Motherhood Take Two

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Suzanne Goode

I've come to learn through the past 20 years that there are many forms of motherhood. Take Jean, my friend for 17 years. We met as “trailing spouses” in Cairo during the Gulf War. My husband was an economist in the foreign service; Jean'’s was the Head Marine Guard. I had two pre-schoolers; Jean'’s husband had two young daughters from his first marriage who were living with his ex-wife on the West Coast of the United States. Jean was footloose and fancy-free, exploring Cairo and throwing parties for 40 young Marines and their girlfriends; I was tied to full-time care of two children and a part-time job for a consulting firm.

I had trouble adjusting to Egypt. Jean helped by ordering me to leave my kids with my husband one weekend so she could take me to the Khan el Khalili market to shop. We had so much fun it didn't matter that the $5 cheap nickel ring I purchased caused my finger to swell to the point that the Embassy doctor had to saw the ring off the next day.

Almost 15 years later we both live in the Washington suburbs. Jean never gave birth to any children, but at 46, she's a beautiful raven-haired stepgrandmother. One of her husband'Â’s daughters and her family came to live less than three miles from them. For a year, Jean volunteered to care for the boys, ages two and four, three days a week so their parents could work.

My fourth and last child was virtually the same age as the older of Jean'Â’s three-day-a-week charges. We started getting together with the children, at outdoor theaters, playgrounds, and our favorite -- Frying Pan Park with its farm animals scampering underneath the jets taking off from Dulles Airport. In much the way Jean introduced me to Cairo, I showed her the ropes of kid-friendly activities in Washington, D.C.

Watching my friend, I often thought to myself: Much as I love raising my own kids, would I have Jean'Â’s selflessness to dedicate three days of each week to two step-grandkids, a toddler and preschooler? But Jean clearly loves this version of Motherhood Take Two. Her grandsons adore her in the same way my own children always lit up around my "hip" friend. The same way I light up around her, too. Motherhood can come to us at unexpected times and in surprising forms. The trick is embrace it for the adventure it is.


Suzanne Goode of Bethesda, is a part-time economist and full-time mother to four boys ages 20, 18, 14, and 5. She has worked on-and-off for the past 20 years on a part-time basis as an economist and a high school economics instructor in Washington, Geneva, and Cairo.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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erste

Posted by: chemguy1157 | March 18, 2008 7:34 AM

cute story and I enjoyed reading it

Posted by: dotted_1 | March 18, 2008 8:23 AM

THANKS for writing a guest post. I love hearing stories about non-traditional paths in life.

Posted by: cm9887 | March 18, 2008 9:08 AM

Many of my co-workers use grandparents to watch their children while they work. Nothing against my in-laws or parents, but I don't think that's for me. I enjoy the employer/employee relationship with my son's caregiver; she respects the rules and boundaries we have for our son, and we do not have any "power struggles".

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 18, 2008 9:20 AM

RiverCityVA: control issues much?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 9:41 AM

"Many of my co-workers use grandparents to watch their children while they work."

Wow.

Your choice of the word "use" says volumes about you.

Posted by: mn.188 | March 18, 2008 9:49 AM

I am like Jean... none of my own but step-mother to two children - 5 and 3. I think we thought that I would be introduced to step-parenting slowly but it has turned out that I have been plunged into it instead due to circumstances beyond our control.

I am starting to think it the perfect family for me. I enjoy the kids when I am with them (meltdowns aside) but I also enjoy my alone time on the weekend without them. I get the best of both worlds. I have two children that I can help raise and love but I also have alone time that I wouldn't get if we were full-time parents.

Parenting comes in all shapes and sizes and I think that is a good thing because we aren't all the same so one shape/size doesn't fit everybody.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 18, 2008 10:00 AM

I like Suzanne's honesty about her feelings towards other people's children. Nice non-controvercial post overall. BTW, I feel the same about having grandparents look after children for extended period of time as RiverCityVA does. They can do it for 1-2 hours at most but not for the whole day. They are just too old and slow to keep up with 2 super active kids. It's a question of safety.

Posted by: tsm | March 18, 2008 10:29 AM

(not sure if WaPo ate my last post, but to clarify:)

I don't have control issues so much as issues with being too sensitive, case in point: I worry too much about hurting feelings when disagreeing with people (like my day-care provider about potty training, and I was trying to say it's better to have that disagreement with a paid provider than a grandparent for the sake of familial harmony) And I worry too much about what random strangers on a blog think about me.

So mn, "Wow" right back atcha'.

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 18, 2008 10:29 AM

RiverCityVA - I guess I don't understand the sensitivity issues. Sure, I don't like to hurt people's feelings either, but there's a limit.

When grandparents take care of your kids, you pretty much know what you're going to get. Either these people raised you, or they raised your spouse, and you pretty much know what issues you're going to have (except that they're going to spoil the grandkids more than they spoiled you). So it shouldn't be an issue to sit down and talk with the grandparents about "we'd really like it if they only watched this much television, and these are their favorite programs. And please make sure they get all their milk and not too much coke or candy." If those are going to be problems - they're not going to respect your wishes - then you and/or your spouse probably already know it.

So, your original post came across as showing significant control issues.

Re: tsm's point - that's something else entirely. If grandparents physically can't take care of the kids all day, they shouldn't try and you shouldn't put them in that position. My mother became a grandmother at the age of 51 (my brother's oldest daughter), and was way more than capable of keeping up with the grandkids.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 10:50 AM

tsm

"I feel the same about having grandparents look after children for extended period of time as RiverCityVA does. They can do it for 1-2 hours at most but not for the whole day. They are just too old and slow to keep up with 2 super active kids"

WOW!

Posted by: chittybangbang | March 18, 2008 10:52 AM

In defense of River City, whether you have power struggle issues really depends upon the gradparents involved, with some family members it really is easier just to deal with day care workers. People like to take a black and white view that having family take care of the kids is always for the best, but I think you don't have to look far to see that good intentions only go so far. You really have to enjoy children and have a pretty good understanding of both them and yourself to be a good caretaker.

And yes, alot of grandparents do feel "used" as cheap daycare. Some folks just want to be done with childrearing when their own kids are grown, and that's it, for them the golden years are "me" time. Personally I would want regular time with the grandkids, but I had 35 years to enjoy an extended childhood so there you go.

Enjoyed this guest blog, and the accepting attitude of the writer with respect to people making different choices than her.

Posted by: pinkoleander | March 18, 2008 11:03 AM

Not all Grandparents are too old and slow to keep up with the kids! I applaud all Grandparents who give up time that should be their own to help care for grandchildren. Most families benefit tremendously from the free (or extremely reduced) cost of care and the children are with adults who love them. I know it is not for everyone, but I thought this story was sweet.

Posted by: michelewilson | March 18, 2008 11:09 AM

I agree that all grandparents are unique, and can offer help in various ways (just like parents...)

No offense taken by the word "use." It's just a verb. Seriously.

Parenthood and grandparenthood don't fit a mold and we should be grateful for our individual experiences. Even the Guest Blogger herself -- four kids spanning 15 years in age? Pretty cool woman, I say. And I want Jean to come over to my house!

Posted by: leslie4 | March 18, 2008 11:19 AM

"So it shouldn't be an issue to sit down and talk with the grandparents about "we'd really like it if they only watched this much television, and these are their favorite programs. And please make sure they get all their milk and not too much coke or candy.""

Except that it is an issue for some of us. My dad and my MIL would both take this as a criticism of them or their ability to decide what is good for their kids, not a simple statement that these are the guidelines we'd like to follow. Sometimes family are like that, there's a lot of history and context that can complicate what might be straightforward in another context. With my dad, it's kind of all or nothing from his view - either I want him to watch my son and trust him entirely with every choice, or I don't. So I wouldn't ask my dad to watch my son full time, because it would always be an issue if I wanted to have input into the day to day things - it's fine for visits and once in a while help, but it's not what I would want on a full time basis.

It strikes me as entirely reasonable for someone to decide that they would prefer to have these discussions in a different type of relationship, rather than with family members who are likely to take it the wrong way.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 18, 2008 11:22 AM

The day we brought our son home from the NICU where he'd been hospitalized for respiratory distress, my MIL took him upstairs and put him to sleep on his stomach covered with a blanket. When I tried to explain about SIDS and respiratory distress and the "back to sleep" campaign, she told me that she had a lot more experience than I did and that all babies loved to sleep on their stomachs.

I'm afraid that's when I decided she wouldn't be watching my kids. Maybe I'm a control freak too, but I don't think that safety is one of those things that it's a good idea to compromise on.

Posted by: justlurking | March 18, 2008 12:03 PM

Yes, "back to sleep" is definitely a new one justlurking, and dare I say the magic word... breastfeeding.
Try telling your mother via example that she should have been breastfeeding you, talk about those precious awkward moments! Will she feel judged, or just look at you like you are crazy, or all of the above.

Posted by: pinkoleander | March 18, 2008 12:27 PM

What a nice guest blog. It is kind of amazing how life comes at you in different ways at different times.

And I think family caring for extended family can be a huge gift.

I have to say though that I am with the people who think hard before choosing to leave kids with the grandparents.

My parents left me many many times with my grandparents, and my grandfather took that opportunity to rape and molest me. So, not a fan of the all-loving-grandparent image.

I think it is a very wise parent who really examines every care situation with the same care you would give to a stranger. Even adults who were fine parents may be in beginning stages of diseases that impact on their judgment and inhibitions.

And stepparents, particularly stepfathers, are unfortunately a group that includes high rates of abuse. Of course most step parents and stepgrandparents are kind and loving people, but to my mind it is hugely important that parents really think about it.

Because of their unwillingness to perceive that abuse (and other issues), I really cannot trust my son to my parents' care day after day. They have a loving and positive relationship with him and that's great. It is not the same as having him in their home day after day after day and that's what I'm comfortable with.

I fully support parents in making those decisions and I think slinging "control issue" around is really just a way of negating the seriousness of parents' responsibilities when they choose caregivers for their kids.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | March 18, 2008 12:29 PM

"No offense taken by the word "use." It's just a verb. Seriously."

Tissues and drycleaning establishments are "used", not family. Language matters. It can convey respect, disrespect or,as here, be used to demean well-meaning family members. Seriously.

If you don't want your kids to stay with either of your parents, join the club. My parents wouldn't have the judgment or stamina to be responsible for our kids for more than a 20 minute period.

That choice doesn't mean that the offer by a grandparent of a significant role in childcare should be treated as no more valuable than an offer by a service person to add fries to your order. NTTAWWT.

So leslie and rivercityVA, "Wow" right back atcha'.

Posted by: mn.188 | March 18, 2008 12:30 PM

Would you prefer I said "utilize grandparents to watch their kids?"

Sorry, mn, but you are wrong on this one.

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 18, 2008 12:43 PM

This is a great blog. The writer was wonderful in expressing how we all may choose different things, but we can all be 'right' in our choices.

My in laws never offered - well, once in a while, they look after the kids, but not weekly. That's a bunch. My dad - well, let's just say that would never happen.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 18, 2008 12:50 PM

Wow, Shandra, I'm so sorry to hear about what you suffered, and I fully agree with your points.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 18, 2008 12:57 PM

"And stepparents, particularly stepfathers, are unfortunately a group that includes high rates of abuse. "

So my brother was absolutely correct in demanding full custody of his two daughters once his ex-wife remarried, because it kept the girls away from the step-father?

(FWIW, he didn't actually have to "demand" custody because his ex-wife voluntarily gave him the girls, but that's another story.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 1:08 PM

Would you prefer I said "utilize grandparents to watch their kids?"

Sorry, mn, but you are wrong on this one.

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 18, 2008 12:43 PM

I would prefer that you understood the point.

Shandra, I think we all agree that having kids stay with grandparents while appropriate in some instances is entirely inappropriate in many cases for many reasons, like, unfortunately, yours. All grandparents are not suitable caregivers any more than all parents are good parents. Statistically, the vast majority of injuries and deaths occur to children while in the care of family members. We are not control freaks when we do what is best for our children.

Posted by: mn.188 | March 18, 2008 1:11 PM

Shandra, first I'll apologize if my last comment came across as excessively snarky. I'm saddened to hear about what you had to go through; no one should have to deal with that.

One would hope that your grandfather was punished for having raped you.

It sounds like your issue with your parents is that they don't believe what you say about your grandfather - that makes the situation even worse. In that situation you'd probably be justified in cutting all contact with them, not just choosing to limit your child's interactions with them.

My concern, though, is your throwing step-parents into the middle of the discussion. Yes, there are cases you can read about every day of a step-parent abusing a child, but there are also cases of a birth parent abusing a child.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 1:13 PM

Here's an idea RiverCity:

Instead of "Many of my co-workers use grandparents to watch their children while they work."

Try "Many of my co-workers leave their children with grandparents while they work," or "Many of my co-workers' children stay with grandparents during the workday," or "I know many people whose children stay with their grandparents during the day," or even, "Isn't it great that my co-workers' parents enjoy taking care of their grandchildren during the day."

Really, there are other verbs out there....

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | March 18, 2008 1:19 PM

It was just a verb! It was in no way intended to demean grandparents or working parents, and I'm puzzled it was seen that way.

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 18, 2008 1:23 PM

ArmyBrat, research and statistics have shown again and again that step-parents have a much higher rate of abuse than biological parents. I don't think Shandra was unfairly throwing step-parents into it; she was pointing out that we can't just assume that another adult is safe without thinking long and hard about it, and she was quite clear that "most step parents and stepgrandparents are kind and loving people."

Posted by: LizaBean | March 18, 2008 1:34 PM

Chitty:

I was speaking about my own set of grandparents, not anybody else's. So your "wow" is not warranted because my mother is 70 and has had two spine surgeries and one hip replacement and my MIL is 78 and has arthritis.

Posted by: tsm | March 18, 2008 1:48 PM

LizaBean:

"she was pointing out that we can't just assume that another adult is safe without thinking long and hard about it"

Let's apply the reductio ad absurdum here:

- you shouldn't leave the kids with their grandparents without thinking long and hard about it
- you shouldn't leave the kids with their step-parent, your spouse, without thinking long and hard about it
- you shouldn't leave the kids with a neighbor without thinking long and hard about it
...

okay, who CAN we leave the kids with, without thinking long and hard about it?

Or should we just never leave the kids with anybody?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 1:56 PM

I think that anyone is capable of abuse and one should think about who the caregiver is before putting the child in their care. I was sexually abused by a biological uncle. I was never abused (other than perhaps mentally by the wicked step-mother) by any step-relation that I inherited through remarriages of my parents.

No person is automatically a good caregiver because of their family relationship to the child. On the other hand, neither is a person automatically a bad caregiver because of their familial relationship to the child. Think about the merits of the person and not just their relationship to you and the child.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 18, 2008 2:02 PM

I know that I am not going to be there 100% of the time all the time to protect my children from any possible child abusers, molesters, and plain bullies. I agree with previous posters that most child abuse cases we hear about is somebody who had a regular access to a child -- a coach, a teacher, a step or a biological parent. In my own family history (this was before I was born), it was a friend of my grandparents. I think what we need to teach our children that if somebody does something that feels wrong to them, even if that person is a relative, it's OK to say something and that it it not the child's fault.

Posted by: tsm | March 18, 2008 2:11 PM

Billie: Bingo! You nailed it!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 2:14 PM

LOL ArmyBrat, I thought Billie said the same thing as LizaBean....

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | March 18, 2008 2:17 PM

"okay, who CAN we leave the kids with, without thinking long and hard about it?

Or should we just never leave the kids with anybody"

ArmyBrat, I am surprised you don't see the failure of your own logic. You can leave your kids with people AFTER you have thought about it. Unless you consider thinking long and hard to be a terrible burden as a parent, which I suspect is not the case given the clear dedication to your children that you have shown in countless posts, there shouldn't be a problem finding people you can trust your kids with.

I suppose at this point my bias is obvious. I experienced the same kind of abuse as Shandra at the hands of a pre-school teacher. And while I do not allow my fears to control my decision making, I will absolutely not disregard the possibility of abuse just because I don't want to think about it. My child goes to preschool now; my parents babysit and we have trusted other sitters. But da*n straight not until I thought long and hard about it.

We have also been very clear in talking about good and bad touches with our son that NO adult has the right to touch him in a way that is inappropriate, even if it is one of us or grandma or grandpa, a teacher, a doctor, anyone. And NO adult should ask him to keep a touch secret, no matter who they are.

Nobody wants to face the possibility that someone they know and trust could do such a thing, and yet it happens, way more often than it should. I believe we all have to be willing to consider the possibility, and when you are so determined to cast every parent who does consider the possibility as a control freak, I think that's a tremendous disservice to the kids who are counting on us to protect them from the things from which they cannot protect themselves.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 18, 2008 2:18 PM

"Or should we just never leave the kids with anybody"

Statistically speaking, males, especially those of whom rank as close family members, and those in position of trust, have the worst track record of abuse. Many times more than that of females.

And the most scary thing: Expect it when you least expect it. Ugh!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | March 18, 2008 2:33 PM

LizaBean - ahh, who knows, maybe I'm just in an argumentative mood today. (I've been dealing with a customer who believes that if she really, really wants something it should be achievable, laws of physics be darned.)

From my view, most of this stems from RiverCityVA's first post, at which I threw the term "control issues". I don't care about the term "use" (that was MN!); I reacted to the following sentence:

"I enjoy the employer/employee relationship with my son's caregiver; she respects the rules and boundaries we have for our son, and we do not have any "power struggles"."

Fairly or unfairly (and I'll concede it might be unfair; it's been that kind of a day) I read that to say "I'll set the rules for my kid. The only people who will watch over my kid are people who will do my bidding because I'm paying them to do my bidding. I don't want any questioning of the way I'm raising my kid." Which to me sounds like major control issues.

If you go back and read my other posts, though, I acknowledge that not all grandparents should be taking care of their grandkids. As tsm notes, some are simply physically unable to do so, because of age or infirmity. Others may have mental or emotional issues, possibly brought on by age.

Others shouldn't be - the grandparent who raped Shandra, etc. But I pointed out that you generally know this in advance, because these people either raised you or your spouse. You probably knew long before you had kids whether you wanted them to be helping take care of your kids.

Ahh, the heck with it. Back to the customer. She really, really, really, really wants that network to work - can't we do something to make it work for her? If electrical resistance weren't a factor, could it work then? Maybe with superconductivity?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 18, 2008 2:34 PM

ArmyBrat, frankly, your assumption that the parents "should know beforehand" is what upsets me so much. You probably won't know. My parents didn't. Quite possibly Shandra's didn't either. Kids don't speak out for such a multitude of reasons. That's why it comes down to the parent's obligation to think about it, to look where they may not want to, to honor the small red flags and in spite of the fact that others will thnk you should disregard them, to never assume that "so and so wouldn't do that" without really considering it, and to talk openly with their kids. Not all abuse can be prevented, and I don't fool myself that I can protect my child from every possibility. But being willing to look is surely a first step.

But I think I've said enough for one day and I will leave it at that.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 18, 2008 2:42 PM

It's the sole purview of parents (or legal guardians) to decide who can watch their kids, for how long, and under what circumstances. I've met many people who thought they knew best about how silly carseats and pool covers and watching kids carefully were. Okay -- you're entitled to your opinion -- but not with my kids. Don't second guess yourself!

Posted by: leslie4 | March 18, 2008 2:48 PM

What a nice guest blog. I will confess to someday wanting to go for a stroll with an attractive younger man holding my hand, and being proud that he is my grandson. I'd be just as thrilled with a granddaughter, but I'm going for a "certain look" here!

I would've used the word use too, because it's short and to the point. My dad volunteered though, and only asked for a trifling sum of money (refused more when I tried to press it upon him too). Fortunately, I was able to find other ways to show my appreciation (kim chee and olives, amongst other little luxury items).

MM

Posted by: maryland_mother | March 18, 2008 3:49 PM

It is the parents' duty to think long and hard about who is watching their kids. That, to me, mostly means trusting my gut and how my child reacts to that person.

We had an incident where a trusted babysitter left our son in the car while she went shopping. Police were called by a bystander and she was arrested. I still believe she was a good person who made a stupid choice. But I do blame myself, because starting about 2 wks prior to this incident, my son (then 18 mos) was all of a sudden not wanting to go with her when she came. I had been wondering what to say or how ask the babysitter about it. I think he sensed that she "just wasn't that into him" anymore and was more interested in the money than in engaging with him. Again, this change came after a full year of having her watch him with no issues and him being happy to be with her.

Yes, I've learned to speak up on behalf of my child. This particular sitter was older than me (about my mother's age), had raised her own children, and had her own grandchildren. I struggled with how I had been socialized (respect your elders, they know best and are wiser than you) and the need to protect my son.

Posted by: goodhome631 | March 18, 2008 3:58 PM

My best friend is a Grandma without ever having been a mom. When she was very young she had a baby and put him up for adoption. During the dot-com bust she left CA and moved to Baltimore. A year or so later, she got a call from a man in his 20's who was living in VA and looking for his birth mother - and he had found her. His two children now have three sets of grandparents instead of the usual two sets.

I know my friend is a terrific grandma. She's a favorite "auntie" to my kids, and always was to dozens of other people's kids.

On the subject of grandparents providing childcare to their grandchildren - I always trusted and preferred my friend's care over my own parents' or my MIL. Crazies are lurking all over the family tree. What that generation did to DH and me, and called "discipline" or "punishment", was abuse. Attempts to discuss the abuse have been unsuccessful (at best - and usually a lot worse than that), so my responsibility to my kids is to not subject them to potential abuse.

With time, things have resolved themselves. MIL passed away about four years ago. And three years ago my parents decided they didn't want my kids visiting their home. Problems solved!

Posted by: sue | March 18, 2008 6:16 PM

Thanks to all those who weighed on this grandparent-as-caregiver issue, certainly not what I thought would ensue, given Jean's youth, early forties when she devoted a year to this (I wrote the original piece almost 2 years ago for On Balance, but it was published yesterday). The boys had a pet name for Jean as strangers would have done a true double-take if they overheard, "Grandma." When Jean asked me a favor about once every hour or two to watch the boys for 5 minutes so she could smoke a cigarette, cuz she didn't want them ever to see her smoking, it was clear she was practically Mary Poppins. Jean generates positive vibes, and I think her stepdaughter caught on to that, even though they didn't meet until the stepdaughter was an adult.
I appreciate one poster labeling my life non-traditional. Really made my day (or maybe I'm delusional), as apart from a few stints overseas, I've spent a great portion of the past 20 years as a stay-at-home mom.
But you've inspired me to try to write a bit more about our almost 4 years in Egypt. Hubby and I were recalling about our third night there, in early January 1991, when gunfire broke out in the middle of the night for about an hour. I was petrified, and my husband thought perhaps King Bush I had gone into Iraq and that this was associated with that. (The invasion began about 10 days after we arrived in Cairo.) Turned out to be a dog shoot, done about 4 times/year to control the population of stray dogs. Memo about it had gone out the week before our arrival, so we had no clue until the next morning.
The Egyptians are truly the loveliest, most generous people, who will literally take you to your destination if you get lost (ask directions, the response is usually, "Follow me.") But the Third World aspects -- the lack of sidewalks, the harrowing traffic and disregard for safety, the pollution, etc., meant we frequently escaped to the Red Sea on weekends for clean air and swimming. However, the donkey carts and camels we saw on a daily basis were just what my own pre-schooler and toddler loved. I remember driving to the Giza zoo with my kids in our American station wagon, having to wait for a herd of camels to cross the traffic circle. Or one of my kids spotting a donkey cart, simply wondering what it was carrying (onions? potatoes?). Amazing what seemed "normal" there.

Posted by: suzyswim | March 19, 2008 6:16 AM

(This is all off topic from the original post of course.)

ArmyBrat - I don't think your comments were that off, but they WERE the comments of someone who hasn't experienced the kind of abuse I'm talking about. In particular:

"But I pointed out that you generally know this in advance, because these people either raised you or your spouse. You probably knew long before you had kids whether you wanted them to be helping take care of your kids."

My grandfather was outwardly a very model citizen, and my father (his only a child, a boy, which might have had something to do with it) doesn't recall him abusing him. He was mostly absent (stationed overseas, or travelling for work) or a little distant.

There were indeed warning signs, physical signs of rape, and a lot of other indicators. But you really did have to be looking for them.

The adults in my family disregarded them for the most understandable of reasons - my dad loved his dad. And the less understandable reason: they didn't think.

That's why I choose to speak about this, because I hear this over and over from survivors - that they were not protected by their parents.

Because a lot of kind and good people want to think that they "would just know" something is wrong. That pedophiles and abusers are easy to spot. And a lot of kind and good people miss this stuff. Because there ARE signs but they are not always the ones you would think.

As an aside, my parents do believe me now - unusually, my grandfather actually admitted to most of the abuse before he died. They just don't believe they could have known, and we disagree on that, as much as I appreciate where they were at that time and that I love them. I just am not willing to trust their judgment when it comes to daily care for my son.

For fingering steps, as I said, the vast majority are fabulous or fine. And all these custody battles are often tragic.

But the stats show over and over that unfortunately, stepfathers in particular have a higher than average rate of abuse. There's lots of reasons for that but I know even from observing my own family that a new romantic relationship can be a really volatile situation - the adult "in love" really wants the new spouse to be accepted and there is a lot of pressure on everyone to "make a family."

It's sometimes in those situations that kids are given the message that they have to obey an adult who is still functionally pretty much a stranger in their lives. And that is a danger point. Not, of course, that this is the case with the friend in the guest blog!!

Gavin DeBecker's "Protecting the Gift" is an excellent resource that discusses this issue in a pretty balanced way.

Anyways I've rambled on but my takeaway message is this: parents do NOT have to be fair when it comes to choosing care for their kids. They do NOT have to prove anything about a care situation except that it's not comfortable for them. And family is not synonymous with "safe," so people shouldn't turn their brains off at the threshhold of the family home.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | March 19, 2008 8:43 AM

Gavin De Becker's "Gift of Fear" is also a must-read book.

I also found Anna C. Salter's professional writings on the matter very informative.

Blinders are not just for driving horses, but we really ought to stop using them on ourselves.

MM

Posted by: maryland_mother | March 19, 2008 9:07 AM

Anyways I've rambled on but my takeaway message is this: parents do NOT have to be fair when it comes to choosing care for their kids. They do NOT have to prove anything about a care situation except that it's not comfortable for them. And family is not synonymous with "safe," so people shouldn't turn their brains off at the threshhold of the family home.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | March 19, 2008 08:43 AM

Well said, shandra, and thanks for being willing to share your story and, as a result, educating all of us.

Posted by: mn.188 | March 19, 2008 9:35 AM

Shandra, I echo MN, and personally am grateful to your for sharing your story and your thoughts - this is something that I am still learning to talk about, and seeing someone else be so coherent, so thoughtful and so strong is inspiring. Thank you.

Posted by: LizaBean | March 19, 2008 11:32 AM

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