How do I protect my baby girl?
December 13, 2008 7:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm pregnant. How do I stop my family's cycle of sexual abuse?

Background: When I was in fourth grade, my paternal grandfather molested me on two occasions. A couple of years later, when it was discovered he had also molested one of my cousins, my father asked me about it and I told him. I don't know for sure what happened after that point, although there were no criminal charges filed. I was never alone with my grandfather after that. Fast forward to age 14. My father sits me down one day and propositions me for sex with a sick rationalization that I can't even bring myself to verbalize, even 15 years later. I say no, but the subject comes up again a couple of more times. He never forces me to do anything, but the innocence is long gone.

I leave home and over the past few years, we've had a somewhat normal relationship, much more normal than what I have with either my biological mother or my stepmother who raised me (he's divorced from both of them and has married someone else). We've never discussed what happened when I was a teenager.

I'm six months pregnant with a girl, and I am worried. My grandfather died last year, so that predator is gone, but how do I navigate my dad having a relationship with his only grandchild while at the same time keeping her safe?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No unsupervised contact, especially post puberty.
posted by availablelight at 7:28 PM on December 13, 2008 [6 favorites]

This one is easy. You don't ever leave your dad alone with your child. Ever. Ever ever ever. Under any circumstances. It might be easier just to never let him near the child at all, frankly.

Your first responsibility is to the safety of your child. Everything else is a very distant second.
posted by Justinian at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

My advice would be to just not let him have a relationship with your child at all.
posted by explosion at 7:31 PM on December 13, 2008 [73 favorites]

It would be safer to allow no contact at all. It would be difficult and it may mean bringing up things that happened in the past which were unpleasant, but it is the only surefire way to ensure what happened to you does not happen to your daughter.

Maybe your father is different now, maybe it would never be an issue, but were it me, I'm not sure that would be a chance I'd be willing to take.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 7:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

No contact between your father and your daughter. Period. If your father has the gall to ask why, tell him. But your first responsibility is to your daughter, and you cannot take chances with a known sexual predator.
posted by decathecting at 7:37 PM on December 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

Definitely no unsupervised time between them, ever. If you've chosen to have a relationship with your father, that's a decision you've arrived at for reasons of your own. But don't it make you feel guilty about withholding access to your daughter. It is not your fault, or hers, that this ugly situation exists. I'm truly sorry, but safeguarding her is far more valuable than your father's feelings at this point. It will be tough if/when your daughter asks questions later, but that might be a bridge to cross with the help of a professional counsellor.
posted by woodway at 7:39 PM on December 13, 2008

>don't [let] it.
posted by woodway at 7:40 PM on December 13, 2008

I'm with explosion. I won't disclose why, but imagine you are having a supervised visit and you need to go to the bathroom. At some stage, it's going to be inappropriate to take her with you. You don't ever want her to deal with what he could do. I doubt that you would want to warn her of the possibility either, apart from the normal "good touch, bad touch" talks, because you don't want her living in fear.
posted by b33j at 7:44 PM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

My first question is - who/where is the husband of your daughter? As sick and twisted as it is, most of those who were abused as young children seek out partners who are abusive and sometimes alcoholic/drug-addicted as well...have you seen a therapist about your past trauma? From where I'm sitting I'd be much more worried about him than your father...

It is your choice as to whether your daughter interacts with your father - I don't necessarily agree with those who say you should never let them meet - I would just make sure to always make sure you in the same place when they are together....

On a final note, as sad as it is that your father did what he did to you, please understand that he was obviously molested/sexually-abused when he was a young child as well and although that is no excuse for what he did, I'm glad you can see that and still maintain a better relationship with him...
posted by Hogermite at 7:48 PM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

In theory, you might be able to let him play grandpa in a supervised fashion - but can you guarantee that will sufficiently protect your daughter? What if you leave the room for a minute? A lot can happen in a minute. What if he visits her when she's in the care of a babysitter? What if he collects her from school without telling you?

He may not have touched you as a child, but any father that sexually propositions his teenaged daughter has transgressed so far outside acceptable norms that all bets are off. And he doesn't even have to touch her. He can harm her just by speaking to her, as he did with you. By looking at her in a non-grandfatherly way. By messing up her ideas of family and safety.

I'm so sorry these things happened to you, and that you're in this terrible situation. Unfortunately, I don't see how you can allow your father to have a relationship with your daughter at all. While you've been able to have a fairly normal relationship as adults, the stakes have now been raised, and that probably can't continue.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

It sounds like your first priority is your daughter but you prefer not to cut your father out of life. Given that your father was willing take no for an answer, you might consider a two part solution:
1. Talk to your father bluntly. Tell him that his propositions to you were inappropriate and unacceptable and you want to promise that he won't touch your daughter inappropriately or even discusses such things with her and if he breaks that promise, you will immediately cut him off out of your and her life. You are not asking for a apology, you are not going to discuss the details of what happened or whether it really harmed you or not, you just making an ultimatum. If he argues or can't understand, you should then consider keeping him away.
2. In addition, even with his promises, don't leave him alone with her. That includes leaving him with her when the other adults take a nap or runs an errand etc.
posted by metahawk at 7:53 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

this is a really tough situation and my heart goes out to you.

perhaps the question at this point should be how you are first. in order to be a good parent you will need to heal yourself. your child needs a strong and stable mother. do your daughter the favor and seek professional help to be alright yourself first.

it's easy to suggest there should be no contact at all to your father or at the very most strictly supervised contact but as a grandparent he may very well be somewhat important for you to have in the life of your grandchild. we all want good family relations. how you handle this in the end, how much trust and forgiveness you are willing to extend and how much trust you should vs. should not put into relations with your father is a question only you and perhaps a psychologist intimately familiar with your case can decide.

be assured that seeking professional help to deal with such terrifyingly tough questions is not a sign of weakness. you wouldn't fix the breaks on your car yourself if you had no idea how to do it and you wouldn't want to perform surgery on your child by yourself either. this is exactly like that.
posted by krautland at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2008

You should probably let other people know, too, so that if something were to happen to you, your daughter wouldn't be placed iin danger.
posted by rikschell at 7:57 PM on December 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

No contact.
posted by Netzapper at 8:00 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Seven Steps for Protecting Children.

I always start with the assumption that someone knows better than me and seek those people out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

but how do I navigate my dad having a relationship with his only grandchild while at the same time keeping her safe?

It's understandable that you have these feelings but your dad has forfeited the privilege of having a normal relationship with your child. You don't own him anything and you should take every precaution necessary to keep your girl safe.

Is this something you could confront him about, i.e. tell him the truth and that he can never expect to have a usual relationship with your daughter? Maybe even subtly warn him? I'm thinking that you might as well have it out in the open as he'll suspect that something is up. Assuming you don't think your dad might be provoked by this and become aggressive, of course.

I wish you and your kid the best.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2008

Do you have a healthy, good relationship with the father of your baby? Knowing something about that would impact my thoughts on this situation...I've been there myself, btw.
posted by mumstheword at 8:13 PM on December 13, 2008

I would echo the comments of others, especially that of taking care of *you* and your feelings about what happened. And your feelings about the future. Kids are very perceptive, and will pick up on any added tension or stress when "grandpa" is around. For your and your daughter's sake, you need to do this, I think.

And maybe part of that would be, eventually, a conversation with your father.
posted by gjc at 8:17 PM on December 13, 2008

I'm with the chorus singing "no contact".

When I was a kid, my mother's parents visited us on a few occasions. This was after my mother went into great detail about how they abused her when she was a kid. Even as a kid I thought it was fucked up that she was allowing us contact with these people. But then my mother was not the most rational person, to say the least.
posted by wastelands at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2008

imagine you are having a supervised visit and you need to go to the bathroom. At some stage, it's going to be inappropriate to take her with you.

Just want to underscore that someone with an inappropriate or predatory interest in children only needs a minute. It only takes a single question or comment to do damage that lasts a lifetime. Quite seriously.

I do think that it would be good for you to read up on how to protect children, and as importantly, teach children how to protect themselves, from abuse. There are things you can do as a parent to make your daughter safer besides just avoiding contact with your father - and I'd encourage you to do them, because sadly, he is not the only sexual predator in the world.

There is a lot of information about this parental responsibility out there, so Google away. Some ideas that show up a lot are: be trustworthy. Believe what your daughter tells you so that she will always know she talk about anything out of the ordinary with you and be taken seriously. Watch for unexplainable changes in mood or a sudden desire to avoid certain people. Teach her what parts of her body are private and help her establish boundaries for being touched.

Someone mentioned the idea that your father (or anyone really) might try to pick her up at school or some method like that. You should know that any reputable school or preschool is going to have a policy about who is authorized to pick up your daughter and under what conditins. Always ask about that whenever leaving your child in another's care and make it clear that only authorized adults should be allowed to take responsibility for your daughter, and that if anyone else ever tries to you should be informed ASAP. In addition, you may want to work out a 'password' with her at some point in case you ever do need to relay a message through someone else, like another parent at a friend's house. Teach your daughter to trust her gut, and that she is in control of her body. Observe people. But don't neglect the things she can learn to do to protect herself - don't get so concerned about 'innocence' that you do all the protecting, and she does none. Girls absolutely need to know how to avoid unwanted sexual advances.

Here's a link. Here's another. Here's another.

And finally, I agree with those who suggest therapy for you -- not just because you might have unresolved issues now, but because I bet watching your daughter grow up and, especially, reach the ages at which you were abused, will bring up that trauma in a new and different way for you. It would just be really good to have a professional's perspective and guidance as you work your way through these issues, so that your daughter can form a healthy sexuality rather than an overly fearful or guilt-ridden one, should she sense your anxiety. It's complicated stuff and you really don't have to go it alone - it would be smart of you to enlist some other minds in strategizing and managing yourself as you go forward.

Congratulations on becoming a parent, by the way. You will be a great one.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on December 13, 2008 [13 favorites]

Nthing no contact.

If they have no contact, there is a 0% chance of sexual abuse. Anything more than that increases the chance of abuse to an unacceptable percent (i.e. more than zero).
posted by Spurious at 8:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

No contact. Why risk it? You would hate yourself if anything were to happen. If you choose to allow him into her life, you always be on edge over what might happen. He crossed the line with you and I see no reason why he wouldn't with her. You may have been strong enough to say "no" to your dad, but some kids will just go along with what the adult wants because they don't know any better or are too afraid.

Hogermite, you said "please understand that he was obviously molested/sexually-abused when he was a young child as well"

That just isn't the truth. There are plenty of people who act out this way who weren't sexually abused or molested.
posted by pdx87 at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

No contact. None at all. That's how my parents handled it. Seriously, he doesn't deserve the privilege of being in your child's life.
posted by atropos at 9:07 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

No contact.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:08 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a childless male with no experience with abuse or protecting children from abusers, I have this response. 'Dad' made a couple of inappropriate, immoral and illegal suggestions. He was obviously raised in a harmful atmosphere and picked up some of those threads in his behavior.

Despite this in your past, you say your relationship has been pretty normal for 15 years now since it occurred. Dad has no apparent other abusive behaviors or been under suspicion in that time.

As a suggestion, I'd have a third party like a therapist, meet with your Dad, express your concerns and have him be advised about the legal and emotional consequences of abuse and how fear of him is creating a desire on your part to keep your child separated from him.

People act out their scripts sometimes because that's a model they were raised with. It doesn't mean they are branded as deviants permanently, just that they perhaps didn't really think through the consequences of behavior that was 'normal' in their own upbringing.

Having done so, I wouldn't want my child not to have a bonding with their grandparent, though I too would be very cautious not to leave my child alone in the care of the grandparent.

That's my two cents worth from the standpoint of a childless male adult.
posted by diode at 9:09 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you don't wish to cut your father out completely, I would say Very Limited Contact. Perhaps only in public.

Aside from the very real danger of inappropriate behavior from him at some point, you also have the conundrum of allowing your daughter to form an attachment to her grandfather while discouraging trust.

This is hard. How to you manage this? Telling her at a young age why you don't trust your father is going to be messy to explain and you'll likely not want to damage her innocence. Not telling her could backfire -- she's fifteen and you two have a fight and she decides to lash out by running to grandpa because she senses that this might piss you off without knowing why? Plus, at some point, she's either going to find out or it's going to be important to tell her, and she's going to have some very legitimate frustration over what she will see as a HUGE lie of omission.

Maybe you can find middle ground by raising her to know that your father has some problems and was not a very good dad, in fact a very bad dad, to you for awhile, and so you've got to protect yourself and her in case.

It's possible that thinking about the idea of your daughter having a grandfather is going to be very weird for you, considering your experience. If you're not currently getting counseling, you may want to look for a therapist or a support group. And congratulations for breaking the cycle of abuse.

Seconding everything Miko said, too.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

No contact whatsoever. Not alone, not supervised. End of story.
posted by pompomtom at 9:25 PM on December 13, 2008

No contact seems to be the most prevalent suggestion in this thread and it reflects our current culture's sensationalism of the issue. I think, however, that sweeping this thing under the rug, locking the skeleton in the closet (choose your metaphor) may only complicate things further. He is, after all, this child's grandpa. And he is your father as well, and do you really see him as someone who is in permanent predator mode and as such is a constant threat to your daughter? That's up to you to determine, but from the wording of your question he doesn't seem to be out of control. Treating him as the monster that's only manifested itself three times and only through verbalizations alone is a little harsh. I think it'd be much more reasonable to confront him about your concerns. Yes, it is the difficult thing to do, but having it out in the open may be the best determent towards any thoughts he may find himself drifting into later on when it becomes a potential issue. You mention that the subject has never been brought up since, but now is the time to bring it up. It doesn't matter if it's uncomfortable for him, or it offends him. Let him know you are worried about him, in relation to her, and be clear that under no circumstance should he even be slightly suggestive, and if he is, that will be the last he sees of his granddaughter. This is a compromise from "no contact" to "don't worry about it" and even I think it's a little harsh, but as such it should "protect" your baby girl and still allow her to have a grandpa.
posted by ageispolis at 9:34 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

The kid will never be harmed from a lack of contact with her grandparent. Millions and millions of children never have met their grandparents and they grow up being happy people.

The kid faces the not significant possibility of severe and lifelong emotional trauma if he has regular contact with her.

The answer seems simple.
posted by Spurious at 9:53 PM on December 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

I'm really concerned by the 15 years of semi-normal relationship with no talking about what happened. The safest route would be no contact. But if you want to expose your child to this person who did something really, really, unspeakably awful years ago, it seems to me a conversation (and professional therapy) needs to happen. If the cycle is part sexual abuse, part silence/secrecy (not charging the grandfather, 15 years of silence about the father's behavior), then you need to stop both parts, not just prevent alone time for the grandfather and grandchild.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:58 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Point taken, I do not intend to downplay his actions whatsoever. I'm more coming from the angle of 'who is this mysterious person who happens to be my grandpa that I am barred from meeting' which are questions she will certainly think to herself, and they might be best addressed out in the open, whether or not you decide to allow her to meet him, that's all.
posted by ageispolis at 10:08 PM on December 13, 2008

Your father has no right and your daughter has no obligation to him. I'd keep him out of her life as best as possible and obviously never leave her alone.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2008

No contact, period.

Sexist and discriminatory attitudes aren't unlearned with time alone.
posted by cmcmcm at 11:18 PM on December 13, 2008

Lots of good thoughts and advice above, so I'll just add a couple pieces from experience as a child protection worker:

-I'm so impressed that you are thinking so hard about these things before your child has entered the world. That's fabulous and it's a huge part of the battle for you.
-He may or may not have been molested himself. I think research shows that about 50% of offenders were, so not as many as people generally believe. He may have developed his sexual offending behavior by being victimized, by observing victimization (grandpa molested sisters in front of him, for instance) or just because it seemed like a great idea at the time. How he got there doesn't really matter from your perspective; the fact is, he is where he is.
-I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that he has a victim or two or two hundred out there some time, even if he didn't follow through with molesting you. I could be wrong-some guys only are interested in or feel safe molesting their own children-but I'm guessing that I'm right.
-With that in mind, you need to carefully monitor any contact your dad has with your daughter and think really hard about any contact he has with other children. Has there ever been anything weird about that? Does he, say, volunteer in youth group at church or reach out to local kids who are needy?
-I don't think you necessarily need to leap to no contact, but I would agree with absolutely no unsupervised contact. I know of a case now where the mom was molested as a child, then moved home when she got divorced because she had nowhere else to go-she felt like she supervised contact closely, but learned later that grandpa had molested her daughter over a long period. In other words, you can't move home or stay the night unless some other trusted and informed adult is with you. They have to know the scoop. Otherwise, you'll be in the position of never being able to take a shower or sit on the toilet without your child there with you, and that won't work forever.
-Really, in the best possible world you'd see a great therapist who would help you figure out how and if you should talk to your dad about this. Having it stay "in the closet" makes it very difficult to move forward. And hey, you can always do what we do to folks in this situation and tell him he can't have any contact, or any unsupervised contact, until he has a psychosexual evaluation complete with polygraph and penile plethysmograph :). These evals cost a couple thousand bucks, but they are realy pretty telling in my experience, and you can definitely access one as a private individual, without a referral from CPS or law enforcement.

Hey, wishing you all the best.
posted by purenitrous at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

No contact at all.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, you need to take legal measures to ensure that he doesn't end up with custody of your child if you are incapacitated, or worse.

I have no idea how to do that but I'd talk to a lawyer.


Treating him as the monster that's only manifested itself three times that you know of and only through verbalizations that you know of alone is a little harsh.

Fixed it for you.
posted by mmoncur at 12:17 AM on December 14, 2008 [11 favorites]

If the guy wanted a relationship with his children/grandchildren, he should have thought about that before attempting to have sex with an underage child.

The man attempted to cross a line, one that normal people don't attempt to cross. Leaving your child with him might put her at risk of something happening to her. And what good parent puts their child at risk?

Don't ever let the child meet the man. It's just one less worry on your mind.
posted by Solomon at 12:47 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with the 'no contact' brigade. I'm also in favour of letting him know why, explaining to him that the consequence of his behaviour when you were a child is that he has forfeited any entitlement to have a relationship with your child.
posted by essexjan at 1:44 AM on December 14, 2008

Nthing "No Contact. Ever."
posted by pjern at 2:36 AM on December 14, 2008

First off, parenthood, when coming from a family history of abuse, is a mine field. I really encourage you to surround yourself with a very strong support system. I come from a home with lots of substance/verbal abuse and my first year of being a parent has been a huge struggle emotionally.

Your father relinquished the privilege of having a normal relationship with you and any grandchildren that may come about when he propositioned you as a teenager. We all want to believe that our families can be healed, and can be "normal", but your daughter shouldn't be the guinea pig to test if your father can behave as a grandfather. Further, your desire for a normal family may make it even harder for you to recognize abuse if and when it did occur.

I never new my grandfather although he was alive until I was 10 or so. While I always wanted a Grandpa, my parents made it clear that the grandfather I had wasn't able to fit the bill. Surrounding your daughter with stable, caring people who won't put her safety in jeopardy will do far more for her than a relationship with your father. As parents we have to be advocates for our children, and sometimes that part of our job means hurting other people's feelings. If you have a hard time hurting your father's feelings (remember he propositioned you as a teen) find a support group that will help you get over it. Your daughter is too precious.
posted by a22lamia at 3:01 AM on December 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Congratulations on breaking the cycle are obviously well-meant, but are very pre-emptive. You're on the way to breaking the cycle, but it isn't broken yet. When you're a grandparent yourself, hopefully then you'll be able to say that you broke the cycle. Until then, it will require ongoing reflection. It has become fashionable for the media to report on sexual abuse as a uniquely horrible experience, strongly reflected in the comments here (and incidentally sending a strong message to a victim of it that they are ruined and unrecoverable, which is not true - you are able to go on to live a happy and healthy life, and need no-one's permission to do that), but there are many more kinds of abuse and damage in families than sexual.

Father/grandfather referencing gets complicated so I'm going to call your father Fred, your grandfather George, and your daughter Deborah for the purposes of this. Unfortunately I don't have a lot of answers for you, but there are some questions for yourself that I hope that you will find useful.

Your continued contact with Fred doesn't imply that you've forgiven him, but you might be leaving him under that impression. Do you want to forgive Fred? Do you want to not forgive him? Is his proposition to you a forgivable wrong, an unforgivable wrong, or a wrong forgivable under some conditions (ie an apology, and prevention of the matter ever occurring again)? To what extent do the circumstances make a difference? Although the advice of others may be useful, it is in the end only your decision to make.

Same for George - his act was worse, obviously, so forgiving him is more to ask of yourself. But George and Fred are separate people. Almost certainly George molested Fred, or influenced him by word and deed to act along those lines. This doesn't necessarily make him a worse person overall than Fred. You don't have to treat them the same. If you want to forgive George--now dead, and past restitution--but not forgive Fred until he's dead too, that's a valid choice to make. If you choose to forgive Fred, but not George, that's also valid. You're allowed to decide. It seems that you haven't yet, perhaps for fear of making the wrong decision. But you can't make a wrong decision about that; you're not deciding what happened, or what will happen, you're deciding your beliefs about it.

Fred might make a wrong decision; if you chose to forgive Fred, and Fred later on in life propositioned or molested Deborah, that would be Fred's wrong, not yours. Forgiving Fred does not imply blinding yourself to the possibility of his wrongdoing, and you can make it significantly more difficult for him to do any harm to Deborah. If he were sincere in his desire for forgiveness, he should go along with that - and more, he should be actively seeking to avoid any temptation to himself. Failure to do so, in my opinion, would imply insincerity. For example, he could always bring someone you trust with him on any visits. He could see her only in family gatherings at Christmas. He could have contact only by letter until you consider that she's old enough and sensible enough to meet him. Letters from and to Fred as she grows up (read by you) might give Deborah the positive experience of having a grandfather, with far less possibility of any harm.

Another reason to talk it over: Fred himself was faced with a similar choice. You told Fred that George had molested you. Do you know if Fred forgave George? Was the fact that you were never alone with George again, Fred's doing? How did George molesting you make Fred feel? Did Fred recognize George's actions as a possibility for himself, and if so, did this make him empathize with George more, or less? If he protected you from George, what does he think about protecting Deborah from himself?

Imagine Deborah at fourteen. If the same situation occurs, ie Fred propositioned Deborah, and Deborah told you, would you consider it forgivable? If not, why should you forgive Fred for the same action to yourself? What's the difference? Deborah at fourteen won't necessarily be any more innocent or vulnerable than you were at the same age (hopefully less so, with the benefit of your wisdom as well as her own). What were Fred's responsibilities there to you, and do you think he fulfilled them? Does he think he did? And don't forget that Deborah would herself have the right to forgive or not, regardless of your own response: just as you did with George, regardless of Fred's response.

To forgive an action done to yourself, but not to forgive the same action done to your daughter, is inconsistent; but we human beings are like that. Another thing human beings do from time to time is refuse to forgive a wrong and then go on to commit a similar wrong oneself.

Cutting off all contact with Fred, either entirely or just with Deborah, is a simple solution that will almost certainly achieve the result of making it impossible for Fred to molest Deborah. But it will not protect Deborah from anyone else, nor from any of the millions of other possibilities of harm a human being, child or adult, faces in life. The major concern I have with it is that it leaves things between Fred and you unresolved. But resolution's overrated. Honestly, it's a narrative device. In real life, one can go through life, happily and successfully, with any number of unresolved issues. There is no need to seek resolution with Fred. It may be helpful, that's all.

All the best, and may you succeed in breaking the cycle.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:59 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Congratulations on becoming a parent, by the way. You will be a great one.

I would like to second Miko on the "you will be a great one". The fact that you're working on this demonstrates that clearly. My hat's off to you.
posted by DreamerFi at 7:06 AM on December 14, 2008

You have a known variable.

Your father is a child molester.

If we were talking about dogs... and you told us that your neighbor had a dog that was known to savagely bite children in the face there wouldn't even be a debate. Everyone would be yelling at you for even suggesting that you let your daughter get to know this savage dog.

If anyone, family or not, attempted to even touch my daughter inappropriately. Attempted. I would meter out a vengeance so brutal upon them that they would be incapable of even remembering the life they had before the hammer fell upon them. I would crush the soul right out of my own brother for such an infraction.

You need to protect your daughter with the same vigilance.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

As a father of daughers and a male who dated several women who were victims of sexual abuse, I say this:

No fucking contact, no fucking way. Visit a lawyer ASAP and have things arranged so that he can't get custody if something happens to you. Have a will drawn up with an open letter to any kids you may have explaining exactly what he is. Tell everyone and I mean everyone in the child's life that her grandfather has no right to her and is to have no contact with her. Every time you sign her up for school, inform them that he has zero rights to visit or pick her up. One of the key points of being a predator is isolating the victim from others, so don't let him isolate you with shame or guilt, tell every person with any sort of responsibility over the child that grandpa can't drop by, or say hi and tell them why, at least indirectly. A simple "he did certain things I don't want to talk about and don't want to see repeated" should be enough for others to get the message.

If your daughter asks, explain that he's done bad things and will do them again if given the chance. When she's older explain exactly what those things are.

Why should you cut off contact? Because your daughter is a child and won't know the history or what he's capable of. She'll just see this person who's nice and gives her presents and she'll want to spend time with him. You do no want to encourage this.

All of this probably means you'll have to cut off your own contact with him and he might want an explanation or some such. You don't owe him one, and you especially don't owe him one because he's family or your father. Be prepared to deal with that and of course seek help from friends and/or therapy if you think you need it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 AM on December 14, 2008 [12 favorites]

Here, let me tell you a true story:

Young girl is molested by father at early age, say 4 or 5. Mother finds out when the girl is about 8 or 9, attempts to keep father away. However the young girl is adamant about keeping the father in her life, because "whatever else he did, he was always there, for every baseball game, every school play, he was there when she (mom) wasn't and he was always kind." Mind you, mom was out at night classes to get a career for a better life for herself and the girl.

Things came to a head when the girl, now a woman of 20, was worried about where to live and considered moving back in with her dad, who was offering her a room, rent free oddly enough. The woman's grandmother pulled her aside and warned her to be careful "' 'cause you know how your dad is, he gets confused and thinks you're his girlfriend."

So again, I answer, no fucking contact, because there are usually several enablers around an abuser. Let your child wonder if she must, but it beats the hell out of having her hate you because you broke up what her child like mind thought was a good relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2008

follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Here's my two cents, coming (sort of) from someone in the position of your daughter.

When I was around 6 years old, my mother began to suddenly remember repressed memories of being sexually abused by her father.

Up until that point, myself, my sister, and my female cousins (five of us between the ages of 2 and 10) had been enjoying a very normal relationship with my grandfather, including things like sleepover weekends. When my mom remembered, though, she sat me and my sister down and explained to us what had happened. She sent letters to her sisters so they could protect their daughters.

Things got complicated because my mother's sisters and mother chose not to believe her. I don't think cutting off contact would have been my mother's choice, but she needed to make sure she did everything she could to protect her daughters and nieces. In any case, we stopped all contact with my mother's family for a number of years. Eventually, though, with a lot of counseling, we began to see my grandparents again, for many years with my parents there, and then as my sister and I got older - 16, 17, 18 - just my grandparents, although always both of them at once - never just my grandfather alone.

The long and the short of it? Sometimes I wish that my mother hadn't told me about it when I was so young. I understand why she did, but I feel like for me, my first associations with sex were sexual abuse - thankfully not experiencing it myself, but knowing about it, and that it could be a possibility. I guess this is the loss of innocence people are mentioning? At the same time, though, I really appreciate now her honesty. And I know that her worry over whether I had been abused probably motivated it. So for the most part, I'm glad she told us when she did.

I also don't have a normal relationship with my grandfather. I do have a relationship, but honestly, there are too many issues for me to really care for or love the man. I'm not sure there's a way to let her have a good, loving relationship with him and protect her because love is about trust and there is simply no way that you can trust him. This isn't about whether he can be a normal grandfather to her - he can't. The question is how much of a relationship you want him to have with her and why.

So, in conclusion - I think that, if you really want it, you could try to let your father and daughter have a relationship. If it is that important to you. If not, fuck it - your daughter will be fine without a grandfather and you certainly don't owe your father anything. But if them having a relationship is really important to you, I would recommend the following:

~ Don't let her spend time with him unsupervised or in his house. I would suggest meeting him for dinner, out at a restaurant. If you're worried about him speaking to her sexually in a public place I would say he's probably not even worth the effort, but if you just want to be extra super cautious, you could make sure there's always a 4th party around (like your significant other) so the two of them are literally never alone for a second.
~ Make sure that teachers and other individuals who will be responsible for your daughter know never to release her into his care.
~ No matter what you do, you're not going to be able to get around explaining this to your daughter. She's going to ask questions eventually - whether it's "Why can't I ever sleep over at Grandpa's house?" or "Why don't I have a grandpa?" you're still going to have to decide how to answer. Honestly but vaguely? A white lie? A detailed explanation? Obviously it depends on her age but it will happen eventually.

If you decide to allow an extensive relationship between your father and daughter, I would recommend speaking with her explicitly so that she knows to come to you if something happens. If you decide to allow a limited relationship to the point where you feel she is safe from him, I would then suggest being honest but very vague unless she asks you for details.

I understand those who are saying "no contact whatsoever" and if that is what you want, go for it - it won't hurt your daughter to not have a grandfather and you do not owe that man anything. But I also understand that family is complicated and sometimes there are relationships worth trying to keep in some way.

Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on December 14, 2008

You protect her by making a promise to never, ever leave her alone with him. Ever. Not even if you're in the room right next to where he is. Not even if you're tired and it's for 5 minutes. Not even if you can't find another babysitter. Not even in a dire emergency. Never, ever, ever.

No sleepovers, no snuggling on the sofa to watch a movie, no helping him in the garden while you're indoors. Never, ever alone together.

And if it comes to the point where you have to justify this to him, you remind him of that incident in the past.

And if it comes to the point where you have to justify it to her, you simply tell her that grandpa has a problem that only emerges when he's alone with little girls and thus it cannot happen. When she's older, you give her more details. When she's much older, you tell her the whole truth.
posted by VioletU at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2008

I'm just piling on here, but it's important in this case.

No contact. Period. Under any circumstances. Ever. At all.

There is no safe context for contact, because you cannot possibly guarantee that there won't be a ten-second period where he and her are together out of your sight. Ten seconds is all it takes.

No relationship is worth the risk.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:14 PM on December 14, 2008

I'm opposed to the idea of "never leave him alone with her" because there are ways to harm children emotionally that don't involve actual physical behavior. Strange/creepy energy, for example, can be harmful and can't be seen.

My good friend's mother was molested by her father as a child. When she was an adult she and my friend (who was six at the time) lived with the father for a while. He, of course, molested my friend. The mother swore she was being vigiliant, but the kind of denial that can lead you to bring a child into an abuser's house is the same kind of denial that can lead you to think there's a safe way to be in an unsafe situation. It's the same kind of denial that can keep you from "making waves" by saying anything. It's the same kind of denial that can make you think you have a normal relationship a father who proposed that you have sex with him (and had a rationalization worked out ahead of time).

Please be careful. It's so easy to believe you can control things if you're just really, really careful.

It's not your responsibility to protect your father's feelings or to find a way for him to have a relationship with your daughter. He doesn't need protecting. She does. And you do.

I think you can find a way to navigate this so that you (and she) can have some kind of relationsihp with him, but I would not trust yourself to make the choices. I would get outside support from a therapist experienced with sexul abuse and let them guide you.

I'm sorry your father put you in this position. It's no fun to be the one to rock the boat. But I think you may find it healing for yourself to find a way through this that leaves no doubt your daugther will be safe and will not be saying in 15 years that she still can't bring herself to verbalize what her grandfather said (or did) to her.
posted by orsonet at 6:34 PM on December 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

Your kids will be fine without grandparents. Half of mine were dead before I was born, and the other half died when I was very young.

I don't think it's worth anything to have your children around someone who might try to talk them into having sex, or worse. The possibility of their having a normal relationship with their grandfather doesn't outweigh that by any stretch, frankly.
posted by Nattie at 6:38 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a parent, the thing that keeps coming back to me as I read this thread is, how could I live with myself if I were to allow my father any kind of access to my daughter and he were to abuse her? It is one thing to have a child abused by a stranger, or by someone about whom you had no suspicions or knowledge, but with what you have already seen about your father? I get aeschenkarnos' point about "Fred's" choices being on "Fred" and not on you, but to me, allowing even supervised contact seems like putting a switchblade in her toy box.

One of my mother-in-law's dogs once attempted to bite my daughter. Now their dogs are crated every time we visit -- no exceptions, not for a minute. It makes things difficult with the in-laws, and it is hard to tell my daughter that she may not play with the dogs anymore, but I will not waver from this decision.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:16 PM on December 14, 2008

A lot of the responses seem to focus on protecting your daughter physically, like never letting her alone with him. Sexual abuse doesn't occur in a vacuum. Please consider the subtle behaviors he might show that you might not notice because of your background but that could damage your little girl.

Quoting hot soup girl because she nails it, emphasis mine: "And he doesn't even have to touch her. He can harm her just by speaking to her, as he did with you. By looking at her in a non-grandfatherly way. By messing up her ideas of family and safety."
posted by PatoPata at 8:26 PM on December 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

Rock Steady but I will not waver from this decision.

Actions taken due to the desire to protect one's child from possible harm, can become a harm in themselves done to the child. Now, I don't think you're harming your child by keeping her and your in-law's dogs away from each other (and if she has other friendly dogs to interact with it's a reasonable object lesson in the concept that "some dogs are dangerous"), and I definitely don't think it'd be harming the OP's child to keep her grandfather away from her.

Assuming her grandfather even wants a relationship with her at all. We don't know how much insight he has into his own behavior. We don't know how things are with his current wife.

PatoPata: By messing up her ideas of family and safety.
From the sounds of it, ("we've had a somewhat normal relationship, much more normal than what I have with either my biological mother or my stepmother who raised me") the OP's own ideas of family and safety have been messed up too. Which is actually a good argument for staying away from "Fred", since that messing-up is likely to be substantially his fault.

The good news is you can do things about it. OP, if you're still reading this, ask your doctor for a referral to a good therapist who's known for being good with child sexual abuse cases. That therapist will help you deal with your own experiences, help you work out how to protect your child(ren) from harm in the future, and advise you further as to how you can deal with your father if you're going to have any ongoing relationship with him at all. Think at length and in detail about what kind of family environment you want your daughter to have. You're best off surrounding her with your friends, those you love and trust, and their own children, and make very sure that she knows that if any adult tries to harm her--sexually, physically, or emotionally--she can seek safety with these people, her tribe.

It is no coincidence that sexual abuse rates are very high among nuclear families with authoritarian adult dominance, minimal social support networks outside the nuclear family itself, and in which sexuality is treated as a subject of shame and disgust if it is discussed at all.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:45 PM on December 14, 2008

Aside from the obvious concerns, there is another reason that (if I were in your position) I would not allow even supervised contact with your father: children are very, very sensitive to their parents' emotions, and no matter how you try to disguise them, I can't imagine that your natural feelings of fear, anger, and sadness when seeing your father can be hidden from your daughter - and this will be puzzling and frightening for her. Your father has made it impossible for for there not to be some strangeness in your daughter's life, whether it is because of the completely unknown grandfather, or the strange swirl of unspoken tension that accompanies seeing him... Given that, I would go with the safest and ultimately least confusing choice - no contact.

I also think you should give yourself permission to drop the burden of trying to make some sense of your father's actions, of feeling as though it's up to you to create a somewhat normal relationship with him... of trying to protect him, really, from your own anger and sense of betrayal. This is not required of you, and you can't succeed in making him into the father you deserved. It's okay to drop that self-imposed responsibility and focus only on the well-being of you and your child. I very much agree that therapy can help you with this.
posted by taz at 1:49 AM on December 15, 2008

Actions taken due to the desire to protect one's child from possible harm, can become a harm in themselves done to the child.

I totally agree with that statement. Some of the "stranger danger" stuff out there sickens me, for example. Actually, I would say that it may be harmful in some ways to keep this child away from her grandfather -- I think a close child-grandparent relationship can be a wonderful thing -- but in these cases, I think you have to do a kind of risk-reward analysis. To me (and most everyone else here, it seems) the possible risk outweighs the potential benefit. It's sad really, and I think there is a lot going on in anonymous' family situation that we just don't know about, and she should probably get professional help with this issue in the end (also something repeated by many commenters here).
posted by Rock Steady at 5:58 AM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous
I had a really horrible childhood. Sexual abuse figures prominently in a lot of my memories. I know my family knows/knew of the teenage cousin who did unspeakable things to me, and they did nothing. He's in jail now, and one of the few regrets of my life is that between ages 4-8 there wasn't anything I could do to prevent the situation from repeating - for myself and for others. I know intellectually that there is nothing else I could have done. I told and I wasn't believed.

I don't talk about what my grandfather did. Probably if my family (or anyone) asked me about him, I'd just say, "he was an asshole," with no elaboration. I might relate an unsavory anecdote that would shut people up. My grandfather was a sex offender, had raped two of my aunts and behaved inappropriately toward cousins not much older than myself.

My heart breaks for you. I truly wish I could tell you there is a way to have this conversation without offending him.

Please keep your daughter away from this man. My unconceived children will never know my parents. Not only because of the terrible things they did to me, but largely because of their response to my sexual abuse. That they allowed me to be alone with a known sex offender is just... I can handle my memories of being hungry. I can handle that my parents flew off the handle and got violent. I can justify the horrible cruel things they said to and about me. But I cannot come to grips with being so violated. If in 5 years you posted to Metafilter and asked "I just found out that my father has touched/raped/fondled/commented inappropriately to my daughter!!! What do I do?" It would be the first time in my life that I would blame a parent other than my own for the sexual abuse of her child. You know how this man operates. You know that there are thousands of ways for a supervised visit to leave an open ten seconds. How would you explain to her if something happened and she found out that you knew this was in the realm of possibility?

Sexual abuse of children is very often about power and control. Just because an abuser doesn't have time to have an orgasm doesn't mean they don't have time to feel powerful.

I would rather offend my parents in this way than allow any child to be exposed to that level of crazy. If my parents approach me when I have kids, how will I respond? I don't know how I'll word it, but there will be no relationship. I am "lucky" in this regard because they haven't bothered to get in touch with me for a decade. Will I lie to my children about what happened? Maybe. It is very very sad that they won't have "real" grandparents on my side of the family. But there are plenty of fabulous people in my life eager, competent, and more deserving to stand in that role.
posted by jessamyn at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

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