I Wish My Stepfather Was Less Affectionate with My Son

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I’m 90 percent sure that my stepfather is a perfectly nice man with no ill-intentions. He has no children or other grandchildren of his own and I think he just really, really loves my son, who was his first “grandchild.” And my son really, really loves him. However, the physical affection I see between my son and my stepfather makes me very uncomfortable. I’m just not OK with it. 

My son has always had a special relationship with my stepfather. In fact, he prefers him over all of his other blood-related grandparents. My stepfather will sit and play with my son for hours and hours on end. They entertain each other and make each other laugh. My stepfather is the grandparent my son will choose to sit with him while he’s eating, or read a book to him at bedtime. I’ve always thought it was sweet how much they love each other. But, the last time we visited my mother and stepfather, both my husband and I started to feel that my stepfather was being too affectionate with our son. 

We don’t live close to my mother and my stepfather, so we only see them a few times a year. When we first arrived at their house for our last visit, I told myself that my stepfather just didn’t realize that what was appropriate a year ago — like constant hand holding, letting my son sit on his lap while they watched TV together, and stroking my son’s knee while they played cars on the floor — isn’t appropriate now that my son is older. And, truthfully, that may be it; my stepfather never had children so those boundaries may not be clear to him. He may also be taking his cues from my son, who is the one who initiates the physical contact. However, I feel that a 4-year-old shouldn’t be the one to determine what behavior is and isn’t appropriate.

I became so upset during our visit that I almost had an anxiety attack every time my son sat on my stepfather’s lap or they held hands on the playground, because I knew I needed to say something and I just couldn’t work up the courage to do it. Because I am not sure how to bring it up. Because I don’t want to sound like I’m accusing him of anything. Because I don’t want to damage the great relationship that my son has with my stepfather. Because I’m sure I won’t have my mother’s support.

My mother doesn’t show my son as much physical affection. She holds his hand and hugs and kisses him, but she doesn’t overdo it. She also doesn’t appear to think that my stepfather is overdoing it. At least she’s never said anything to him in front of us, nor has she said anything about it to me in private.

I need to talk to my mom about how I feel. I need to get over the fact that my mom probably won’t take our conversation well. She is very sensitive when it comes to her husband. They married after I was an adult and my mother feels that I’ve never completely accepted (or liked) him. We’ve had tense conversations about it, and she has said things like, “I know you don’t love him.” And she’s right: I don’t love him. I like him and care about him, but he isn’t my dad. I don’t trust him completely because he didn’t raise me and I don’t truly know him. But I am afraid that once I address this issue — and it’s gotten to the point where I must address it before we visit again — it’s going to cause problems between my mom and me.

Of course, my husband and I hold our son’s hand, and we let him sit on our laps whenever he wants to. But he’s OUR son. He is still little enough that we feel this level of affection is appropriate with his parents. But that’s it. That’s where I draw the line. I don’t think another adult, especially a man, should be this affectionate with my child. I want to set boundaries so that my son understands what type of physical affection is (and isn’t) appropriate. I want to protect him, especially because I can’t always be with him. 

What do you think? Am I overreacting? What is the best way to approach my mother and stepfather with my feelings?