I should start by saying that I know plenty of parents are comfortable with being naked in front of their kids. That's cool...but not necessarily when the kids are clearly uncomfortable about it. My children are 7 and 9, and they have reached the age where they enjoy their own privacy, and have showers on their own, and insist on a locked door when they use the toilet or get changed. That's just how they are, and I respect that.
Recently, they started visiting their father again. He disappeared to another country for 6 months, returned, saw them once, and then stopped calling for another 3 months. Because of this, the kids are totally freaked out about losing their father again, and when they DO see him, they are petrified of doing anything to upset him because they're worried he won't want to see them again. Over the past month or so, he has started taking them a little more regularly (weekends here and there). Normally when he takes them, he doesn't have them brush their teeth or shower or clean themselves. This has been an area that I've fought him on in the past, and have pretty much given up on in the hopes that the kids will just take responsibility, themselves, as clearly he can't. This past weekend, due to the drought, our well came very close to going dry. He had the kids, so I called him up and asked him if he could ensure that they each took a shower, as they wouldn't be able to on Sunday night when they got home. He said ok.
So on Sunday, after they had been home for a few hours, I asked the kids if they had showered at their dad's house. They both said yes. My son piped up with "Yes, but Daddy made me take a shower with him. I didn't want to, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings or make him mad, so I didn't know how to say no." =( My nine year old daughter was made to feel guilty, as well, for refusing to take a bath with her 6 year old step-sister. Note that they are not dealing with water issues, there, so this was not the reason for the shared showers/baths.
This isn't even the first this has happened, unfortunately. We had words about him taking my daughter in the shower with him when SHE was seven, because it made her uncomfortable. On top of that, we had an incident last year just before he took off to another country, when my son came in and proclaimed that he had seen his stepmother's "vagina beard" because the two of them had gone SKINNY DIPPING with my children. With them. A big naked party. This is not normal for my kids, and maybe i'm a prude, but when my son is calling it a freaking vagina beard, clearly it's outside of his comfort zone. The only reason I didn't bring that incident up with him was because it was the last time he saw the kids before he left for the dominican republic, and honestly I didn't think he'd be back.
And maybe it's just me. I was a victim myself as a child, with my step-father. And I remember clearly how it all started and i'm seeing signs here that make me very very uncomfortable.
So how do I deal with this? Do I? Should I? I know that if I confront my ex about it, he will become completely defensive and claim that I'm the one with body issues. This is how it panned out in the past when i've brought it up. Ugh, the whole situation just freaks me out. Any advice is appreciated. =/
Well, we're nudey so i kind of think what happened was no big deal (in terms of the skinny dipping - does he know the term "pubic hair"? Have you discussed pubic hair? Because if one of my kids said "vagina beard" i'd think it was a smart alternative/invention rather than a sign of trauma) and that the shower issue is an issue because he didn't WANT to and THAT is the problem, not the nudity. BUT you are the MAMA so if YOU feel it is a big deal (and it's because your kids are telling you it is) then it is. I do sympathise, i was abused for 7 years as a kid, for me it was an older sibling and enforced shower sharing would trigger me, rather than nudity per se.
Can you try emailing the ex and saying "DS mentioned he didn't want to shower with you but was too scared to say so - they love you so much they really don't want to upset you, but maybe you could let them shower/bathe alone as a matter of course? I know they don't shower much at yours anyway, hopefully it won't create any water issues. Thanks!"? Don't enter a "nudity can offend" debate and then he won't be able to answer one. It's not about nudity, it's about respecting personal boundaries and caring for one another.
The water issue could have actually been one of time or hot water availability, but i kind of think that doesn't matter, no one should be REQUIRED to share a bath with anyone they don't want to - i mean if it's a bath you can share water without sharing the actual bath!
Thanks for replying. I knew this would be a good place to post to calm me down, as I know there are a lot of people here who are more "open" than I am regarding nudity in front of kids. And admittedly a lot of my issues result from my past, so I don't know what's normal in other households. In my house, the kids don't see us naked, and now that they are of the age where they value their own privacy, we rarely see them naked, either.
My son doesn't know the term pubic hair, because he's not quite there in regards to maturity. We teach proper words for everything, but the topic of body hair hadn't come up yet until that point. My daughter knows all about it, though. I also thought "vagina beard" was quite clever and, frankly, a little funny. But not funny to know that my ex's random girlfriend-of-the-month is parading around naked in front of MY children, y'know? I know that if the tables were turned and my s/o was taking the kids in the shower with him, or swimming naked with them, my ex would have a complete fit. So it just seems odd to me that he would think these big naked parties are totally fine and not at all confusing for the kids.
I agree that the issue here is the kids' discomfort, and their inability to deal with it for fear of offending their father. That's the part that upsets me. He sees them so so rarely that it seems completely off the wall that he would think that showering naked with them is in any way appropriate. It is equivalant, in my eyes, to one of their uncles showering naked with them, because of how infrequently he sees them, alone. He is barely involved.
I know it's not an issue of trying to save water, as they're on city water...plus he's squatting at his parents' house as he's currently homeless (an entire other issue), and I know from experience that he cares very little about the costs he incurres on his parents when he's using their stuff.
Thanks for replying. I think that's the best idea - to approach it totally non-confrontationally, to avoid a complete war. I've told a couple of friends about it today, and had them suggest everything from "emergency court visit" to "call children's aid", neither of which I think is in the kids' best interest. They both love seeing their dad, on the rare occasion that he takes them, and i don't want to destroy that for them while at the same time making them feel like they're to blame. I have to balance that delicately with also trying to protect them from what could easily be seen by others as a situation that has the potential to turn sexually abusive depending on just how far these situations are taken. I was with my ex for a decade. I suffered that type of abuse at his hands, and I know he's raised red flags for me in the past with how "open" he is (his words) sexually, which is one of the many reasons I left with the kids in the first place. So when things like this happen, it just really makes my hair stand on end. =/
I wouldn't ask him to have the kids bathe at his house again. If the well is dry, could you take them for a swim? When I was little we lived somewhere there was water issues and we went to the pool and had a shower while we were there, it was fun. Or provide them with some wet wipes so they can wash their faces, pits, privates & feet (that's all the most important bits to keep clean right?) and hopefully they won't be too dirty when they get back to you. The shower-sharing would make my hair stand on end, too! I think it's important to listen to feelings like that, and to teach your kids to listen to their instincts, too. Telling him DS was uncomfortable is a good idea... it should never happen again, and if it does I'd definitely intervene.
~Teresa, raising DS (Jan. 02) and DD1 (Jun. 04) and DD2 (Dec. 11) with DH.
Well your second post brings up a lot more stuff!
For me DP (my one and ONLY SO and the only one i've dated since i left XP AND someone XP has known since they were both 11 years old) is an acceptable person to judge how often/if to be nude around the kids himself. There is NO FREAKING WAY i would have a flavour-of-the-month person be around my kids, let alone nude around them, so i can totally see why you'd be freaking out at that now! Because we are nudey (i'm in the UK btw, but we're nudey even by UK standards, we're more central European about nudity) our kids have known all the terms forever. The 2yo even knows labia, clitoris etc. This is partly because she will point and ask (at her sister or me or herself in the shower/bath) and partly because i read Protecting The Gift which is about preventing abuse of your kids and part of his advice was that abusers fear children who know the right terms because in court there is no ambiguity if the child knows the factual terminology, and so will seek out the kids who are curious but have had limited information from parents, which of course made me immediately begin teaching them the terminology even when they weren't asking!
Also if you KNOW he is sexually abusive that is another thing too. I personally think that situations don't "become" sexually abusive. Either one party is engineering situations or seeking opportunities in which they can eventually perpetrate or not. My DD's could literally bounce naked on XP or DP and both of them would be very embarrassed and remove the child (without shaming them) and get them interested in something else! There is no way it could turn abusive, because they are not abusers. When you know someone CAN be sexually abusive that is very different, because you know that some part of them MIGHT be looking for an opportunity. I know some believe that paedophilia is a special kind of abusive, but again, my experience taught me different - i was not abused by a paedophile, but by someone who was suffering abuse them self and was processing it by abusing me - they never abused anyone else, they are not as an adult an abuser. There are lots of people in the world who abuse for kicks, to process, out of sadism, out of habit. They aren't necessarily drawn to kids over adults, they're just looking for a vulnerability to exploit. So i would underline that your feelings here are really valid - it might not be time to freak out BUT it is certainly not something to tell yourself is "nothing" or you should ignore. It's another form of abuse to tell someone who has been abused that they're imagining their own feelings because of the past, don't listen to that talk. Your MamaBear is valid, whatever she's roaring about. Being abused didn't "break" your judgement.
I think given what you've said i would go ahead with the email, NOT getting into a confrontation about it, but just stating the kids love him and don't want to hurt him but they'd rather bathe alone, and then NEVER have them bathe there again. I get that water can be a problem. When i was a kid we lived at one point in a little croft on one of the Northern Isles in Scotland, and the water and house were heated by a little fire in the kitchen and the ancient boiler behind it. The bath was cast iron and the amount of hot water the tank could hold meant that in winter a full tank of hot-as-it-got water amounted to 3 lukewarm inches in the freezing bathroom. My mother filled a wide bowl for us and stood it on towels near the fire. We washed with a washcloth and soap, focussing on the problem areas (as listed above by mummoth :D) and had a good rinse all over afterwards. I got help (i was 5/6), my brother (9/10) coped absolutely fine on his own. It's not ideal, but it's certainly better than stinking and it's MUCH better than having to shower with someone you really didn't want to shower with.
Well, I sent a very gentle, non-acusatory email a few days ago similar to what GoBecGo suggested and - not really a shocker - he has completely ignored it. Hopefully it won't be an issue again in the future, as - like I said - they very rarely shower there anyway. This is only the second time in the past 3-4 years.....but it's also the second time that he's taken one of the kids in the shower with him. =/ Thankfully, due to his current homeless situation, it's normally a 'supervised' visitation anyway, as he takes them to his parents' house to visit. This time, his parents were out of town on vacation, which is the only reason this even happened.
Ugh, what fun.
I also talked to my son a bit about it, so hopefully he'll feel braver about speaking up about what makes him uncomfortable in the future, as it's happening. It worries me that he just went along with it to avoid hurting his dad's feelings. Not good. =/