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I have a one-year old daughter and I am nervous whenever she is around my father-in-law. He always seems to follow me out when I’m changing her diaper, have his hand up her shirt, or takes her out of the room where I can’t see what he’s doing. My father-in-law told me in the past he has had a pornography problem, but I don’t know the extent. My husband is starting to feel uncomfortable with him around her too.
I don’t think he’s been inappropriate with her, but I’m nervous that it might happen someday. I don’t know how to handle this situation because he hasn’t done anything, but I also don’t want to accuse him because I’m nervous.
What should I do? Should I bring it up or just be careful with our daughter?
He’s very strong willed and won’t listen if we tell him to not do something. He just rolls his eyes and does it anyway.
I don’t believe a conversation with your father-in-law would be productive. As you mentioned, he hasn’t done anything to harm your daughter and he’s not open to your perspective. You don’t need him to understand how you feel in order for you to protect your daughter. The Holy Spirit can show you “things as they really are.” (Jacob 4:13)
You and your husband are sensing something that is worth addressing, but it may only make sense right now to keep these feelings between the two of you. While you don’t want to accuse your father-in-law of something he hasn’t done, you also have a responsibility to respond to the feelings you’re experiencing.
You don’t need concrete evidence to protect your daughter. You are sensing that something is wrong with your father-in-law’s boundaries around your daughter and that can be reason enough to do something different. Your boundaries don’t need to be explained or defended. She’s your daughter and you get to decide who gets to have access to her.
If your father-in-law insists on being present for a diaper change, find a more private place to change her. If he wants to take her out of the room without your permission, follow him out of the room and take back your daughter. It’s unlikely he’ll say anything to you about these boundaries. However, if he does ask about the boundaries, then you may have to be direct with him about your intentions.
You don’t have to give him details, but you can let him know that you’re more comfortable having her where you can see her. You are allowed to do what you feel is best for your daughter. Because there is no history of him abusing her, you don’t want to accuse him of being a perpetrator. You can still honor the feelings you have about the situation while kindly setting a boundary. Ultimately, if you’re not sure what to say, please remember that you don’t have an obligation to explain your decision.
Because your father-in-law doesn’t take you or your preferences seriously, this will require you to be more bold and direct about your boundaries. This may be unusual for him to not have his way with you anymore. You don’t need to know what is really happening in order to take action. You do know that both you and your husband feel uncomfortable with this dynamic. That’s all you need to know to take protective action.
You are fortunate to have a husband who also shares your same feelings and is willing to put you and your daughter’s safety ahead of his father’s preferences. Your heightened supervision and awareness of these boundaries will give both of you the peace of mind you need as you spend time around his family. Continue to evaluate how you feel and talk openly with each other to assess if other adjustments need to be made now or in the future.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.geoffsteurer.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.