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My husband and I have an 8-year-old daughter who, during school breaks, spends a few days holidaying with my mother and stepfather. Yesterday, she shared a story that worried me. She told me her step-grandfather (John) was taking a nap and she woke him (on purpose) by singing loudly. John got angry and said, “You stupid little rat!” and left the room. My daughter cried and told her grandmother, who brushed the incident aside. Later John told her he wasn’t calling HER a rat but had thought he saw one running across the room. My daughter said she thought he was “just making excuses” for calling her a bad name. Later, they were shopping together and my daughter asked if he would buy her a small toy and he replied he would buy it for her – but only if she promised not to tell her mum or dad what had happened. She agreed – a toy to keep quiet? Sure!

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

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updatesIt’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “Trying to Keep the Family Harmony” who wondered how best to disinvite her stepdaughter’s husband from their family vacation after they announced, just days before the trip, that they were separating. Keep reading to see how the family vacation went in light of the recent drama.
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Minoring in theater in college, marrying someone who went to art school, and now living in NYC means I know a lot of people who make a living in the arts, which is a pretty cool thing to experience, even if indirectly. In the last couple of weeks, I got to see a modern dancer friend of mine perform in the East Village (or, actually, didn’t see her perform, as the case was), watch a full-length documentary at the Tribeca film festival that a couple friends of Drew’s from college spent a few years making (it’s released on Netflix today — watch it!), and celebrated the broadway debut of an old pal of mine from college who’s spent the last 16 years pursuing a career as a musical theater lyricist.

It was at that celebration, where a bunch of us from school, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in nearly twenty years, took that photo above. We’d just spent the last hour and a half catching up, basking in the glow of each other’s successes, adventures, and happiness (multiple broadway gigs, cool jobs, travels, relationships, marriage and kids) and were taking a group shot on the stoop next to the restaurant where we’d just had dinner when the door behind us opened and out walked Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater! For the record, that makes about five times in the last year that I’ve run into Ethan Hawke, a guy whom I’ve been watching on the big screen since I was a teenager, and in that moment, after re-connecting with all these people from my somewhat distant past, it almost seemed like he was part of that reconnection — just another person I feel like I’ve known peripherally all these years and now see on a semi-regular basis (even if he has no idea who I am), and it was seriously all I could do to not shout “Ethan!” as if he were a friend I hadn’t seen in months and then give him a hug. (I’m so glad I didn’t do that.) As for Richard Linklater, he’s my favorite director and I have to admit I didn’t realize that was him until I examined the photo later and compared the picture to Google images of him. Probably a good thing I didn’t know in the moment or I really may have made an ass of myself. Anyway, they were both very nice. Someone told them we were celebrating our friend’s Broadway debut and they congratulated him and shook his hand and it was all very friendly and exciting. (I’m sharing all this not because it’s the most thrilling story, but because Addie Pray saw the photo on Instagram and requested details. There ya go, Addie. Between you and me, we’re in agreement that Ethan is maybe stalking me, right?)

Anyway, today is Jackson’s last day of spring break, tomorrow we’ve got Joanie’s baby naming, tomorrow night I’m celebrating two different friends’ birthdays, and then Sunday I hope to rest. As much as one can with a 4-1/2 year-old and a baby in tow. What are you up to this weekend?

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Here are a few things from around the web that may interest you:

Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is the powerful message women need

What Beyonce’s “Lemonade” means for women who have miscarried

This is heartbreaking, especially as I watch a close friend go through this. The Divorce Gap: There’s a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort. It’s wrong.

Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

What You Shouldn’t Say To A Mom Who Is Struggling To Get Pregnant Again

Play the “woman card” and reap these “rewards”!

Spurred by their cover story “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” by Neal Gabler, which I linked to recently, The Atlantic invited its readers to share their own experiences with economic impotence. Here is: “I’d Leave Him If I Had the Means.”

Thank you to those who submitted links for me to include. If you see something around the web you think DW readers would appreciate, please send me a link to wendy@dearwendy.com and, if it’s a fit, I’ll include it in Friday’s round-up. Thanks!

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

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House

My boyfriend bought his parents’ house that he grew up in and they just moved out of a year ago. He is assuming that his future wife will move into it and he has voiced that he thinks that is me. We have talked about getting engaged in another year. I told him that I want to buy a home together with my future husband as I have the savings and income to do so, but he is unwilling to give up this house right now. He seems to think there is nothing else on the market this big and finished in our area for this price. He also said his parents will stay out and he will make sure of that. He only sees it as a structure until we make it “ours” and is willing to sell relatively soon after marriage, to move on to a bigger and better home.

My argument is that I don’t want a big house that I had no say in and that his family grew up in. I suggested that he sell when we are about six months out from being married, take the money he’ll make on that, and put it towards a house with his wife. He is adamant that this is not logical and he will not find something as good if he sells. He says it’s more logical to move into this house (that he is renting out right now) after we’re married, when I would be put on the mortgage, and use it as a starter house, redecorating together and making it our home.

He is having a hard time understanding why this bothers me. For one thing, it’s a goal and dream to accomplish something like this WITH a partner. I praised him for thinking ahead and making such a great investment, but wouldn’t it be great to buy with your wife where there are no strings attached? I am fully aware that I do not have a say on whether buying this house was a good choice or not as we’re not married and it was his money. However, he did hide this from me for the past year, and I wonder if this is a sign of future issues we might have with his family or of his not being willing to buy something together eventually.

Am I crazy for being upset? Should I stick to my guns, or should I let the man of my dreams provide for me like he wants to do? If you do think I should get over my negative feelings about this house, how do you suggest doing that? — Man of my Dreams, But Not the House of My Dreams

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