Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I adore my older sister, but she is married to someone I find difficult. His personality is not a match for mine, but much larger than that is he was inappropriate to me from when I was 13 through my early 20s. Nothing he could get arrested for — he would “accidentally” touch my rear end or chest, ask very inappropriate questions, once even made a model of genitalia and showed it to me. They had daughters, and I kept a VERY close eye on them. Thankfully, nothing has seemed amiss, and they are adults now.
These days I manage to be civil and sometimes fairly friendly — he was raised very badly, and I can see he isn’t all bad. He has also mellowed out quite a bit as he’s aged.
Never miss a local story.
Problem: I have kids now, and my sister wants them to spend the night with their favorite aunt, as her kids did with me and my husband hundreds of times. I just can’t see ever allowing that, but I don’t know how much longer I can make excuses.
My sister knows of a few instances but made excuses back then, and it immediately was a nontopic. And she is absolutely one who would cut me off forever if I just said, “Hey, Hubby isn’t someone I have good memories of, so no thanks.”
I can’t imagine I’m overreacting, or am I?
I'll take your word for it that he didn’t cross over from creepy to criminal, because this was your experience and so you call the shots; I do feel, though, like an accessory after the fact.
Your sister is one, if it’s true she “would cut me off forever.” That’s awful on top of the awful of a decade of this guy’s harassment.
It also leaves you only these unappealing choices:
(1) Let your kids stay in this man’s house overnight. Not acceptable. You have this protective impulse for a reason.
(2) Say no and say why, damaging your relationship with your sister. Maybe you’re wrong about how she’d respond, but you’re apparently not ready to take that chance.
(3) Continuing with the excuses and hoping she won’t call you on it.
Every choice costs you something, but No. 3 costs the least and buys you time to summon your resolve.
Isn’t there an option 4? If he’s actually gotten better, is it possible to discuss with him what he did and gauge whether he poses the same risk? Sometimes people (thankfully) do change.
I ruled that out because I couldn’t figure out what I could hear that would erase my legitimate fears so completely. If I got the assurance I was looking for, then allowed a sleepover at which something inappropriate happened, I would never forgive myself.
I realize not every bad thing can be prevented, but consider the two risks here: (a) harm to the kids, or (b) harm to the sibling bond. Assuming both risks are well supported by fact and precedent, the parent has to choose (b) and absorb the emotional loss on behalf of the kids. It’s not a contest. You especially don’t choose to appease the sib who failed to look out for you back when it mattered.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.