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Daughter Spies on Parents' Lovemaking
Q: I share my two-level home with my son, his wife, and my stepdaughter. My granddaughter and I have bedrooms on the top level and the newlyweds are below. I'd often seen my granddaughter on her tummy next to the heat register in her room, and finally I grew curious. I looked through, and found it was directly above my son's bed. I realized she had been watching and hearing everything below. I explained to her this was rude and not to do it anymore. Then, I tried to discuss it with my daughter-in-law. She was angry with me because I thought it very unhealthy and inappropriate. She says it won't hurt her. I think it will, in a very damaging way.
I haven't talked to my son but feel if my daughter-in-law does nothing to try to prevent the voyeurism, he should know. The girl is 12. Am I overly concerned? She still does it but is more careful about getting caught doing it. Thank you.
A: You need to change the rooming situation in your house now. Your daughter-in-law is incorrect to believe that allowing her 12-year-old daughter to watch her and her stepfather have sex is healthy. While it's perfectly normal for a 12-year-old to become a voyeur of her parents' sexual activities (given this ready access through the heating register), it should not be part of her sexual education. By continuing to allow her to do this -- after all, are you going to stand watch every night to make sure she doesn't peek? -- you are all encouraging her to become obsessed with watching her parents' sexual activity and at the same time you are chastising her for doing something that any child her age would be doing.This temptation needs to be removed and her parents need to discuss the situation with her. They should not blame her or shame her during this talk. If she has any questions about what she has observed, they should be answered in an age-appropriate manner. My guess is that she has plenty of questions about what she's seen but she'll be too embarrassed to ask them. Your son and his wife may want to consider potential questions and anticipate some of her most obvious concerns/questions about "what sex is" based upon her observations - sounds and language she heard, types of sex engaged in, etc. No parent wants to be in this position, but these are the cards currently on the table. Pretending that nothing happened is a mistake and a missed opportunity.
Given your daughter-in-law's belief that there's nothing wrong with her daughter's voyeurism, you may find yourself in the middle of a rather uncomfortable argument between your son and his wife. If your son also feels that letting his stepdaughter watch them have sex is a healthy activity, then all you can do is attempt to persuade him otherwise, using reasoning and logic and if you wish, the strong recommendations of a professional (me and everyone else I know in the mental health profession). If they both agree that there's nothing wrong with their daughter watching them have sex, I am concerned for how your granddaughter is being parented.
In any event, this is your house and you have every right to demand to be comfortable there. I hope for this girl's sake that your son and his wife handle this situation with sensitivity and empathy. Do not accept a continuation of this rooming arrangement or a promise from your granddaughter that she will stop her peeking through the vent. It's too tough a promise to ask her to keep. Demand the changes now and hope for and support the delicate, non-shaming handling of this situation.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.