Little girls are cute. Boys are cute too, but it seems natural to cuddle little girls more than boys and, in fact, some grandfathers do tend to pick up and hold granddaughters more than grandsons. But before you know it, that little girl has become a young woman, and nurturing her isn’t easy, but more like scary. Now you’re a little edgy around her, and careful not to do anything that could be misinterpreted in any way. But your granddaughter is still yearning for your affection and approval.
More and more research is confirming that a woman’s sense of worth as a woman, and as a person, is commonly rooted in her experience with significant men in her family of origin.
Demonstrate It with Touch
Every grandfather needs to engage his grandchildren physically. Maybe he takes little Janie and flips her up over his head, holding on to her only by her ankle. Janie shrieks with delight and says, “Do it again, Grandpa” for as long as he will. And as the grandchildren grow older, that squeeze on the shoulder, pat on the back, or tousle of the hair from grandpa helps to create an atmosphere of comfort and security.
Studies have proven that physical touch makes us feel better both physiologically and psychologically. But children—especially granddaughters—need more than just everyday gestures given in passing.
Our purposeful physical affection will help to create an emotional bond with our granddaughters. We can “say” things with a hug, a gentle touch, or a kiss on the cheek that we can’t say with words, and our granddaughters desperately need these displays of affection.
Maybe this makes you uneasy. Here’s something that could make you even more uncomfortable. In one study, promiscuous men and women told researchers that their sexual activity is merely a way of satisfying yearnings to be touched and held. If a girl’s needs for affection aren’t met in appropriate and healthy ways, she may become frustrated and may eventually give in to the boy at school who is all-too-willing to “meet all her needs.”
Listen to Her
As a grandfather, there are many things you want to tell your granddaughter—about boys, about relationships, about life. But you have to earn the right to speak by listening first. Your granddaughter is moving through some confusing emotions, and needs to be assured that we all experience strange feelings from time to time, and that you’ll continue to love her no matter what. She wants to be heard, and if all her grandfather does is talk at her, she’ll grow frustrated and probably seek out other people who will listen and offer their counsel—and there’s no way of knowing what they’ll tell her.
The grandfather who has worked on being a sensitive listener will reap the benefits of his granddaughter’s trust; he’ll be a natural person to go to when she has questions about boys or men. She needs to hear your ideas and feelings about relationships.
Promoting open verbal interaction with your granddaughter will enable you to give her a male perspective on her questions or problems. When she talks about the recent football game when Kevin walked right by her without even smiling or waving, you may be able to help her understand what Kevin may have been thinking—but be sure you have listened long enough to accurately understand her situation before diving in with advice.
Model Positive Masculinity
As a girl tries to figure out what men are like, the first ones she watches are significant male family members. You can be one very significant example of a man who is consistent, trustworthy, and sensitive to feelings, who places his family at a high priority on his schedule, who keeps his promises, and who invests his energies in the lives of those around him.
With such a positive reference point, she’ll learn what to expect from the men she meets. You can bet she’ll meet plenty of men who are dishonest, irresponsible, and chauvinistic, and she’ll be able to see through them right from the start.
Model Healthy Behavior toward Women
If you avoid showing your granddaughter approval and affection—even though you may just be exercising caution—she may think you don’t care or that something’s wrong with her. What is and isn’t appropriate when men are present? How will men respond when she “flirts” for attention? One career woman I interviewed told me, “My grandpa and I always used to joke that he was my first boyfriend.” Make no mistake: you can play a large role in showing her what a proper, respectful male response sounds and feels like.
So gush with pride when you see her in a new dress, or when she does something that is especially charming. But make it clear that she has won your heart not with her looks and feminine charms, but because she is a unique, gifted and worthwhile person. If your granddaughter learns from you that she is accepted and appreciated for her personal qualities, because of who she is as your granddaughter, she will be much less likely to feel the need to earn love from men through physical means.
∙Call ahead, get dressed up, and take her out on a date.
∙Take her shopping (really!) and do your best to identify her unique tastes.
∙Tell her she is beautiful inwardly. Point out some specific examples.
∙Do a practice job interview. Guide her through the process, then hire her.
∙Ask her what she enjoys doing with you, and then set a time to do it together.