From a recent Carolyn Hax column:
These days I manage to be civil and sometimes fairly friendly — he was raised very badly and I can see he isn’t all bad. He has also mellowed out quite a bit as he’s aged.
Problem: I have kids now and my sister wants them to spend the night with their favorite aunt, as her kids did with me and my husband hundreds of times. I just can’t see ever allowing that, but I don’t know how much longer I can make excuses.
My sister knows of a few instances but made excuses back then and it immediately was a non-topic, and she is absolutely one who would cut me off forever if I just said, hey, hubby isn’t someone I have good memories of, so no thanks.
I can’t imagine I’m overreacting, or am I? — Mama Bear
You can read Carolyn Hax’s response here. Mine is below:
I had a teacher once when I was 14 who was inappropriate with me in a similar way your brother-in-law was inappropriate with you (albeit, not nearly as aggressive or over-the-line). A few times, I remember him giving me (unsolicited!) massages — both in class, and at back-to-school picnics for teachers and their families (my parents worked with him) and making comments that made me cringe (“You really blossomed over the summer!” That kind of thing. Ew, even thinking about it now… so gross). And a few times, when I babysat his young daughter, he’d make more inappropriate comments as he drove me home. Again, nothing that he’d get arrested for, but totally cringe-worthy anyway. I should have spoken up about my discomfort, but I didn’t want to draw anymore attention to myself and, anyway, he was in a position of authority, and I didn’t yet fully understand that I didn’t have to put up with his bullshit.
Looking back, I would only hope that if I had expressed my discomfort, I wouldn’t have been brushed off like you were by your sister all those years ago. (And I don’t think I would have. Once, I told my mother about a clueless gym teacher who made me jump rope in front of a class of mostly boys as he told them to “watch my form carefully.” My “form,” as it were, was very developed — as a favorite uncle let me know a few months earlier — and I was humiliated that a room full of teenage boys had been instructed to watch me jump up and down for any length of time. Anyway, when I told me mom, she was outraged and stormed the gym, where she let the poor PE teacher have it).
Another time, when I was 15, I was on a school trip and we were staying in a hotel for a few days. One morning as my classmates were boarding the bus, I ran back up to my room to retrieve something I’d forgotten. On the elevator back down to the lobby, I was groped and felt-up by a middle-aged man who was also staying in the hotel that week, after he pushed the emergency stop button and shoved me against the wall. When I told my teacher about it a few minutes later, obviously still shaken-up and thinking she would say or do something to make me feel better, she told me I shouldn’t have been walking through the hotel in my bathing suit down to the pool earlier in the week — that I’d given the guy “ideas.”
The point of these stories is to confirm and second what you already know: gross and inappropriate things happen to teenage girls ALL THE TIME, and you can’t always count on them to speak up or to be taken seriously and reassured if they do. It’s a parent’s job, as long as his or her kids are underage, to protect them from this kind of behavior as much as possible, and to help build self-confidence and mutual trust so they know their boundaries and feel empowered to speak up if they’re ever crossed.
You have to protect your daughters from your pervy BIL, even at the risk of offending or alienating your sister. Obviously, keep making up excuses to avoid an overnight visit as long as you can. You know from experience that sharing your thoughts about your BIL with your sister doesn’t amount to an ounce of good, and you also know she’d be fast to cut you out of her life if she feels offended. So, keep making excuses and hope she never puts you in a position to give the real reason you don’t want your daughters in their uncle’s company without your supervision. But if she does put you in that position, then you have to tell her the truth. Because your daughters’ well-being is more important than your sister’s pride.
As a parent, it’s your job to continue empowering them and reaffirming for them that it’s never ok for anyone to infringe on their privacy or personal space or to touch them in intimate ways without their expressed permission. Tell them that, if they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, even if it’s with someone YOU love or someone THEY love or someone who has authority, they need to let you know immediately. They need to know you’ll listen to them and have their backs. Protecting them now is imperative, but empowering them gives them the confidence to stand up for themselves for the rest of their lives.