I was an anxious kid. It did not turn me into a weird toucher myself, although I do have fond memories of the feeling of calm and comfort it induced.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:00 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

My mom has worked in early childhood education her entire career, and it was pretty common for her to rub our backs like this when we were young- I found it super relaxing, and sometimes when I'm experiencing extreme anxiety or a panic attack, I'll still ask my partner to do it. Now, I've found myself doing it when I'm caretaking young children who care close to me (nieces, nephews), and it never occurred to me that this might be read as "creepy" (Of course, I'd stop if a child or their parent indicated they did not want it to happen).

That all said - as others have pointed out - like all touch, it comes down to a personal decision about comfort. This is a great opportunity to approach the idea of boundary setting and consent as a family - with your child, your parent, and to model the types of conversations you'd like your child to be empowered to have on their own when they're old enough.
posted by nuclear_soup at 8:01 AM on April 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone, I have found this to be helpful perspective and will share these responses with my wife as well.

Just to quickly answer a couple questions – Valeries: not sure why I phrased it like that; I’m sure she probably did the same with me. Maybe because I don’t remember it I sort of didn’t really consider that, but no big deal either way.

Joyceanmachine: it made her a bit uncomfortable when she was a baby too but moreso now, I think. Possibly because now our daughter is requesting it a lot and has definitely adopted it as a soothing behaviour.
posted by noboru_wataya at 8:03 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Coming from a very non-touchy-feely family, I totally understand why your wife would feel uncomfortable with this. I feel weird about even seeing kids and parents kiss each other on the mouth. If you’re not used to physical displays of affection outside of a romantic/sexual context, then of course it might give you weird or inappropriate vibes. BUT—I always hoped to raise kids who were more comfortable with gestures of affection and closeness than I am, and I realize part of that is overcoming my own discomfort with physical displays of affection. Many people are comfortable with snuggling and touching those they love in all sorts of ways.

As long as you feel able to clarify for your kid the difference between family members’ touching and strangers’ touching, and arm your kid with the confidence and ability to speak up about touching the kid doesn’t want, I don’t see any problem with this. I think your wife should try to practice not attributing her own feelings of discomfort onto your mom or kid, who don’t seem to be feeling anything amiss.
posted by sallybrown at 8:05 AM on April 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

I do this to my 10 month old and did to my eldest as well when I notice an inability to settle down - little ones need help relaxing especially when overtired. So there is nothing objectively weird here. But if it makes your wife uncomfortable I would for sure dig into that. I don't think your mom is doing anything wrong at all, but your wife is the mamma and she just doesn't deserve to feel uncomfortable - so whether that means talking to your mother, seeing a therapist, talking it through with friends - that should probably happen.
posted by kitcat at 8:09 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seems well within normal range to me. I rub my 2 yr old’s back too, but although he sorta likes it it seems yours is way more into it, which is also fine and normal.

Put this another way: how the heck is anyone going to explain to her ‘no you can’t ask grandma to rub your back because even though you both like it, a third party has vague discomfort about it’

YMMV but I plan to teach my kid that two people can mostly do what they want together: your bodies your choices, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:11 AM on April 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

Nthing all of the above regarding discussing boundaries. I think this type of touch is normal and healthy - but also your wife is expressing concern about the "weird hypnotic trance" of your daughter. I think it is right to be concerned about your daughter's reaction. We want to teach our children to have the self-recognition on how to set boundaries but you cannot do that if self-recognition is absent. One suggestion could be that first your mother asks before touching (which I think she should be doing) and then asks again when she gets in that "trance", so your daughter knows it is okay to change her mind. It does not have to be anything more than, "Is it okay to rub your back?" and "is it still okay that I rub your back?" I think this reinforces that just like touch is normal and healthy, so too is consent. If you daughter is in too much of a trance to respond that it is okay, your mom should stop.

edited to add: Also, you do not have to shame your mom. We all needed to be education on consent. "Hey mom - we notice that when you massage it really calms her down but almost to a point she is in a trance. Could you make sure you ask her if it is okay to continue? we want to teacher her boundaries.
posted by turtlefu at 8:15 AM on April 10, 2019 [10 favorites]

My mom did exactly this with me, and I asked her to do it too. It was kind of trance-inducing! Also loving and comforting. My high school boyfriend’s mom had done it for him also and we used to do it for each other in a 100% nonsexual way, just as a way of being affectionate while watching tv or whatever. I still love having it done to me and I’m in my 50s. I say it’s lovely and normal.
posted by HotToddy at 8:22 AM on April 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Your wife is allowed to feel however she feels about this, whether anyone else agrees that it is “weird” or not. Teaching about consent is a good idea. The flip side of this is that your wife does not have to consent to touching anyone in a way that makes her uncomfortable, so if your daughter is asking for touching as a way to calm down, your wife does not have to provide it if she is not comfortable. It can be something your daughter does with Grandma.
posted by corey flood at 8:30 AM on April 10, 2019 [14 favorites]

Also, regarding your wife’s concern that it’s “particularly slow and sensual”—that’s the whole point! That’s exactly what feels good about it! It never felt creepy to me at all, just fun. Another example of this kind of thing is I have known people who like to pretend to “check for lice,” which involves very slowly and lightly going through someone’s hair to kind of give them the shivers. I think this kind of thing is very strongly rooted in our primate past and is good and healthful for us.
posted by HotToddy at 8:33 AM on April 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

Just as a slightly different perspective: one thing that sometimes bothers me as a parent is when other people introduce soothing behaviors to my young children that I'm not sure I want them to adopt. Like, sure, that might be helpful right now (or it might not), but then I gotta start doing that aaaaaall the time. I'm not sure if that is on your / your wife's mind right now. In my opinion, if your mom is a regular caregiver, I would allow her whatever reasonable strategies she wants, but that's also your call.
posted by Phredward at 8:57 AM on April 10, 2019 [12 favorites]

We pick up a lot of counterproductive, unhealthy ideas about bodies from family and I'd caution you to be aware of that while evaluating this normal and soothing touch that your daughter is receiving. Your daughter is asking for this because she finds that she enjoys it and it makes her feel good and calm. She's only 2, but has identified how it feels when she's overstimulated and she's identified a type of touch that calms her and makes her feel better. For a 2 year old to make that connection and then be able to articulate asking for it is fantastic. She's learning to regulate her emotions and ask for a type of physical touch that helps her. The fact that she's asking for this indicates consent.

You can talk to her increasingly about consent, but I think that's better done in the moment when she's clearly not wanting to hug or kiss or touch another person who is pressuring her and then you can step in and tell the person (often an adult wanting a hug or kiss) that you're teaching her boundaries and that trying to cajole or pressure her when her body language and behavior clearly indicates she doesn't want the touch needs to be respected. Having conversations with a 2 year old about abstract concepts like consent is not something she'll understand beyond the basics of you demonstrating your support of her clear desire to avoid unwanted touch.

But, the current calming massage with her grandmother sounds very healthy and positive and it's a very human wiring to want loving touch from trusted loved ones. I loved touch like this as a small child and still enjoy soothing, loving touch when I'm stressed or want to relax. Your wife would do better to do some honest interrogation of her discomfort. Is she misapplying sexual context to this? Is she jealous of the connection grandmother has with your daughter during this calming touch? Does she not like to be touched in certain ways and is projecting this onto your daughter? Is it something else?

I'd hesitate to interrupt or change this positive interaction your daughter is having for reasons that have everything to do with an adult's discomfort and not her own. There are enough ways that your daughter will internalize non-productive messages about her body from people in her life and from the larger culture. Taking away a type of perfectly normal, healthy, loving touch that she expressly asks for is not going to be positive for her.
posted by quince at 8:59 AM on April 10, 2019 [35 favorites]

I'm not personally weirded out by it, but I also don't personally see this as any different from, for example, a personal boundary that only parents change a child's diaper, if they're around. It's not about distrusting someone else's motives as much as about establishing the primary-care bond while you're present. Some people might find this jealous or insecure, but at the end of the day it's your kid and your choice. Do you think she'd be less bothered if your mom only did this while she was babysitting?
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2019

but I also really worry about embarrassing my mom about something she clearly hasn’t given a second thought to, and I’m worried she will feel defensive and maybe not react super well (she maybe doesn’t react the best to constructive criticism in general).

I also kinda wonder about this part - sometimes a thing becomes more of a thing when you know that bringing up the thing will cause a major reaction. Is it possible this particular behavior has become the current symbol for a bigger problem of fearing push-back?
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:06 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if your wife didn't get this sort of loving touch growing up, so she's a bit repelled by it. Like, a lot of time we have a wall around an idea that might have been useful but wasn't introduced in our lives to create a sense of normality. So it's harder to see it happening. And we may recoil from it. But the recoil may not have a longing for what was missed.

I'd hate for your daughter's budding self regulation skills to be sidelined by this discomfort if it can be avoided.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

This seems like such an overreaction that I wonder if there isn't some other issue at play here. Is your wife jealous of your mother's bond with your daughter? As an outlier, is there any possibility your wife has an abuse history she hasn't disclosed to you?

The whole point of teaching good touch/bad touch is that there is good touch; we just need to distinguish it from bad. Otherwise, you end up with people alienated from their own bodies and unnecessarily negative attitudes towards sexuality and other people's bodies generally.
posted by praemunire at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2019 [18 favorites]

I can see that you consider this answered but just wanted to pop in and add something. When my son was a month old he was in hospital with a severe infection and there was this one nurse, and if she was on duty and we left and came back, he was always either sleeping happy or just really calm and relaxed. It was not that way with other nurses and he was often upset, because he was very sick. We pulled her aside and asked what her secret was and she (very secretly- she didn't want to get fired!) explained a few points on his body that she was touching and said it was reiki... but it was really cool. Maybe your mom is doing something similar without knowing it?
posted by catspajammies at 10:02 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Your wife is checking out a feeling she has, and that's appropriate. I think the massage is great, maybe your Mom would teach some massage techniques to your wife?
posted by theora55 at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

I’m from a highly emotionally close — but not physically touchy-feely — family myself, so I personally find this degree of touching a little strange. (My fiancé’s family all rub/stroke each other’s backs all the time and I still find it really odd!)

Anyway, it doesn’t matter how odd I find this; it matters how your kid thinks about it! I think your mom should be saying, “Would you like a back rub?” before beginning, to teach your daughter that the decision to accept touch is always 100% hers.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

It makes me sad in general that human beings often don’t get the kind of nonsexual touch that helps us thrive.

This is going to sound completely out of left field, but I lived in sub-Saharan Africa for the better part of a decade, and going on safari in the Masai Mara or Krueger Park basically was the equivalent of a weekend camping trip for me in those years. Super spoiled.

One thing that I noticed after hours spent observing wild animals in their environment was how *often* they are touching each other. Frequently would be an understatement - they are nearly constantly in physical contact of some kind with one another. Even when sleeping. I think it's calming and soothing to them knowing that the other animal(s) are close, it's a second or third or fourth set of eyes keeping a look out for predators. It's helping groom them from pests. It's playing and socializing and practicing for hunting prey. It's just how animals be social in the wild - they touch very, very frequently.

I think we as humans have become kind of chronically detached from the good, soothing thing that loving, welcome, non-sexual touch can be, whether between an adult and a child or between adults. It feels good! It makes us more relaxed! It makes us feel worthy of the effort of being touched. It makes us feel loved! We're working hard in our tiny family to try to be in more regular physical contact with our child in ways that help him know that he's safe and loved.

On preview: agreed that there's nothing wrong for your wife to be exploring a feeling she has on this. But it does sound like perfectly normal behavior on the part of grandma.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:47 AM on April 10, 2019 [16 favorites]

We called them "tickle-scratches" and they're a normal comforting thing if administered by normal, comforting grandmas with child's consent.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:59 AM on April 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

It sounds kind of weird to me (non-cuddly family of origin). I realize I'm an outlier here. However, I'm also a big fan of trusting your gut. Maybe your wife needs to talk this out with a therapist. Maybe the idea that this is a new soothing behavior that your wife doesn't want to provide is part of it.

And fwiw, I am a cuddly person now with people I love and trust. I give hugs to my friends. I even ask my partner to pet my hair, which is something I *hated* as a child. I wish bodily consent had been a part of the milieu when I was growing up.
posted by purple_bird at 11:32 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is totally normal as far as I'm concerned. My mum used to do this with me when I was small. Your daughter likes it. I think it is a bit sad to problematise loving touch like this.
posted by thereader at 12:30 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would feel weird if grandma regularly had this very intense sensual (not in the sexual sense) interaction with my kids but that (for whatever reason) I myself couldn‘t enjoy or wouldn‘t want to do.

Not sure what to do about this, but I think showing your wife a thread where the tenor is that her feelings are weird, and that if she had her way she would be depriving her kid of something and it would be oh so sad** - well, that‘s not gonna be a winning move in your relationship. I‘m sure she‘s trying very hard to be objective and feels guilty about her feelings.

Personally, I think her feelings are entirely understandable and it is irrelevant how awesome everyone else‘s moms‘ backrubs have felt. I don‘t necessarily think your mom should stop giving the backrubs. But I do think you should validate your wife‘s feelings as being understandable. Because so far you‘ve made her explain her feelings to you then set out to get feedback from outside (us) whether her feelings make sense.

** Perhaps this is not what people meant but that‘s the way it can come across
posted by Omnomnom at 12:43 PM on April 10, 2019 [13 favorites]

Omnomnom - very much hear what you’re saying, but how better to bridge this subjective divide other than to show that other random people don’t really consider the behaviour in question to be concerning or inappropriate?
posted by noboru_wataya at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2019

I would definitely not show her this thread, maybe just encourage her to make sure your mother is modeling appropriate consent.

I also think what your mother is doing is weird but harmless and it would make me feel uncomfortable too.
posted by winna at 1:14 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm apparently an outlier (at least among respondents here), but I think this might make me uncomfortable too. I certainly don't think that grandma is doing anything objectively inappropriate or wrong, but just wanted to weigh in and say that your wife's reaction makes sense to me. At the end of the day, parenting requires making a lot of personal choices that aren't necessarily right or wrong. If this is something that your wife is uncomfortable with, it seems like it's up to the two of you to decide if it should continue or not, regardless of what the internet thinks!
posted by scalar_implicature at 1:18 PM on April 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

but how better to bridge this subjective divide other than to show that other random people don’t really consider the behaviour in question to be concerning or inappropriate?

Is she actually asking or implying whether the behaviour is generally considered inappropriate? If so, sure, tell her you asked around and backrubs seem a really common childhood thing that people remember fondly. (But still don‘t show her the thread unless she really wants to see it!) But if she‘s just processing her own feelings, bringing the peanut gallery into it will just seem think other people‘s opinions are more relevant than hers.

I think what might help is just exploring with her where the discomfort comes from.
I‘ve thought some more about this. Maybe she‘s comparing herself to your mom. Asking herself why her child is having far more intense moments of bliss out with someone who is not her. Asking herself if she is inadequate as a mother because she can‘t share this evidently deep connection, is even repelled by it.
Not saying that‘s the case, but if it were - those would be some really complex feelings, laced with guilt and resentment.

One thing that could help, counterintuitively, is to frame it as „grandma‘s thing“ that she does. Child wants massage -> sorry kid, those magic massages are grandma‘s thing, and aren‘t they great? Mommy does X other thing, daddy does Y.“

That would take the pressure off your wife to do something she doesn‘t want to while feeling like she‘s competing with your mom‘s skills. And it would emphasize the amazing connection of her own that your wife has with her daughter - things that nobody in a million years could do as she does.

Thousand ways to love a child, right? The more ways a child learns, the more people she learns it from, the greater her repertoire of expressing love as an adult, no?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:41 PM on April 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

but how better to bridge this subjective divide other than to show that other random people don’t really consider the behaviour in question to be concerning or inappropriate?

If you're confident she won't mind you having asked AskMe and will trust that you're not cherry picking, mayyybe ask if you can read or email her a representative cross-section, and include the excerpts that you think are most helpful, including plenty of those who say her response is totally understandable, but perhaps shouldn't result in stopping the massages as your daughter seems to benefit from them.
posted by penguin pie at 2:31 PM on April 10, 2019

You might want to look into third party information about baby massage / infant massage with your wife. My massage therapist taught a class on it last year, for parents. Maybe there’s one in your area?
posted by delezzo at 2:50 PM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Perhaps you and your wife could find an infant/toddler massage class to do together, as a way for you both to a) learn how to relax the kid this way yourselves and b) get some exposure to what other people seem to consider normal touch?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:52 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

We used to give back rubs and foot rubs to each other, as siblings, and Mom too. If we sat 3 on a couch, the middle person would rub the back of the person on the right, the person on their left would rub their back, and then we'd say, "switch!" and the middle person was lucky, because they got two back rubs. Usually done while watching TV.

It was nothing for one of us to plop down on the couch and say, "rub my feet," or some other thing (back rub). There was never anything sexually involved, even remotely.

I'm sure my Mom rubbed our backs when we were little, and I did baby massage for my kids when they were little. I never thought anything about it except I loved them and wanted them to feel better, along with things like telling stories, singing songs, etc.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:59 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would not be uncomfortable with it, but I also wouldn’t want it to be my toddler’s primary soothing method either (says the woman who brings along an extra suitcase just for her kindergartener’s blanket that has to go with us everywhere.) Perhaps digging more into why your wife’s uncomfortable would help you figure out the best approach. If it’s about the frequency that your daughter requests it, perhaps suggesting that your mom introduce some self-soothing strategies would help.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:12 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Omnomnom - very much hear what you’re saying, but how better to bridge this subjective divide other than to show that other random people don’t really consider the behaviour in question to be concerning or inappropriate?

"Other people think you are wrong about what is right for your kid" is usually not an approach that works well unless someone is actively seeking that kind of information. She wants to make a decision about your kid for her comfort, and you should treat her feelings as per se valid and try to come up with a compromise that you both feel okay with. I emphasize 'feel" because it's not a rational thing where you come to the most right conclusion; instead, it's about making sure everyone in the family feels respected, heard, valued, and in control of the things that matter to them.

It's also the case that your wife will likely see this as you siding with your mother, and if you habitually avoid criticizing your mother by making your wife put up with things that bug her, especially when it comes to your kid/parenting, you should try not to do that because it can introduce a lot of tension and even hostility into the relationship between your wife and your mother.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:58 PM on April 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

The whole point of teaching good touch/bad touch is that there is good touch; we just need to distinguish it from bad. Otherwise, you end up with people alienated from their own bodies and unnecessarily negative attitudes towards sexuality and other people's bodies generally.

I undertsand completely where your wife is coming from. That behaviour would make me highly uncomfortable for the reasons praemunire's comment outlines above. But one of the hardest parts about parenting is trying not to inflict your own issues on your kids. To say I have some issues with physical affection would be a hilarious understatement but I have worked very hard to try and lmit the impact this has on my child which by and large I have been successful at. My daughter and I hug more times in a day than my family and I ever have. She is confident and without shame about her body well as much as a teenage girl is able to be, seriously we need to smash the fucking patriarchy already that shit is broken.

I realise I'm implying that your wife has issues and she is "the problem" which is not really my intention. More to say that examining why she feels the way she does may be a good idea before broaching it with your mother as the general consensus would appear that it is beneficial to your daughter for your mother to be doing this.
posted by fullerine at 12:34 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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