This seems like a small incident in some ways – calling my child a “stupid rat”? Not cool. But I acknowledge he was probably half-asleep, was angry and, regretted saying it. But what happened after, I feel, is very questionable. An adult must not ask a child to keep a secret and threaten that, if he or she tells, something bad might happen or, conversely, reward a child for keeping the secret. I am not suggesting that John’s behavior would escalate into any form of sexual abuse, but I am concerned about the messages his behavior sends to our daughter. Let’s say, and only by way of example, it WAS sexual. Let’s say he does something to her. And then, in defense, John frames the event differently – it wasn’t quite what she thought, it was something else that made it okay. And then he asks she not tell Mum and Dad in exchange for a toy. And finally, when she comes home to us, we praise John: “How nice of him to buy you a toy! What a kind grandfather!”
To me, the series of events – the incident, the manipulation of truth, the brushing it off as not a big deal, the conspiracy, bribery, and secrecy – is just the sort of manipulation that someone who WAS a sexual predator would undertake. What John could have done is apologize for getting angry and calling her a name. He could explain that, because she woke him up on purpose, that made him grumpy and that he was sorry because he knows he shouldn’t say mean things. And that he could tell mum and dad what happened so that they know that you were upset and cried.
My husband and I discussed whether we should to talk to my mother and John about the incident. It’s tricky – is it small enough of an incident to not warrant causing stress within the extended family? My husband leans more to letting it go, saying it may make things tense if we bring it up, but using it as an opportunity to stress to our daughter if an adult asks her to keep a secret, she must tell us. I kind of agree but argue that little kids shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of responsibility – to decide whether they should tell a secret or not. If it were a stranger asking our child to keep a secret we would consider that unacceptable but, when it’s family, it’s a bit of a grey area?? And aren’t the people closest to our children the ones who are more likely to abuse them?
I guess I’m interested in your thoughts rather than having a specific question. What expectations should we have of the adults in our children’s lives? How do we let those adults know our expectations? DO we let those adults know? What would your reaction be if this were your child?
If our 8-year-old daughter hadn’t shared what happened, then she would have been left with a memory that made her upset, with some confusion around what actually happened, a secret to keep, and parents who, on her return, praised John for being kind and generous. Substitute the name calling with sexual abuse and my blood runs cold. — No Secrets With the Kids