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Dear Doctor,

I am a 25 yrs old and have a 5 yr old daughter who just started kindergarten. Her father was never apart of her life and I raised her on my own. I am very protective of her well being and sense of confidence in who she is.

When I was between the ages of anywhere from 3 to 10 I was molested by my step father. He touched and rubbed me numerous times. My mother caught him one day. She never left him I think due to needing him to work to pay the bills so she could stay home and raise her 4 kids.

I grew up feeling uncomfortable in my house and was never able to share my secret. long story short they are still married and I get along with him fine now.

I started dating a really great guy about a yr ago. A couple months later I was pregnant. He loved my daughter and she loved him. family loved him, was a generous hard worker. So we had a small family only beach wedding two months ago. I am now 7 months pregnant. And we have all been excited about the new baby.

here's what happened yesterday. It was labor day, we were home. I was tired so I lay down for an hour while my husband played with my daughter in our pool. when I heard him say it was time to get out, I got up and watched through the sliding glass door. he sent her inside, but when she came inside she stood in the window and watched him because sometimes he shows his butt crack a little and we all laugh. (I've done it too). But yesterday, he turned and saw she was there and pulled his shorts down and bent all the way down to his toes, exposing her to everything else. she did not see him from the front but it still made me shake. he didn't know I was standing there (a little further back). He turned around and laughed and she giggled.

I sent her too her room to change and stormed out. I went nuts. how can you do this/ I trusted you/ what are you thinking/I'll never be able to forget this/ I don't know if I can be with you after this. He looked at me with shock. he said "I thought we were family. my parents didn't hide themselves from me when I was five. I think of her as my daughter." he said she thought nothing of it and I was the one making a big deal about it. he said he was sorry and would never have done it if he knew I was going to freak.

I had to leave the house for a few hours because I was so messed up (I took her to the grocery store and such). I came home and he hugged me and played with her and everything seemed back to normal. But inside I am still a mess. Am I crazy and did I freak out because of what happened to me as a child? (I never told him what happened to me because we have dinner with my mom and step dad almost bi-monthly). In normal families do parents normally allow their children to see them? (obviously my daughter sees me and thinks nothing of it).

Please help. I don't know how to handle this. My cry yesterday came from the heart because I don't know if ill ever be able to forget it. just getting married and starting a new life and now this happens. I don't want to do to her what my mother did to me. Or is what my husband did normal or ok? He is a great dad, does homework with her, plays with her, loves her. I don't think he would ever touch her or hurt her. We were just getting ready to start the adoption process so we could all share the same last name and be one. Please help.


Denise, 26


Dear Denise--

I am sorry to hear that you know firsthand how harmful it can be for an older person, particularly a parent or stepparent, to stimulate a child sexually. Obviously I do not know the whole story about the relationships in your present family, but from what you have written I imagine that your husband knew that you and your daughter had been laughing at him, and mooned your daughter in a spirit of fun and teasing back. This does not seem at all like the kind of thing that happened to you as a child, and I think you should try to disconnect those two situations in your mind if possible. If needed to accomplish that kind of disconnection, you should try one or two sessions with a counselor who knows about treating survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

In my opinion it is perfectly normal for a child of five to see both her father and her mother without clothing. In fact, to me it seems healthy for a child to see adult family members in all stages of dress and undress, and so to learn how to separate nudity from sexuality. I do understand that your new husband is not exactly a parent--at least not until the adoption--but since he lives with you, and has an ongoing relationship with your daughter, he is functioning in the role of parent. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with your daughter's seeing his "private parts" as long as this takes place in a natural way and is not sexualized. I know that some psychologists will disagree with me on this point, and I will be glad to publish their opinions if they wish to contribute them.

By the way, it is now time--past time, in fact--to have an honest conversation with your husband about your childhood experiences. This can be part of your apology for going ballistic when he was just fooling around.

I hope this helps.

Be well.

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page last modified September 6, 2006

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