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My 11 year old niece was sitting on my dad's lap for a few minutes

This weekend my 11 year...
This weekend my 11 year old niece was sitting on my dad's lap for a few minutes watching a movie. She had slid off but he was till holding her with his arms around her just below her breasts. This upset my sister (her mom), since she felt it was inappropriate for his arms to be in that position. The history is this: After my sister had developed breasts, when she was a teenager my dad would stand behind her to give her a "hug" and place his arms just under her breasts and bounce her boobs by shaking his crossed arms. He would always act playful in doing this, and we all thought it was weird, it made her uncomfortable yet no one said anything. He did this a couple of times to myself and other sister, but more so to her (she was also more developed). I have had my own experiences as a kid that made me feel uncomfortable. He would go to bed early, my mom would be in the kitchen, then he would call me into their bedroom to "cuddle". He would be under the covers with nothing but his underwear on and would have me climb in, pull me up with my back against his stomach and just lay their for a while. Then I would leave. This happened through grade school, toward the end I always resisted saying I did not want to but I would have to still lay with him for just a few minutes. I was persistent in saying no and eventually he stopped asking me. He would also have me sit on his lap throughout grade school, which I started resisting also which led to him eventually giving up. I have always felt uncomfortable around my dad whenever he touches me, even as an adult (now in my 30s). After the incident with my niece, my sister lost it and confronted my dad saying never to touch her like that again...then all of the past situations were brought up from our childhood. His response to going behind my sister and shaking her was that he was just playing with her and his response to having me come in his room was that he just did that when I was a toddler (this was not true as I remembered it occurring up until at least age 8). Then he said that a father cannot even hug his children anymore without being accused of something and took my mom and stormed off. Other history, perhaps not related, is that he has always been very controlling, physically abusive to all of us girls as children as youths, and still physically abusive to our mother although she will no longer talk about it and refuses to leave him. He is, overall, a seemingly great grandfather. My sister and I analyzed this, because he has never "crossed the line" meaning that he never had skin on skin contact with our genitals and never directly fondled us in any way. However, it seems like he walked up to that line of inappropriate behavior and neither one of us can get passed the awkwardness that we felt in those situations. After this all came out and my mom crying in hysterics, my dad came up to me and said that he was sorry for anything he might have done to make us feel uncomfortable. I am just not certain how to process all of this...I am not sure if we will ever know his intention toward us as children. I just would like an outside opinion as to whether or not the situations I have described would be considered inappropriate behavior of a father? Is this inappropriate? After this all came out, it really has divided the family. How do we move on from here?
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11/28/2010
dreamteam
dreamteam, Mental Health Professional
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 48
Experience: I am an expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and PTSD.
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Hello, I would like to help you. I've read through your question carefully, and thought about what might be going on.

Was your father being inappropriate? Yes.

Should he have playfully hugged you and your sister in that way? No.

What were his intentions? Was he trying to somehow get a sexual rise our of you or your sister? Unclear,

But I would lean toward thinking that your father never fully GOT that the two of you were no longer children. He treated you as if you were toddlers up until you were in your teens. He didn't understand that you were growing up, and that you don't treat an 8 year old the same way you would a 2 year old. This is my best guess at the moment. My question for you is: Did you feel as if he was getting sexual, or rather crossing boundaries and being possessive?
<br/Customer:
That is the question that I really do not know the answer to. I do not think that he did get any sexual gratification from it, and I told him that this weekend. I think only he knows his intention. As my sister put it, he never crossed the line but always would walk right up to it.

I think when she saw her daughter sitting with him, it brought back a flood of emotions and feelings about it that she had never dealt with. That is what caused her to confront both of my parents. I had to back her up because I had the same uncomfortable feelings throughout the family life, so I shared my experiences as well. Her concern now is how to move forward since my nieces all really love their grandpa.

dreamteam :
Whether or not he was getting sexual feelings from the things he did, it still made you feel uncomfortable, and YES, he did cross lines, and yes, he had no right to do that. It seems to me that your father has a sense of entitlement, a sense that he has the right to touch HIS daughters the way he wants to because they are HIS. He seemed, in the past, to have the same attitude toward hitting you and your mom. He felt he had the right to do that. What is also interesting is how much he insisted on you getting into bed with him. Was it a sexual thing, or a control thing. "you're my little girl, and you will do what I want you to".

Should your sister allow a relationship with her kids, maybe

But this relationship should be closely monitored.

You don't want your niece to have the same uncomfortable feelings that you had to endure.

I really feel like it is this sense of entitlement that is the culprit. Whether or not sexual feeling came with it, I don't know.
<br/Customer:
That is precisely the reason all of this came out this weekend; because of the situation with my niece. My sister has closely watched the interaction with her girls and my father over the years. My niece is just now at the age where she is starting to change physically, which has caused the dynamic to change. I think you are right on to identify the entitlement issue. The problem now is that no one is talking. My parents left upset. I suggested that the only way to get through this is by talking about it with a professional. My dad has always been against counseling of any sort, and laughed at the suggestion. Is there anything you can suggest for this? I suppose there was a lot that was said that needs to be taken in and thought through, especially for him since he did not know we all felt this way. At what point should we suggest counseling? Have you seen families work through things like this without outside help. Just not sure how we can address it if he is unwilling to...

dreamteam :
I completely agree that there needs to be a professional involved. It is best to do this with a therapist. It rarely turns out well otherwise, trust me. I would say that your sister now needs to set her own boundaries firmly with your dad. She could tell him that if he wants to have a relationship with her kids, he will have to join everyone in a family therapy session. She could give him some power in letting him chose a therapist. He could go to a site like psychologytoday.com to find a therapist that he likes. I think some ultimatums need to be given. I realize how uncomfortable all of this is for you and your family. The positive thing is that it all finally came out, and it really needed to come out.
<br/Customer:
The only other obstacle is that my dad is about three states away from my sister, so it will be difficult to meet. Are there any creative ways to do this with a therapist that you are aware of? Or perhaps it is just a matter of meeting on normal visits, which are around 4-5 per year?

dreamteam :
Yes, this is a problem. The whole family should ideally be in therapy for things to progress. You would probably have to do it, as you said, when you are all in the same place.

I really hope this has helped.
<br/Customer:
It has, I appreciate it. Thank you!

dreamteam :
You're very welcome. And good luck to you!

dreamteam
dreamteam, Mental Health Professional
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 48
Experience: I am an expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and PTSD.
Verified
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