Dilemas: I protected my child, but she feels rejected

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The Independent Culture
When his wife went away, Alan's five-year-old

daughter wanted to sleep with him in his bed.

But Alan, worried that if she told anyone at school it might have appeared like child abuse, pushed her away and she was upset. Was he right?


Isn't it odd that it seems perfectly okay and natural for Anne Diamond to sleep with all her sons in her bed, and even pretty innocent, if not all that common, for five-year-olds to sleep with two parents in bed; and yet if a man sleeps innocently in bed with his daughter, eyebrows are raised. It is, of course, because the vast majority of child abuse cases on children are committed by men.

When my partner was away, my son would always sleep in my bed. It was a great treat for both of us. There was a point when my partner tactfully questioned the desirability of this when my son was 10, but I never had to put a stop to it because miraculously, the next time he went away, my son made no mention of sleeping with me. It was if we both intuitively knew that this was the time that barriers had to be put up. Or perhaps it was because he felt secure.

Certainly Alan shouldn't have pushed his daughter away. She must have felt terribly rejected, both by her mother being away and her father's dismissal of her. Another time, there must be a different way round it. Perhaps his daughter could go to sleep in Alan's bed, then he could lift her, sleeping, into her own, and welcome her for a cuddle in the morning. Perhaps they could swap beds, so that she could have the treat of sleeping in the big bed for once. But sleeping in the same bed? In theory this shouldn't matter at all, and fathers should be cuddly with their children all the time. It all seems terribly unjust that it's okay for mums to sleep with sons but not for fathers to sleep with daughters. But I have an intuitive and totally irrational mistrust of a little girl sleeping with her father, for two reasons.

One is that though the vast majority of men have no more desire to fondle their daughters than they have of fondling bacon and eggs in the morning, many would perhaps not like to put this lack of desire to the test. Men's bodies have funny ways of behaving. They can find themselves having erections even when they don't want them. When half-asleep, we all lose some element of control, too, so although Alan would never do anything about feeling sexy, if he did, because I'm sure he's a man of principal, it might unnerve him to find himself feeling sexually attracted to his daughter at three o'clock in the morning. It might torment him for ages.

Also, his daughter, who is too young to have any control, might have sexual feelings for him. Some little girls seem to have far more flirtatious and sexual relationships with their fathers than boys do with their mothers. Boys often say they want to marry their mothers when they grow up, but they're rarely flirtatious.

Little girls can be sickeningly coy, twee and sexy when it comes to men, and from a very young age. It might be unfair to the little girl to allow her into her father's bed overnight, again because it could well stimulate feelings of sexiness in her, which would get in the way of her relationship not only with her father, but also with her mother later. .

As for the accusation of child abuse, Alan is absolutely right to worry about the charge if she blurted out the fact she slept with daddy, as one of our letters shows. Our society is completely and battily obsessed with child sexual abuse at present. The cost of a night in bed together, however innocent, is, sadly, not worth the risk.


It gave me a sense of security

I am a 21-year-old, confident girl with very good family relationships. But as a little girl, I was very insecure and easily scared, although I was not exposed to any major trauma. From the age of five to eight, I could not fall asleep if I didn't lie beside my dad, in the part of the double bed that belonged to my mother, holding his hand. My mother was literally sent off to sleep in another room during these years! With all the talk about child abuse these days, I often think back on this, but all I can say is that I am grateful to my parents for giving up so much for my sense of security, and it is my firm belief that it is the physical and psychic love I gained from them that has made me the confident, highly independent person I am today.


Don't be an emotional coward

No, you are not right. In fact, you're a bloody idiot. I suggest you ask your upset five-year-old whether you're right or not! "Out of anxiety about the current feelings on child abuse"? It is more like child abuse to deny your little girl the feelings of affection and security she so patently needs. All small children want to cuddle up with Mummy or Daddy. In emotional terms, you are plainly little more than a frightened child yourself.


Trust your own instincts

Yes! Yes, Alan, you were right - or anyway, you made the wiser choice between perilous alternatives. One night's distress for your daughter, in the context of your ongoing love and care, is as nothing to the mayhem that might have resulted from a professional misunderstanding of a night spent by her with you in the same bed. Believe me, I state this on the basis of experience which distorted five lives for years, left unhealable wounds and is still painful enough for me to spare you the details.


Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

The relationship between my son of 16 and his step-father is at an all- time low. We got married six years ago. His step-father won't let him have his girlfriend to stay in his room at weekends, makes a fuss if he goes out at all during the week, and shouts at him to tidy up and not play his music so loud. Now a friend has offered to have my son to live with her and her family. My son is ambivalent about going, and he says he'd miss me although it would make life easier. I can't bear the idea of his going. He'd go part-time, but all his belongings are here. What can we do?

Yours sincerely, Molly

Anyone who has advice quoted will be sent a bouquet. Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@independent. co.uk - giving a postal address for the bouquet.