How much touch is appropriate between father and 6/7 year old daughter?
April 15, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I disagree strongly over how much touch is appropriate between myself and my almost-7 year old daughter.

I will try and keep my questions free of emotion and bias, and am very open to hearing opinions that are contrary to my own.

Background situation is that my wife, daughter and I all live together in the same house. My wife and I really do not get on, but we/I are staying together because of our daughter.

Firstly, let me be clear, there is no accusation of actual molestation involved. We both agree that I have never touched my daughters genitals or even breasts (in-fact nowhere close).

I will list a serious of situations my wife is upset about, and would really appreciate your opinions of where the line of "appropriate behavior" is crossed (if at all); In all these situations my daughter is wearing clothes, and my hands stay above her clothes;

1. My daughter is sitting next to me on the sofa, the sides of our bodies are touching. I put my arm around my daughter and my hand falls on her hip (my wife might say its on her butt).

2. My daughter sits on my lap while we watch TV (or at the dining table or in my home office; for whatever reason)

3. In the morning, my daughter kneels on our (wife and I) bed and my I reach out and drape my arm across the top of her legs I rub her back with my other hand. When she gets off the bed I give her tummy a rub (always through her pajamas; no skin contact)

4. I am lying on my back in my bed and my daughter comes in in the morning and lies (on top of the bed-sheets) on top of me (stomach to stomach, her head on my chest/neck). I rub her back (through her pajamas).

5. I am lying on my back on the sofa reading and she lies on my chest/stomach while she watches TV (her legs are between mine in this situation; something I think my wife found particularly provocative)

6. My daughter joins my wife and I in bed (say at 2am after she has awoken from her own bed), she is between my wife and I and snuggles up to me with her back to my chest/stomach; both our heads on the same pillow. My arm drapes over her.

7. I am alone in bed (my wife usually goes to bed very late ) when my daughter joins me as in scenario 6.

That's about all I can think of. Is there any reason to consider any of those situations inappropriate. In all these situations my daughter has never given any sign of not liking the contact, and is more likely to initiate the contact than I am (although that is changing as my wife creates a scene about it, and tells my daughter not to do it).

I have tried to discuss this with my wife but do not get very coherent answers. She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs, but then she raises no objection when I pick her up and even give her a cuddle (while holding her from a standing position). I have tried to dissuade my daughter from most of these forms of touch on occasion (to try and keep the peace) but it feels very wrong to me to be rejecting my daughter like that.

How would your opinions of what is appropriate change if (while in some of the situations above) I was to gently caress/rub my daughters stomach with my hands **under** her t-shirt/pajamas? (This is something that has happened in the past, but after my wifes objections I have stopped doing this.)

Finally do you have any opinions or any pointers to general information on the subject of loving (non-sexual) touch between family members?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (98 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Anon, I am so sorry for the position you find yourself in. ALL of those examples sound completely appropriate to me. Completely and utterly normal expressions of love between a parent and child. Not sexual at all.

I feel like a horrible person saying this, but perhaps re-consider staying together for the sake of your child? Because I think your wife's demands about the way you and your daughter show love are inappropriate and a terrible thing to be saying in front of your daughter. I think your wife sounds like maybe she jealous of the loving attention your daughter gets? I can't know your situation of course, and this sounds like a recipe for a horrible break up, but your daughter should feel comforted by normal loving cuddles like that.

Does your wife cuddle your daughter that way too? Does your daughter seek out your cuddles over your wifes?
posted by Joh at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [51 favorites]

Are you guys in therapy?

My dad touched me in ways that you describe. He did not molest me.

If you both think you're saving your daughter from some horrible thing by staying together and "not getting along" rather than divorcing, you're likely really really not.

You are not going to win this argument just by telling her that people on the internet said it sounds fine, so what's your plan B? Do you have one?
posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [25 favorites]

Disagree with four panels. Affection is good. Cuddling is good. Before people got all frantic about molestation, no one would have thought twice about what you're talking about.

I kind of wonder why your wife is so uptight about this stuff. Was she inappropriately touched as a child, or is she reacting this way because media hysteria tells her she should? Or is this a way she has of expressing rage and/or contempt at you?

I wouldn't appreciate it at all if my wife told me to reject any physical affection from my 9-year-old daughter. Fortunately, she doesn't.
posted by musofire at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Caveat: I'm not a parent. But I have a beloved six year old niece who cuddles with her dad in ways like you describe, and it has never occurred to me for a second to think there is anything wrong with that.

This in particular seems very weird and extreme:
She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs
and to be honest it makes me wonder if there is something in your wife's past that you are not aware of.
posted by something something at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [48 favorites]

Oh I am so sorry about this - that you are being made to second-guess your interactions to the extent that you would even begin to list them out like this.

All of these things sound fine with a 6 or 7 year old (especially when it's led by the child) - probably totally fine up until 11-12 (or puberty) - or whenever she stops it.

I cuddled with my dad like this all the time, still cuddle with him in some of these ways as a woman in my twenties (not all of them). He would often rub my back under my shirt, or tickle/blow bubbles on my stomach. We still hug, hold hands when we are walking into a restaurant or theater, rub each other's shoulders lightly for a minute, etc. There is nothing sexual or inappropriate about any of this at all. He also bathed us until we were old enough to bathe ourselves, and regularly was around when we were changing/bathing until we were 11 or so (again, when puberty arrives and kids naturally become shy around both parents).

I really hesitate to even type this, but I wonder if your wife might have some history of exposure to child abuse? Not necessarily herself, but perhaps someone she knew or was close to?
posted by amaire at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you explore leaving the marriage be sure to tell your lawyer about your wife's issues with this type of normal touch. A friend's wife made all sorts of unfounded accusations against him during their divorce trial, and it hit him out of the blue.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:50 PM on April 15, 2013 [32 favorites]

How parents physically interact with children is influenced by cultural norms as well. And Americans are not as physically affectionate with children as other cultures.

I don't think you're touching your daughter inappropriately at all. Frankly I think your wife's attempts to constrain your ability to be physically affectionate with your daughter are inappropriate.

You two probably should sit down together with a neutral third party to discuss these issues and parenting differences.
posted by brookeb at 1:51 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your interaction sounds 100% normal to me. I don't know what's up with your wife's issues but they are your wife's issues.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I second everything rtha has said. I had a very close relationship with my dad which was physically affectionate and not at all weird. What WAS sometimes weird was people making it weird (occasionally my mom, often my grandparents) who talked about how abnormal it was for us to be close like that. My dad and I just ignored this, but this is one of those things that is sort of dependent on cultural context and you+your wife disagreeing is more of a big deal than any of the things you've described, to me. You calling it "rejecting" your daughter is also sort of odd. You and your wife need to be on the same page as parents, you shouldn't act like your wife is making you do something that you think is wrong.

My sister and I would regularly come downstairs and get in bed with my dad (who slept apart from my mom, they were staying together for the kids! terrible idea!) in the morning and talk about the day and he'd teach us to speak French and whatever else. That sort of contact does usually wind down as girls get older and it's good to be mindful of that both for yourself but also for your daughter knowing that it's okay for her to say she doesn't like something but it doesn't sound like that's at all a problem.

You didn't ask but staying together for the kid when you're having this level of disagreement sounds like a bad plan.

How would your opinions of what is appropriate change if (while in some of the situations above) I was to gently caress/rub my daughters stomach with my hands **under** her t-shirt/pajamas?

You asking it in this way sounds weird. Rubbing a kid's belly is normally fine. Describing it as "gently caressing" sounds off to me.
posted by jessamyn at 1:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [35 favorites]

Are you and your wife from different cultural backgrounds with different norms about touching? Would it be possible for you to go to a counselor to hash this out? Honestly, I think you're totally in the right here. My dad and I touched one another in all the ways you mention when I was your daughter's age, as did my mom and I; there was nothing sexual about it. Human beings need physical touch in order to grow and be healthy!

I guess that does raise another question: is your daughter similarly affectionate with your wife? Could that be the reason for your wife's concern?
posted by epj at 1:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like others, your interactions with your daughter as described sound perfectly normal, healthy, and acceptable. And like others, your description of your wife's reaction makes me wonder whether something happened to her in her past or childhood.
posted by doomtop at 1:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs

As far as I'm concerned, this is completely unhealthy and inappropriate. Your daughter needs loving, non-sexual, affectionate touch from her family.

I strongly suggest you and your wife meet with both your daughter's pediatrician and also a therapist to discuss your respective feelings, assumptions, and backgrounds with regard to what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate touching.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:56 PM on April 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

Doesn't seem weird to me at all. 3, 4 and 5 could read a little skeevy I guess if you thought that way about things and wanted to see the worst,, but I know how tactile my niece and nephew are with their whole family male and female and none of those things seem weird to me. I hope you are trying to get things clear in your head as to where the line is and not to score points against your wife as I suspect you are not going to win that argument.

I know my SIL had some problems with jealous to the attention my brother paid his daughter/my niece when she was younger that she had to work through and they were in a relationship that they wanted to keep and so worked on the issues, I wonder if maybe your wife's might be having similar jealousy that could be clouding the issues.

Your wife is, in my unprofessional opinion, actually likely to make things worse by freaking out about how you guys touch in front of your daughter and your daughter could end up with some confusion about physical affection. I am wondering if you guys are insisting on staying together that some sort of neutral third party might need to be consulted so you can both find a compromise you can live with and not bring the issues up in front of your daughter.
posted by wwax at 1:58 PM on April 15, 2013

Nothing you describe is abnormal or inappropriate. People touch each other and the vast majority of touch between family members is kind, loving and fosters strong relationships.

My wife and I really do not get on, but we/I are staying together because of our daughter.

I guarantee this is doing more harm to your daughter than loving, non-threatening touch from the people in her life who keep her safe and sound.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

My dad and I always had (and have) a lot of affectionate touch, never in a creepy or boundary-pushing way. When I was your daughter's age, I always sat on his lap after dinner so we could play the game where I would try to touch his moustache before he could gobble up my hand. :)

We did less of the 6/7 touch you mention, probably due to his concerns that it might not look right and he didn't want anyone to ever wonder. It would shock me if either he or my mother thought it would have been damaging to me in any way, it was just a "let your appearance be beyond reproach" kind of line they drew.

It would have crushed me if he had suddenly stopped that type of affection, as if I was toxic, untouchable. It would crush me now. I don't see him a lot because we live in different cities, but I always know I can (literally) lean on him when I see him.

Ask Metafilter generally agrees that, outside of abuse, general norms for relationships are irrelevant to your particular relationship. You are not married to the general public, you are married to your wife. You need to take this up with her, and nothing we say will matter in that discussion. It doesn't matter how many of us agree with you if she does not agree and especially if it makes her fear for your daughter's safety.

Is your wife physically affectionate with your daughter in this way? Does your wife do much non-sexual physical affection with anyone?
posted by heatherann at 2:02 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on what you have said and what I have learned from divorce attorneys I know (both professionally and socially), I would quietly seek out a good family law attorney and get their advice on this situation.
posted by TedW at 2:04 PM on April 15, 2013 [42 favorites]

I remember sensing when my father started to seem uncomfortable or unsure or embarrassed about some our physical affection. However, I did not feel rejected at all because by the time that started happening, I was already old enough to understand why, eg, 13, 14.

I think in most cases, either the daughter or the father will start to recognize when it's starting to get a little awkward, usually around puberty. Not at 6 or 7 years old.

And at 6 or 7 years old, she will completely not understand* why there is negativity around the two of you touching, and I think that will cause more problems than any touching itself.

*Even if she technically/logically knows about men/women/sex/puberty, etc, which I did at that age, it's not anywhere near the same as actually understanding about all the societal awkwardness, nuances, etc.
posted by thebazilist at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Absolutely in agreement with the rest above; my nine-year-old daughter (dad here) and I hang out, cuddle, and are in physical contact in almost identical ways, and which I consider completely appropriate (as would my SO). This sounds like other issues are at play, in my uninformed opinion. Sucks that you are being made to feel this way.

And, I'd be listening to TedW.
posted by liquado at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

The way you describe it sounds appropriate. I wonder if the way your wife would describe it would make it sound inappropriate. Since none of us are there, we probably can't honestly say if your touching is appropriate or inappropriate, but your wife's statement about you not touching your daughter between her neck and legs is noteworthy. I wonder if she feels she as a mother is under the same restrictions, of if it would be different if your daughter were a boy, or older, etc. In any case, it is a statement which suggests strong boundaries and it seems worth exploring.

If possible, it seems like a couples' therapist that focuses on parenting might be in order. Because if it's anything else - your wife using your daughter as a weapon, the Elektra complex, etc., the therapist can probably identify and address that with you. Particularly if you guys are committed to staying together for your kid.
posted by anitanita at 2:06 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and seeking out an attorney, just in case.
posted by anitanita at 2:07 PM on April 15, 2013

It sounds exactly normal and good to me. My daughter is nearly 12 and has always had an affectionate, close relationship with her dad. To this day, they hold hands, they nap together, they cuddle while watching movies, it's a non-issue.

However. I was sexually abused my stepfather, and I admit I have issues. I've been working on them forever, and I'm mostly okay and there's nothing wrong. But occasionally, I still get triggered by normal contact between my daughter and her dad (my husband). I hate it, but it's sometimes a little voice in my head.
posted by upatree at 2:14 PM on April 15, 2013

My daughter is the same age as yours, and those all sound like perfectly appropriate cuddles from a father.

But hoo boy, I bet your daughter is going to pick up on weird vibes from your wife about it. I highly recommend getting into family therapy ASAP, to figure out why she thinks that's inappropriate, and also if there's anything you can do to improve your relationship.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:15 PM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am unsure of the source of her issues with any of this or why she would even think of any of your actions as inappropriate? Did she express these feelings even when your daughter was younger? I am assuming this is your biological daughter?

Overall I am kind of confused on why she is feeling this way? It seems you are maybe coming at this from the wrong direction. You should be focusing more on why your wife is feeling this way, instead of what touches are and aren't appropriate in your mind.

Also, none of these sound inappropriate at all. I'm guessing you also can't help you daughter take a bath or change into PJs?

I have also been a daddy's girl (he is a fellow mefite so he can second all this). And we have played like that a lot. We did tickle fights, piggy back rides, cuddling. I would hop into bed with just him if I had a nightmare. One time I had such a bad toothache that being comforted by my dad was the only way I could sleep. I was about 14. It was all just affection and NOTHING sexual about it. The close touching and coddling/cuddling slowly fades as children head towards puberty, in a natural sort of way of creating distance. We also have had to share a hotel bed on trips with some groups of people (myself in my dad in one bed, our friend who was traveling with us in the other.) He's my dad, nothing weird about it. Now that I am married we obviously will sleep with our spouses in separate hotel rooms. When I was in high school we both got Mono and crashed on the couch together to nap. Totally normal to me.

It seems your wife is sexualizing your 7 year old. You are perfectly able to touch her hip or butt, what if you carry her on your hip somewhere? A piggy back ride involves you touching her leg. Again, she is your daughter, not a sexual object. Did she also object to you changing diapers or being involved in potty-training?

For example I had an extreme fever when I was about 9 or 10. My dad had to put cold rags on my bare back to bring the fever down. Nothing sexual about it he was making sure we didn't have to rush to the emergency room. It's just part of parenting. You generally stop seeing your kid naked around 11 or so - when puberty starts. That happens with both of you deciding to need distance. But your daughter is what, in first grade?

I agree that if things aren't working out with your wife, it's not good for the kid. If you truly are being just a good parent and you don't have sexual motives with your child then later on your wife could put ideas into your daughters head. If you do leave you need a good attorney to sort out custody.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:15 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

My daughter is also seven years old right now, and she also initiates virtually everything you listed with me. She's a very affectionate child. Now, my wife thinks it's wonderful, and she's happy that her daughter loves cuddling with her daddy so much. There is nothing inherently weird about anything you describe.

Which really makes me think the problem is not the cuddling but your wife. As others have suggested, that's probably where you should focus your attention.

And, for edification: Congratulations on your part in raising what appears to be a very sweet and affectionate little girl. You're doing something right.
posted by jbickers at 2:19 PM on April 15, 2013

I was super affectionate with both of my parents in this way and none of it sounds unusual to me at all. But your wife's jealousy/sexual projection upon your daughter disturbs me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:23 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am not a parent but something about the descriptions makes me feel squicky. I would feel uncomfortable if I saw that kind of interaction. I am an American and have no abuse in my past. I'm a woman who loves and is familiar with kids.

It might be just me. Everyone else seems ok with it. It sounds like a situation where maybe you'd have to be there. Definitely agree with TedW because I am a fairly normal person and your examples give me pause.
posted by vincele at 2:23 PM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]

Sounds perfectly normal to me. I think perhaps your wife is either jealous of your relationship with your daughter or is dealing with her own issues surrounding inappropriate touching.

I do agree with the above that staying together for the sake of the children never seems to be as good an idea in practice as it seems in theory.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:25 PM on April 15, 2013

I am not a parent but something about the descriptions makes me feel squicky. I would feel uncomfortable if I saw that kind of interaction. I am an American and have no abuse in my past. I'm a woman who loves and is familiar with kids.

I think it's because of the framing of the post and the clinical language with which the interactions are described (reminiscent of a courtroom/charging document). I had a similar feeling while reading this but it's a reaction to the notion of pedophilia, nothing else.

To anon, get a lawyer, and explore your options for exiting this marriage. Seriously. Nothing good is going to come from this.
posted by downing street memo at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had a similarly affectionate relationship with an uncle. No one thought it was weird. Because it wasn't weird. My uncle died when I was 16, so now I look back on that affection with a lot of nostalgia and gratitude. I miss him so much. He provided me with a healthy conception of physical affection, which I might not have received otherwise. So count me as another person who thinks your physical contact with your daughter is a-okay.

But, I agree with everyone else that you need to obey TedW. Your wife is going to turn this against you hard, in vengeance, sometime in the future. So you'd best be prepared.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:32 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

My daughter is five. Everything you describe sounds normal and appropriate to me. My daughter is prone to #5. I was raised with very demonstrative physical affection and am the same with my children.

I agree with the comments that your wife is wrongly sexualizing your daughter. I am not sure why she is doing that, but there may be a number of reasons. Most would correctly guess that I am quite against divorce and think that "for the children" is a better reason than most to be married. However, what you describe is toxicity from your wife and if it continues, you are looking at trouble whether you stay married or she eventually files for divorce. You may wish to consider not being married anymore on your own terms. I can see her allegations of "inappropriate touching" coming a mile away.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:34 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'd be devastated if my husband limited his touch of our daughter (age 9) the ways your wife is asking you to limit yours. Please get therapy for your wife, and your daughter, so that this doesn't turn into something bigger as your daughter ages. And all the advice about protecting yourself against your wife's charges are spot on. This is going to be very painful for you, I predict, and I am so, so sorry about that.
posted by Capri at 2:40 PM on April 15, 2013

At this point it is probably unnecessary for yet another person to say this, but: There is nothing wrong with the level of affection that you have described.

My father did pretty much all of the things you described above, and I don't think anyone else in our family ever thought anything of it. I certainly never did.

I also second the opinion that you two should divorce. Your daughter is definitely old enough now to see that you two do not get along. Children deserve to be able to view marriage with an unjaundiced eye -- living with married parents who don't get along will likely cause her to have negative feelings towards marriage and cohabitation.
posted by nohaybanda at 2:41 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say what TedW said, but he said it better than I was going to.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 2:41 PM on April 15, 2013

Yet in a number of cultures it is ok and not at all unusual for child to sleep with parents throughout the night in the same bed.

If the two of you got along with no problems do you think your wife would react in this fashion?
posted by Postroad at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2013

How does your daughter feel? Is her mom asking her about these events, because if she is, she's way off base. My husband and daughter (now in her 20s) are very close, and that's wonderful. She's probably the one person with whom he has always shown nothing but unconditional love and approval, and she's benefited from this a great deal. I do think it's possible to "stay together" for the child's sake, but your wife is trying to plant a very nasty seed, I think, and that will undercut you.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:57 PM on April 15, 2013

I have tried to discuss this with my wife but do not get very coherent answers. She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs, but then she raises no objection when I pick her up and even give her a cuddle (while holding her from a standing position).

It sounds like your wife is objecting to scenarios where your daughter's body is pressing on your genitals, where your genitals are pressing on her butt, or where you are caressing/stroking her stomach. That's "coherent," right?

I disagree with everyone else. I don't think it's unreasonable for your co-parent to be uncomfortable with you and your child engaging in those particular forms of touch, and request that you don't do it. I also don't think it makes her hysterical, over-reacting, or crazy.

"gently caress/rub my daughters stomach with my hands **under** her t-shirt/pajamas"

I also think it is reasonable for your co-parent to be uncomfortable with you putting your hands under her clothes to "caress" sensitive areas of her body. I'm NOT saying YOU'RE MOLESTING HER!!! I am saying I think it's reasonable for your co-parent to draw the line at what you *are* doing.

I also don't think, as has been suggested up above, that if your wife has experienced sexual abuse that makes her perspective less objective, more irrational, and more rightfully ignored than the opinions of others who haven't experienced that.

I also don't think, just because your wife may not be able to articulate her discomfort in a way that you judge sufficiently "coherent," that it's okay for everyone to just blow it off.

I also think we might see a very different description of all of this if she were posting.

I think you should respect her requests.
posted by cairdeas at 2:58 PM on April 15, 2013 [45 favorites]

Tummy rubs on a 7 year old is pushing it imo. So is putting the arm around her and the hand touching the hip. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm saying it makes me, personally, uncomfortable. But I've been through some shit and my radar pings more than most peoples' might, so take that into consideration.
posted by windykites at 3:04 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also think it is reasonable for your co-parent to be uncomfortable with you putting your hands under her clothes to "caress" sensitive areas of her body

quoted for truth. This, a million time. If hands are going under clothes, my eyebrows are going way, way up. IMO, this is inappropriate.
posted by windykites at 3:05 PM on April 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

I don't know, I'm going to buck the trend here. I agree with vincele that something sounds off here.

A few questions:

- Has your wife mentioned WHY she finds this confusing or disturbing? Is it a general rule for family touching, something in your manner, something about your daughter? The reason is the most important thing.

- You don't seem to respect your wife's point of view here. If she did have a point, what would it be?

- I'm squicked out by your descriptions too. Something about her laying between your legs, and snuggling up while you're asleep just doesn't seem... wholesome. Maybe not sexual, but maybe defiant of your wife? Relying on your daughter for affection? I don't know. Your genitals touching her body is not necessarily entirely innocent.

On preview: favorite cairdeas 100x. Even if your wife was molested, that doesn't make her point of view less valid.
posted by 3491again at 3:07 PM on April 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

General physical touch like that is not inappropriate, but the way that this is framed in your question (if I were to be honest) makes the hair stand up on my arms a bit. I am a firm believer in appropriate physical displays of affection between a father and a daughter, and I am frequently frustrated by the way that society demonizes the involvement of males with children. However, I do not know how to balance the uncomfortable framing of your question at points, the intuitions of a mother, and your anonymous situation (which keeps me from applying any background character perspective) to allow me to answer with any certainty if your wive's particular concern is warranted or not. I am not making any accusations at all, but I also do not think that the way that your question is worded says "go ahead" with what you are doing, based on our very limited understanding of your situation (so, really, my uncertainty is simply based on a lack of knowledge). Touch in general is fine. I'm not sure if that means that your descriptions of touch is fine. Perhaps the way that you frame and defend the question is leading to some of the miscommunication between yourself and your wife.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:19 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, OP, as you can see, there's no 100% agreement in this thread. We all bring to it our own experiences, and our own varying interpretations of your necessarily inexact descriptions.

To me, the most troubling thing about your question is I have tried to discuss this with my wife but do not get very coherent answers. Does that mean she can't articulate what she finds not-okay about your affection? That you don't understand her point of view? Both? Something else entirely?

In any case, my earlier advice still stands. If she's having trouble communicating and/or you're having trouble understanding her, you need a third party to help you communicate and understand one another. And that third party is definitely not AskMe, as awesome as it can be.
posted by rtha at 3:22 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, while the forms of touch you describe might be innocent in many situations, they're very much not innocent in countless others. I'm pretty sure most adults are aware of that, and I'm not sure how they can be so confident about which is which, when it involves people they don't know and a scenario they have never personally observed. I do think the opinion of the child's other parent should count for more than that of a bunch of random strangers.
posted by cairdeas at 3:23 PM on April 15, 2013 [17 favorites]

I think all that stuff is fine.
posted by trbrts at 3:27 PM on April 15, 2013

I used to cuddle with my dad on the couch when I was younger and I don't find any of that unusual, including hand around daughter on the hip. The stuff in bed isn't usual to me, but my family was not the sort of family where the kids hopped into bed with the parents. I understand in other families this is very commonly done.

Does your wife understand that under her prohibitions, you cannot even hug your daughter?

Perhaps putting it in those terms would make it more clear why her requests seem unreasonable?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:40 PM on April 15, 2013

Your wife is bizarrely off-base. You are fine.

I have a daughter the same age, and we engage in the exact same kinds of cuddling and kinship. It's healthy and normal.
posted by zachawry at 3:52 PM on April 15, 2013

(Ooops, "skinship," not "kinship.")
posted by zachawry at 3:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't had a chance to read all the replies, so I apologize if this has already been mentioned, but what is your wife's profession? If she works with children, as I do, she may be very sensitive to this kind of thing. While I understand that the interactions you specified may be normal in some families, many of those examples made me uncomfortable. Also, I also do not feel that a child initiating contact is reason enough not to set certain boundaries. Setting boundaries does not mean "rejecting" her, if you do it thoughtfully.
posted by smirkyfodder at 3:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, this is completely unhealthy and inappropriate. Your daughter needs loving, non-sexual, affectionate touch from her family.

I agree with this.

But I also agree that some of the things, as described, sound like they might look a little creepy. And yes, going under the clothing is definitely a no-no. Not because it is skin on skin contact, which can be just fine, but the act of going under the clothes is a little off. There is a touch of ownership/possession signaling there. Your wife was right to call you out on that. If I were a father, I would probably be just as demonstrative. But I would also look twice if I saw a father and daughter behaving that way.

You are in a rough situation. I would suggest counseling instantly. Not to prove one side or the other right or wrong, but just to have a structured dialogue about what the specific concerns are. What sort of inappropriate does your wife think this is? Is she saying that your contact is innocent and harmless, but just looks bad? Or does she think that your behavior is completely innocent, but that such close contact might eventually affect your daughter negatively? Or does she think that your behavior is more sinister, that you are headed down a path, or that something bad might happen if your wife wasn't there to stop you?

Hell, you and your wife both might not entirely know where your respective behaviors come from. You could both be over-doing it. You might be being overly affectionate to mask the trouble in the household, and your wife might see that as sort of cutting her out of the family in a way.

Finally, maybe your wife had some bad touching things happen to her or around her when she was younger and be having a visceral reaction.

(Only you know what your motivations are, and that's the problem. There is mistrust in the home, apparently, and that has to be rectified somehow.)

(Another question for you to think about: would you do the same thing with a boy child? If not, then maybe you do need to examine your behaviors a little more critically.)
posted by gjc at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

[Folks please answer without calling other cultures' practices wrong? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:04 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Putting aside your wife's concerns for the moment, the person who should be setting boundaries on how she's touched is your daughter. However, she's not even seven yet, and so as her father you need to start showing her how to set those boundaries, and how people should respect them. You have to teach her.

So, start asking before you touch her. Simple as that. "May I hug you?" or "May I have a hug?" with arms outstretched is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, as is "May I pick you up?" and "May I put my arm around you?" This makes it clear that you want to -- you're not making her ask for fundamental, appropriate parent-child intimacy -- but that she gets to choose to participate or not. If she says no, just say "okay" and move on, nothing more and nothing less, so she learns that normal people do that (and don't throw a fit or pout or cajole or anything else boyfriends might do to her later on.)

For the other things, such as climbing into bed or onto your lap, you have two responsibilities: first, let her initiate, and second, set a few boundaries for her so that she learns it works both ways and is normal. She wants to sit on your lap? Tell her that now that she's getting older it hurts a bit, but she can sit next to you or on your knee. She wants to be between you and your wife in bed? Turn your back on her and let her spoon you (or not) as she's inclined.

This isn't an indictment of your choices up to now; it is just a great opportunity to start teaching her how to set and respect boundaries about her (or another person's) body.

Oh, and you can talk to your wife about this. You can tell her that you still don't think you were doing anything wrong, but you've thought about it a great deal, because you respect her and her opinions, and you'd like to try what I described above so that your daughter can learn how to set boundaries, etc., and see what she says. At the very least, she'll understand that you're taking her seriously, even if what she's asking seems extreme and unwarranted (you might not want to share that last bit with her.)
posted by davejay at 4:16 PM on April 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

I have four daughters (and one son). My 6-year-old frequently comes up to me with the same types of interactions - she'll want to sit on my lap and will ask me to scratch her back (under her shirt) while we watch TV. I don't consider it weird or inappropriate at all, especially considering my other kids are always around and climbing on me at the same time.

This seems to be an age where my daughters crave extra physical affection from me and I think it's rather sweet.

posted by tacodave at 4:22 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

My niece of a similar age crawls all over people in something of the manner described by the OP and I, personally, find it inappropriate no matter the gender of the person she's mauling in a puppyish way. It's not only about growing more independent and modeling culturally-appropriate adult behavior, but also as part of teaching your daughter to set boundaries for her body. In my cultural context seven is about time for a person to learn to model adult physical distances and interactions and start to behave with more restraint.

But it's not about what I find unsettling or overly-indulgent. Your wife finds your behavior inappropriate, and she will be with you throughout your child's rearing. A million Internet strangers can decree that your behavior is perfectly acceptable, but that won't mean anything to your wife, who is actually there seeing your interactions. So you need to talk to your wife until you both work this out, considering the serious overtones of the disagreement, undoubtedly with a professional.

I have to say that the fact that your wife felt she had to intervene already to stop you from touching your child under her clothes forces me to wonder what her AskMe question would include as examples.
posted by winna at 4:35 PM on April 15, 2013 [15 favorites]

First things first: I want to throw out the concept of covert incest. It's commonly seen in families where there's then a break down between the parents and the child gradually begins to fulfill an emotional and physical intimacy role normally more appropriate between adult partners. The reason it's called covert is that there's not normally sexual contact -- just physical contact/touch that's eroticized in an inappropriate manner. It often leads to enmeshment, and can really mess up parent/child boundaries.

I'm not saying this is what you're doing, but I did want to throw the concept out there, particularly because I don't KNOW your wife and kid... but at the same time, because I don't KNOW your wife and kid, I feel like it'd be irresponsible to be like, yeah, okay, how you touch your daughter is fine.
posted by spunweb at 4:44 PM on April 15, 2013 [24 favorites]

When I was your daughter's age I *loved* having my bare tummy gently rubbed or tickled by both parents. Loooooooooved it. It was under the clothes, skin on skin, whatever. And my Dad was a teacher, so he was super cognisant of appropriateness or lack thereof.

I dunno, I did all those things you list with my parents and siblings as a kid, and have had nieces and nephews and my own daughter do them to me - they all seem fine.

I was also a childcare worker for five years and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow personally if I saw a parent do this, and additionally I can't help wondering how the posters who find this problematic would feel if you were a mother not a father.

I respectfully disagree that your wife's concerns are valid - if the her _baseline_ is no touching between neck and legs, that's way, way outside the norm.

I agree that "Staying together for the kids" is ultimately far more destructive and horrible for them than anything else (I was one of those kids), and additionally it's totally unsustainable. Prepare yourself for divorce, and double-prepare yourself for a very dirty custody battle with accusations of child abuse. Protect yourself and your daughter, I think a storm is coming for you.
posted by smoke at 4:44 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I think if you put your hands under her clothes while touching her in the ways you describe, you don't get to pass go or collect $200. You've landed into Inappropriate Touching Land. Frankly, it reads to me like you're asking internet strangers to give you permission to do that, which is what puts it over the squick line for me.

My opinion wouldn't change based on the gender of the parent, either.
posted by spunweb at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [13 favorites]

Most of what you said did not send off any warning bells for me, and I have kids and was severely sexually violated by my father for my entire childhood.
BUT... 'Gently caressing' is something that lovers do, not parents.
The tummy rubbing thing is weird.
And yeah, your 7yo should NOT be lying on top of your groin area while watching tv. Ask her to lie beside.

To me it sounds like your daughter is filling the physical affection void of where your partner should be in the midst of a deteriorating marriage. That was the point in which my dad started crossing lines, so please, please, family therapy for all.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 4:48 PM on April 15, 2013 [21 favorites]

do you still touch your wife? are you intimate at all?
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:53 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your wife does not want your genitals touching your daughter. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, and it weirds me out that you did not realize that was the common thread linking almost all of your examples.
posted by acidic at 4:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [31 favorites]

I have not been molested. I HAVE been raised in a family where the parents had widely divergent ideas about what constitutes appropriate touching. Their constant airing of their opinions on all this grosses me out to this day.

I am not a parent. There are opposite-sex children of friends, little boys in this age range, with whom I am very close. I hug and kiss them and (where still needed) change their diapers, etc.

To me this sounds way way over the line. To me it sounds like it would have also been way way over the line at the childhood home of my hippie friends where everyone walked around naked. I was there, I saw my friends' Dad's balls many a time, but I never, but never, saw or participated in any of what is described above. And that in a hippie context! At my own house, oh, no, even the pro-touching parent would have called this off.

Based on my experience as a child, and based on my present experience as a loving aunt-figure to these little boys above: if you have to ASK if you're in a grey area, then you are more than in a grey area.

If you need to tell yourself to back off, this does not mean you're a bad person or a molester. God forbid! This means that you're a loving father who wants to make sure never even to come close to a situation that might be bad for his daughter.
posted by skbw at 4:58 PM on April 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

if you are living together for the daughter's sake this is something you must discuss and clear the air about. At the moment it sounds as if something about your physical relationship with your daughter is making your wife very uncomfortable, in a way she can't clearly articulate. If you are going to be co-parenting this must be sorted out, preferably with a professional counsellor with some experience of child-development.

Your question as posed seems to contain very little to take exception at, except for two glaring examples:
"We both agree that I have never touched my daughters genitals or even breasts (in-fact nowhere close)." At 7, your daughter has breasts? Huh? Really?
You spoon your little girl while you're in bed with your wife? Hope there's no residual arousal going on there the kid might notice.

I mean, both these examples jarred a great deal with me, especially as the rest of it is so innocuous - oh, wait, apart from the 'under her clothes' thing. Seriously, this is something you need to talk through with proper professional help.

What if you're kidding yourself just a little bit, with the handy excuse that your wife is so unreasonable? What if you're somehow behaving towards your daughter in a way that demonstrates to her that daddy likes daughter so much more than he likes mummy, that daughter's so much better at being a girl than mummy is? Even without actual abuse, that contributes towards a harmful, competitive atmosphere for a young girl to grow up in. You wouldn't want to contribute to that, would you?

tl;dr, get help and talk this out, so that you're sure you're respecting a young girl's boundaries and your wife is sure she has nothing to worry about.
posted by glasseyes at 5:00 PM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

Also--it may have been said above--but let me add re: boundaries. A seven-year-old is not, in general, going to be able to set or enforce boundaries re: physical touch. Maybe with playmates but not with her dad! On the contrary, her notions of boundaries are being made right this minute. Your wife basically has no choice, IMO, but to act as her agent here.
posted by skbw at 5:03 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, and that covert incest thing: not just it can really mess up parent/child boundaries, it can really mess up a child, full stop. You don't want to mess up your daughter, do you? Is it worth it, just to gratify....what, exactly?

Get help. Be a co-parent, not an antagonist-parent.
posted by glasseyes at 5:06 PM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Whether or not this is appropriate completely depends on your thoughts and feelings while you're snuggled up with her. What you've described could be innocent; it could also be wildly inappropriate.

Have you ever felt aroused while cuddled up with her?

Or does the idea of bring aroused by your daughter disgust you?

There's gray area here for sure. And I can't tell if you're innocent of any inappropriate touching, but you totally could be. Why is your wife so adamant about this?
posted by Specklet at 5:13 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's what jumped to my mind too- presumably you have ended physical relations with your wife so affection with your daughter may seem more glaring or sort of sublimating...I definitely think family counseling is in order to get to the bottom of all this.
posted by bquarters at 5:16 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry if this was already brought up in this way long thread, but... OP, what exactly is your goal here? The blessing or condemnation of a bunch of internet strangers on your physical contact with your daughter is meaningless in a conflict between co-parents, regardless of the relationship between those parents.

Your wife, whether she is right or wrong, is disturbed by your behavior. You, whether you are wrong or right, feel uncomfortable with limiting your contact to ways she feels is appropriate. You and your wife are sending your daughter inconsistent messages about what is okay or appropriate. This sounds like a recipe for disaster and even if the context of your question was different (not about inappropriate touching), I'd be concerned about the dynamic of this family.

I rarely go all "get thee to therapy" but seriously, you guys need help with this.
posted by sm1tten at 5:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

OP, I think you know if you are being abusive or creepy yourself. I think most of what you describe sounds innocent, and I think it's sad that dads have to self police to simply avoid the appearance of doing anything weird. I do agree though, with some of the comments about your terminology - technically a soft pat/touch is a caress, but you can see how squicky that can sound.

I don't necessarily agree with the comments that it is reasonable for a dad to avoid having his genitals touching against a child (through two layers of clothing, with no sexual intent). I have sons who full body hugged me, and one of them slept in my bed from time to time. My husband hugs our daughter, and she frequently clambers all over him, or lies on top of him (she is nearly four). He is not molesting her. His penis is innocent! The mere fact that he owns a penis, which is capable of being sexual, doesn't mean that it is constantly sexual, and sexualising every situation. Sometimes it is just there, minding its own business.

That said - do you trust your wife's intent in raising this with you, or do you think she is being controlling/making trouble? Because if you honestly think she is well intentioned, maybe you should honestly examine what you're doing. And if not, maybe you guys should be talking about this with a third party.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 5:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [15 favorites]

I have tried to discuss this with my wife but do not get very coherent answers. She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs, but then she raises no objection when I pick her up and even give her a cuddle

Also, some people are better than others at the "sort these things into 100% consistent categories with laser-like precision, articulate it perfectly, and be able to tell me the exact category for every iteration of everything" game. That doesn't mean the person is stupid - some of them are Supreme Court justices whose job is to often do just that. And it doesn't mean they are wrong, when they think some things are not like others but can't give you a formula for sorting every possible behavior into those particular categories.

I see women steamrolled all the time for not being great at that game. I especially see women steamrolled for that who are less educated or of a foreign culture compared to their male partners.

She might have felt like she needed to say the "neck and the legs" thing because it was the closest she could get to a category that included all the behaviors that bothered her, where she wouldn't have to worry about edge cases that bothered her and you insisting how she felt about them was wrong because she wasn't being "coherent."

She might be way more able to back off such an extreme position if that kind of dynamic is avoided, if you focus more on working together so you can both be comfortable, rather than proving how she is inconsistent and thus wrong.
posted by cairdeas at 5:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [17 favorites]

Anon, I'm back with some examples of the conservative approach to father-daughter touching. I can't comment on the New Age approach, sorry, because that isn't what I lived. I am commenting further because I really care about anyone who is trying to be a good father. I applaud your efforts to get clarification here and I wish you many years of loving parenting.

Crotch of my dad: when I was a little girl, 2 or 3 years old, I loved to climb up and down through the "tunnel" made when either of my parents put one ankle on the other knee. This stopped around 3--Daddy told me I was too big to fit through anymore!

Roughhousing with my dad: until I was old enough, say 14, to actually hurt him if I threw a punch. (That was when he told me to stop!) I did not get a chest until I was 15 or so, so I would have stopped earlier if there were boobs in the way. Till I left home for college I would get on the dogpile (poor Dad) if my brother and sister were messing with him. Context!

Arm around shoulder while watching TV: on occasion, until I left home for college.


Anon, here's some class A internet TMI. I mean it to give you perspective. I draw the line above to keep it away from any anecdotes about my ol' daddy. You know what made me slow way down on physical contact with BOTH parents? When I started masturbating at the age of nine. Like a lot of normal, healthy kids do.

Food for thought.
posted by skbw at 5:26 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

As you can see by the variety of responses, this is a major grey area and your actions could be taken many different ways. I tend to think your interactions with your daughter sound very innocent and your wife is going to screw your daughter up by insisting that there's something wrong with the way you guys are cuddling... But I am not there, and it could be that your wife rightly senses something amiss and is acting in the best interests of your kid.

The fact that she says the stuff IN FRONT OF THE KID seems like a big red flag to me. The "no touching between the neck and legs" thing strikes me as weirdly specific, too. (Touching your kid's back is creepy? What about tickling the ribs? What about holding hands?) If she thinks something's wrong, she should just put that on you, the adult. She should not be making her kid feel weird and wrong about cuddling. I think you should tell your wife that this is something for the two of you to discuss behind closed doors, and leave the poor kid out of it. You don't want to give your daughter some weird complex about touching, and that's where this might be headed if you don't do something about it.

So: therapy is probably a good idea, or maybe divorce. But definitely, insist that your wife stops making your kid feel weird about cuddling with dad. If you need to be more careful about how you cuddle with your kid, there are ways to do that without the kid feeling like she's done something wrong.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Every scenario you describe seems 100% okay, 100% normal/typical/common, and 100% the sign of a warm loving relationship between father and daughter. Your wife is weird sexualizing a small child by disapproving of your interactions, and it's gross.
posted by Kololo at 6:56 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I see women steamrolled all the time

Strange to mention this and completely ignore the fact that in this case here, a father is being subject to something far worse...

OP, there is little chance you can effectively change the way your wife is portraying you - you are being setup in an unfortunate way. Forget the convincing part - You need legal advice and protection - asap. You are currently at risk of losing legal right to your daughter.

Wake up - your wife's attorney would have a field day with your descriptions within the clinical confines of a courtroom - juries move to protect children. You would certainly not be the first to lose, and not the first to be utterly surprised when that moment arrives.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:10 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm also a bit weirded out by people's *certainty* that this is "100% okay, 100% normal". How are you so sure?

Maybe it wouldn't hurt for the OP to be a bit unsure and think it through, especially if *the mother of his children* is concerned about this.

There are enough of us who have some concern that I don't think this can be seen as 100% anything.
posted by 3491again at 7:19 PM on April 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

Yeah I don't know, this could all be perfectly harmless but something strikes me as off about this question, like you're looking for fodder to use against your wife's accusations and undermine her sense that something doesn't feel right.

That said, I think her raising any of this in front of your child is also really damaging, and even if the touch is totally innocent your daughter will be messed up from her parents disagreeing about it in front of her.

Listen to your wife's concerns, talk to a professional, and stop discussing any of this in front of the child.
posted by whalebreath at 7:19 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'll start by saying this all feels within the realm of normal, loving father/daughter contact to me. It's a little weird to read.... because when is it NOT weird to read someone break down touching their child to ask if it's appropriately non-sexual? The whole situation is incredibly sad for everyone involved.

I feel like one point that hasn't been brought up on here yet is the negative impact it could have on the daughter to condemn affectionate touch in this way. Is this stuff being said in front of your daughter? Assuming this is a little girl who is just trying to be close to her dad, my fear is saying this stuff in front of her could give her some seriously weird issues with physical contact with men in the future. How will she learn what sort of touch is appropriate/inappropriate if most casual touch with men is "wrong?"

Agreeing with those who recommend seeing a lawyer and a therapist. I also agree with those who have suggested that the "staying together for the kid" model is not a great idea, especially in this case.
posted by amycup at 7:43 PM on April 15, 2013

Here's the thing, anonymous, you have no idea what it feels like to be in a little girl's body. You also have no idea what it feels like to grow up as a girl or woman in this culture (it feels extremely predatory, fyi). If you want to do what is best as a parent, it would be to make these decisions based what is 100% emotionally and physically safe for your daughter. If you have to ask a forum of strangers about the safety of your chosen behaviors, there is a big problem. I seriously suggest professional help for determining your own motivations in persisting in these behaviors and learning to understand what a 7 year old girl needs/wants. Your wife's resistance may seem extreme to some but I would bet that she is just reacting to what may feel borderline inappropriate and doesn't know what else to do to keep her daughter safe. You may wonder why I'm using the word safe here because you never said anything about harming or violating your daughter but inappropriate touching whether intentional or not can cause a lifetime of harm.
posted by rglass at 7:49 PM on April 15, 2013 [13 favorites]

I feel really uncomfortable typing this, but here goes.

I suspect that the root of your wife's discomfort is the fact that you and she are not intimate. In other words, she knows that you are not receiving either sexual or non-sexual touch within your marriage. The behaviors you describe are all things that I do with sexual partners. They are not inherently sexual, but sexual touch is a continuum. (I am not explaining this well; sorry.)

Most of the situations you describe involve lying down, and/or beds, and/or crotch contact. These things are all fine when holding a baby, or a toddler, where the crotch/butt areas do not press together (because of relative body sizes). They're also normal between adults in a sexual relationship, obviously. Anything in-between becomes a grey area.

I have tried to discuss this with my wife but do not get very coherent answers. She says I should never touch my daughter anywhere between the neck and the legs, but then she raises no objection when I pick her up and even give her a cuddle (while holding her from a standing position).

See the difference? 'A standing position'. Not lying down, not on beds, not spooning or cuddling.

I think there are small things you can do to ease this situation. Do not spoon with your daughter in bed: it presses your crotch up against her butt. Probably, your wife sees this and registers that when you did that with her, it gave you an erection. Same when she lies between your legs watching tv. And so on. I am not saying you have any sexual instincts towards your daughter. I am not even saying that I think your wife thinks that. I think it is very important to continue to be tactile and loving with your daughter. You just need to do it in ways that do not involve horizontal butt/genital contact.

It doesn't matter why your wife feels this way. (For what it's worth, I've never been molested by anybody, and had a great relationship with my dad, and I felt like I picked up on what's bothering your wife immediately.) What matters is protecting yourself and your daughter. Do what you need to do to stay physically affectionate with your daughter whilst dialing back the specific type of touch that triggers your wife. It is possible.

Also, start protecting yourself legally. See a family lawyer asap. Good luck.
posted by Salamander at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2013 [32 favorites]

I like the question about "Would you touch a son this way?" If not, then maybe you should curb your touch to how you would touch a boy (I think all of this would be fine with a boy).

And yes, get a divorce so you can go get a grown up girlfriend to meet more of your own (totally normal and I'm not even talking about sexual) needs for physical affection and love. Your daughter should not be your only source of snuggles.
posted by amaire at 7:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

"Your wife is weird sexualizing a small child by disapproving of your interactions, and it's gross."

But then the OP states he never has touched this 7-year-olds "breasts".

I mean, what I'm getting at is there's a bit of a vibe to the question, and as such maybe the best answer is for the parents here to get some counselling and/or mediation. I don't think any of us as random internet commentators have enough knowledge of the situation to be able to assess it at all. But I feel particularly wary about blanket statements as to the rights or wrongs of this.
posted by glasseyes at 7:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

I can't help wondering how the posters who find this problematic would feel if you were a mother not a father.

My previous discomforts and objections still stand in this scenario where the parent is female; and in real-life situations that were similar where a guardian was female.
posted by windykites at 7:57 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

7 is about the age when parents of the opposite sex start thinking maybe they need to be aware of their kid's potential sexuality. And as the mother of a son, this is something I've had to think of with both boys and girls. It's quite difficult and sensitive - you want to cuddle your child and you don't want to trespass on their bodily autonomy.
posted by glasseyes at 8:01 PM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

All of the examples you provided involve your genitals/crotch somehow touching your kid. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that is what is making your wife so uncomfortable.

And no, my answer to this question wouldn't change if the gender of the parent or of the child involved was reversed.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:07 PM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

You say that you and your wife "don't get on" and wouldn't be together if it weren't for your daughter. You are snuggling with your daughter in the way that you might snuggle with a lover. I assume that you aren't snuggling with your wife that way. I'm sorry, but that makes it hinky to me.

You can isolate the type of touch very analytically like you've done here, but to understand what might be driving your wife's objections, you need to take into account the larger context as well. I doubt that this is a healthy environment for anyone.
posted by ceiba at 9:10 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

anonymous posted">> We both agree that I have never touched my daughters genitals or even breasts (in-fact nowhere close).

Your daughter doesn't have breasts yet. She's six. She has a chest. None of the behaviors you listed sound remotely odd to me, even in my own not-very-physically-affectionate family. Your wife's assertion that it is inappropriate for you to touch your daughter anywhere on her trunk is unreasonably paranoid.

The fact that your wife is discouraging her daughter from innocent cuddling is really troubling. It is NOT okay for this to be projected onto your kid, that's messing around with your daughter's understanding of love and acceptance. It's not only sexualizing your affection for your daughter, but sexualizing your daughter's affection for you.

Honestly, my first knee-jerk reaction was that either your wife was molested as a child, that she's jealous of the familial affection between you and your daughter (stemming from the decline of your marriage) or both.
posted by desuetude at 9:55 PM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'd say everything you describe is usually fine between a dad and a 6-yo. I have three daughters; the younger two are 9 and 7. I would say 9 or 10 might be the age you start thinking about drawing lines (if the child hasn't done that on her own, which in most cases they do). First-graders are still wee kids, nowhere near puberty. They love tickling, back-rubbing, and cuddle-spooning, and these are perfectly normal things to do with them.

My husband doesn't think twice about giving our 7-yo a bath and getting her ready for bed. Rub or tickle her bare back or tummy? All the time, whether she's dressed or jumping on the bed with nothing on but undies.

To people saying that "genital touching" is the common thread in the OP's description, #1 and 3 have nothing like that. And the rest, too, are common physical touch in healthy families. A child snuggling like this isn't thinking of "genitals," but of contact, comfort, and security. It takes grownups to sexualize the interaction.

Having said all that, OP, there are really two questions here:
- Is there anything inherently inappropriate about this touching? The answer is NO. (There are plenty of "we do that" answers above to demonstrate this.) and
- Are you touching your daughter inappropriately? The answer is, WE CAN'T KNOW. Only you can know if this contact with your daughter is non-sexual.

I do think that you and your wife should see a counselor. If you are here looking for cover for hinky behavior that your wife has perceived correctly, that's deeply messed up. OTOH, if your behavior is innocent yet her distrust of you has become deep enough for her to suspect you of this, THAT'S pretty messed up too. Both of you clearly care about your daughter, and I hope you can work this out for her sake.
posted by torticat at 11:16 PM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

while i think this is probably innocent touch i do think, as a few others have commented, that there is a danger here of emotional incest. this is not sexual incest but an emotionally inappropriate bond that develops between a parent and child when the parent does not have a fulfilling relationship with their spouse. because your relationship with your wife is obviously unsatisfying you may be unconsciously developing an unhealthy bond with your daughter where she starts to take the place your wife should have in your life and heart. your wife may in fact be picking up on this and worrying it might lead to sexual incest.

i don't know if you are or are not engaging in emotional incest with your daughter, but because of your circumstances i do think it is definitely something to watch out for. at the least i think you and your wife should get some marital counseling. if she won't go then you go by yourself. or, just get a divorce. staying together for your daughter's sake just puts a burden on your daughter that is not hers to carry. i think it would actually be healthier for your daughter if you and your wife separate/divorce if you can't work out your marital problems. as others have also suggested i'd probably cut back on the full-body contact when lying down. a hug is something momentary while lying on top of or alongside another is prolonged body contact so they are not really comparable.

so, i think the greater danger here is one of emotional incest which in some cases can lead to sexual incest.
posted by wildflower at 1:23 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think you should stop living with someone with whom you do not get along.

This isn't healthy for anyone in the family, obviously isn't making you happy and is therefor an unfortunate model for your daughter.

Sort out your relationship with your wife in a respectful manner sort out separate living space.

Cuddling with your daughter is completely normal.
posted by jazh at 1:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I can't tell someone over the internet how to raise their family, but there was a question about what is normal physical contact between a daddy and a 6/7 year old child? So here is what it means to me:

By that age, I would take my son (who was more in the athletic mold) to the backyard. I'd encourage him to kick the soccer ball. I'd have him run it down and time his approach. He'd hold a baseball bat and I'd help him with his swing. Watch your elbow! Or I'd hand him the football and we'd play chase, with him trying to feint and avoid me. Obviously this is all in the manner of "fun" and only as serious as he wanted it to be.

For my daughter (who was more in the artistic mold), I bought her a full size keyboard and she would play a song. I'd show her how to place her hands or to bridge the keys. We could play a duet, where I pull up a chair and we sit side by side playing and laughing. Or I also bought her some paints and a canvas. I tried to show her how to hold the brush, mix the colors together, and let her make a mess. Again, it was "fun" and she could decide how focused on the results she wanted to be.

By age seven, my son was playing organized sports with his peers. By age seven (approx), my daughter was taking dance and doing piano recitals. They had developed their own interests so I would just be encouraging. I think (or at least I hope) they felt my affection through how I spent time with them and gave them attention. So to me, that's being a daddy. And obviously my wife was being their mommy.

For me, being a daddy is not laying around with a child between my legs. Or letting the child be the little spoon while I rub around on their body. I am NOT saying that is wrong but it was not my approach. Why not read to them (as you sit side by side)? Or play a game where you take turns expanding on a shared story you invent (maybe acting out the others' words as a charade)? I am not saying you don't already do these things, but to me they are preferable to laying on top of each other doing nothing.

And somewhere in this discussion, I think I need to point out that when I was age six I had my "first kiss" with a girl from school. And by age eight, I had a little girlfriend in my class where we "explored" each other via petting (fully clothed). So either way, as a parent you have to be prepared for such developments based on your child's maturity.
posted by 99percentfake at 7:36 AM on April 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

Like torticat says above, while I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the kinds of touch you're describing, we really cannot speak to what's going on in your situation. Personally I think that automatically deferring to your wife seems just as misguided as automatically dismissing her concerns - but again, we're not there on the scene and can't say for certain what things are really like or who needs to do what.

However, one thing that can be said with at least a little more certainty is that you and your wife are doing your daughter a disservice by staying together "for" her, if, as you said, the two of you "really do not get on." Whether it's just minor bickering or outright hostility, that stuff seeps into the home-life atmosphere and can be incredibly stressful to absorb as the background noise to your childhood. From this question alone it sounds like she's already become the rope in your tug of war, and as she gets older she's only going to grow more acutely aware of this fact. This makes me feel very sad for her.

So while the two of you obviously need to do some work (ideally in therapy) to sort out this touch issue, I think the bigger thing you should be questioning is what you're really doing for/to your daughter by continuing to live together. Living with one parent (or going back in forth between parents) in a hostility-free home is bound to be far better for her, in both the short and long run.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Emotional incest" is a form of child abuse where the child is expected to participate in a sexualized dynamic (but without physical molestation) to serve the needs of the parent, to provide the type of emotional support sought from one's spouse/romantic partner. It's a type of incest. It's not just codependency.

The context of physical affection between a parent and child doesn't just passively, accidentally turn sexual. I'm not doing anything physically different when I hold my partner's hand versus holding a child's hand, but one of these things is sexy and one of these things is most assuredly not.
posted by desuetude at 3:15 PM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

We both agree that I have never touched my daughters genitals or even breasts

Like never ever? Including when she was a baby or toddler? How did you ever clean her?

How long have these rules been in place? I find your wife's opinion pretty disturbing, because as desuetude said this kind of projection is by itself destructive.

If you are really going to "stick this out" (something I also object to strongly as child of a poor marriage) seek counseling where you can talk through this with a 3rd party. Seriously please do this, for your daughter's sake, because this situation is toxic.
posted by French Fry at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2013

To clarify, I don't know (how could I) if what you are doing is ok or not ok. It's remarkably subjective and depends on intent. Those answers lay mostly in your head.

But your wife thinks this is a serious problem, and that makes this situation, the one between you and your wife... toxic. That is why you need to be in couples counseling. If she wrote this instead of you this thread would likely be filled with "divorce that pedophile" comments. Because she is choosing to see this in the worst light possible, likely because she sees you in the worst light possible.

As parents you and your wife are the model of what a marriage, what love, what lust, what adulthood and parenting should be like for your daughter. What kind of model are you building for her? is it one you'd be proud of?
posted by French Fry at 4:14 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you considered that your daughter may have told her mother that she is uncomfortable and your wife is trying to communicate that? Because that's what I did - I am uncomfortable with a lot of physical affection styles but always found it easier to talk to my mother - my father would inevitably take things in the worst, most extreme, fashion and then launch into serious levels of emotional rage. So it was easier for mum to deal with it.

As a note: I would be vastly uncomfortable with a lot of that style of touching both as a young child and now as a parent.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:28 AM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

As you can see, the overwhelming responses say your wife is unreasonable, and irresponsibly so in driving a wedge between you and your own daughter.

What to do now? show her this thread. If she still accuses you of inappropriate behavior, you should stop debating with her, and consult an attorney.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:55 AM on April 17, 2013

Kids grow so fast and before you know it, they're too heavy to carry or spurn your hugs and kisses (especially in front of peers). Physical displays of affection are positive bonding experiences and I would encourage you to continue to show your daughter what healthy, loving and positive physical contact looks like. You'll fondly recall the days where she was a little girl who once sat on your lap and loved daddy cuddles once she grows older and independent. I don't have children, but if the surge of love one feels holding a beloved child close (my niece in this instance) is remotely similar, then I would treasure every moment because there are few things as wonderful and life-affirming. Except maybe a blanket of (live) kittens!
posted by loquat at 9:15 AM on April 17, 2013

Have you considered that your daughter may have told her mother that she is uncomfortable and your wife is trying to communicate that? Because that's what I did - I am uncomfortable with a lot of physical affection styles but always found it easier to talk to my mother - my father would inevitably take things in the worst, most extreme, fashion and then launch into serious levels of emotional rage. So it was easier for mum to deal with it.

It sounds like he did consider this in a manner of speaking. The mother is getting angry at her daughter from initiating physical affection, though, and stopping her. I think this sounds pretty different from your example. And I am sad to imagine the unfair situation with parental affection that you experienced. There shouldn't be so many ways for this to go wrong.
posted by desuetude at 1:51 PM on April 17, 2013

desuetude: "It sounds like he did consider this in a manner of speaking. The mother is getting angry at her daughter from initiating physical affection, though, and stopping her. I think this sounds pretty different from your example. And I am sad to imagine the unfair situation with parental affection that you experienced. There shouldn't be so many ways for this to go wrong."

I can see how this would happen - if you've been asked to intervene/help and they keep doing the thing they asked for help with? The thing is that physical affection is a habit. It took me YEARS to break my husband's habit of stroking my knee - as lovely as it was, I have nerve damage and every time I would tense up and feel weird because the sensations were wrong. But it took years. So if the daughter is trying to work out her own style, her own preferences, and has talked to mum about it, that can be part of it, along with a lot of the things other people have mentioned like the mother being triggered by it herself, the mother being uncomfortable with the physical affection being shown when it is not present in the marital relationship. BUT I had missed the importance of that sentence the first time I read it, so thanks for the note.

Like I said though, I'd be uncomfortable either with these displays from my dad, or from my partner to my kid, and a lot of it is that genital contact (even clothed!). And that there are some really obvious options that don't involve that contact. And the 'breasts' thing *shudder*. I started developing around that time so I'm a little sensitive to those kinds of insinuations. I still hate comments on my body from my dad. But, again, my partner's family is very different. They'll have rub each other's shoulders, cuddle on the couch with their siblings, a whole bunch of stuff that makes me shrink back. So I admit my bias but a lot of it comes from having grown up female; I never got to choose freely who touched me, was socialised to accept it as a price of keeping people around me happy (or at least rage free) - I'm not even talking abuse here, just the casual "oh but I'm so saaaaaaaaaad when you don't hug me" BS. That's the real source of my discomfort, remembering how rare it was to actually get to hug someone without the emotional BS and how conflicted I would feel regardless of it it was present.

But yeah, therapy all around, because while the physical contact may be okay, the emotional BS going on is not, for you, your wife, or your daughter.

Thanks - it still irritates me to this day that my dad will in essence have a tantrum and give me the silent treatment if I don't perform to his expectations, but I'm mostly getting over it. But it's given me a hair trigger on fatherly expectations, which seems to have gone off here.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:28 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

We all have breasts unless they have been removed.

And the kid crawls into the bed at night between the mom and dad, which I assume would stop if she were uncomfortable with the touching.
posted by gjc at 7:44 PM on April 19, 2013

This question really stuck with me and I found it quite triggering. You asked for the opinions of Internet strangers, here is mine. It sounds like you're using your daughter to fulfil your needs for physical affection. Even if it's not 'sexual' this dynamic is harmful. Leave.
posted by nerdfish at 5:15 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

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