My father plays bridge. Once a week, the session is in our house. One of his card-playing friends behaves quite inappropriately with my sister and me: He has brushed past us in the corridor of our house or his hand has lingered while taking a cup from our hand, and so on. I’m sure my father will tell us to shut up and not be stupid if we voice our concerns because he thinks anyone who plays bridge has a good mind and is not to be criticized. Our mother is quite submissive. Moreover, since she hates the card sessions, if she brings it up with dad, he will just say she is being critical. What should we do? I’m 18 and my sister is 15.
It’s really unfortunate—and, may I add, shocking—that you don’t have the avenue or feel free to tell your father or mother that a person they welcome into the house is misbehaving with you and your sister. In fact, this is something any good parent should have picked up by himself or herself. I think you should tell your father anyway and hold your ground, and not get bullied by this “good mind” business. There are a lot of people with so-called good minds out there who do awful things. So first, your father will have to come off his intellectual high horse and really listen to his daughters and their needs. That’s the first step in this situation.
The other thing is that you seem to have come to understand your parents as people “on their own trip”. However, this understanding on your part does not mean that you have to accept it at all. You need to get back to simply demanding that they parent you (protect you, in this case). No doubt because of your experience with the way they have reacted to certain things over the years, you are making allowances for their non-involvement and inability or unwillingness to stand up for you and your sister. If you keep doing this, you stand vulnerable to many things that you should not be vulnerable to at this stage of life. This is not just difficult and very hard on a young person, but also leads to loss of trust and confidence in the world around you, builds up resentment and, ultimately, can lead to depression.
Stay firm: Don’t be scared to confront an adult who crosses the line.
It seems to me like your parents, particularly, and you and your sister should see a counsellor and get some of these things sorted out.
As for the immediate situation with the bridge-playing visitor, since your parents are unavailable to you, you should make it clear with your actions, in front of other people, that you dislike this man’s behaviour. You’ll have to do it just once, and he may back off: Just say, when this man touches you, or presses past you, loudly, “Uncle, sorry, I don’t think you realize it maybe, but you’re behaving inappropriately.” While your parents better step up to the plate and do their job, it’s also important that you learn to handle men like this fearlessly and with finesse. Remember, a lot of “family-friend” child- and woman-abusers (and that is what this man clearly is) keep going on the assumption that the youngsters they target will not say anything or will be unsure about how to deal with it. With their irresponsible attitude, your parents have given this friend a free range to misbehave. It’s time that changes, and decisively. Perhaps you can enlist the aid of a more caring and sensible family elder or real friend to handle the current situation and speak to your parents too. The important thing is not to be fearful or awkward.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org