Question 

I recently had a situation occur with my mother that has put a strain on our relationship. While I was gone to a conference, she was in charge of taking care of my three year-old daughter for the day. My husband planned to be home to care for her in the evening. The first day she did not bring my daughter home. When I called, she said my daughter was sleepy and wanted to stay the night. I told her to have her home the next morning by 10am and that she was not needed to care for her the rest of the week. My husband and I both felt that was reasonable and appropriate. She followed through and dropped her off the next day.

One week later I receive a phone call from the local women’s services asking how my daughter was doing. I told her my daughter was fine. The lady then proceeded to tell me that my mother had taken my daughter to the hospital for a sexual assault assessment stating that my husband was the perpetrator. The exam was negative. This was without my permission.

This is not the first time she has made those accusations but it was also too much for me. I could tolerate it no longer. I requested that she see a professional counselor three times before she would be able to see my daughter again.  And she did do that. Currently, we see each other (including my daughter) once a week for an outing and lunch.

My question is more of how do I move forward? My husband does not hate my mom, but neither one of us trust her. I want to be able to feel comfortable and to allow her to babysit my girl more often but I hesitate to do anything hastily. Please help.

Answer 

When allegations like this are made, it’s important to slow things down and look more closely at what might be going on. The most urgent question is whether or not your daughter is safe with your husband. Do you believe he poses a threat to your daughter? Is there anything your mom is picking up on that you might be missing? Has your daughter said anything to you or your mother that might indicate that something is going on? I realize it’s a horrible possibility to confront, but it’s important to ask the questions to yourself, to your mother, and to your husband so you can know that you aren’t ignoring a potential threat.

Since your mother keeps making these allegations, it’s critical that she explain why she believes your husband is a threat. She also needs to explain why she took your daughter to a medical facility without contacting you first. Recognize that if she’s making allegations about your husband, she could also be making allegations about you not being a protective mother. I believe you should both sit down with her and have her explain why she was doing this.

I would discourage you from letting your daughter stay with your mother until you can better understand why she makes allegations and leaves you out of the process. If you’re unsure about your husband’s safety with your daughter, then arrange for different living arrangements until you feel certain about the truth.

Is there a history of sexual abuse in your mother’s past? In your husband’s past? On either side of the family? If so, how was it handled? Was it reported and confronted? Were the children protected? It’s important to understand if there are risk factors or vulnerabilities on either side so you can better assess the truth about the present situation.

If you believe your husband is innocent, then continue forward and recognize this will all point back to your mother and her inappropriateness. You will better know what kind of limits you need to set with her so she doesn’t have the ability to disrupt your family. Your daughter doesn’t need to be examined by professionals every time she visits grandma. You don’t want her growing up believing the world is unsafe.

If you’re unsure of what may have happened to your daughter, I recommend you have your daughter visit with a child therapist who specializes in working with preschool age children. Play therapy can help her express any themes of feeling unsafe, threatened, or anxious. You don’t know if your mother has questioned her and made her feel afraid. Since she wasn’t including you in the process, it’s probably a wise move to have your daughter meet with someone who can help you assess her level of distress.

If you are going to have your mother visit with a counselor, make sure you have permission to speak with the counselor. You want to be able to share and ask questions so that all of the information is available to both of you.

You are facing something very distressing and you have a responsibility to your daughter to get to the bottom of this situation. Your mom cannot be allowed to throw out these allegations and drag your daughter to hospitals to have intrusive exams every time she believes something has happened to her granddaughter. If she has genuine concerns, it’s critical that you look at the concerns until the appropriate safeguards are in place.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT