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Creepy Cousins

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ll bet you’re swamped with questions for your column, but if you need another one, I’d love your advice on a tricky issue. Please don’t publish my real name though, I don’t want family to find this (for reasons which should become obvious). I need to be anonymous.

I married into a small family, my husband is an only child, and has two first cousins. There are also my husband’s parents, one uncle, and us. We always, without fail, have to spend Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc with his family for the day. There is no getting around this. My issue is that I don’t like the way one cousin (let’s call him Creepy Carl) treats my child (let’s call her Gracie).

Creepy Carl is 45. He lives with his father, works at low-end job, and spends his spare time online or watching horror movies. The rest of the family treats him with affectionate tolerance, like he’s just a big teenager, despite his advanced age. They think it’s so cute that he likes to play with the kids, especially my daughter. I don’t think it’s cute at all, I think it’s creepy. He brings her candies and presents, and if she won’t kiss him and say thank-you, threatens to take the presents back. At Christmas, when we arrived and were kissing everyone hello, he kissed Gracie on the mouth. On. The. Mouth. My 3 year old! His sister told him that was inappropriate, but it was treated as kind of a joke, like he didn’t know better. He won’t leave her alone for 5 minutes, but is always picking her up, asking her to sit on his knee, tickling her, carrying her around, poking her, teasing her and just generally horsing around. The last time we were together I could hear him inviting her to tickle him, saying “Now it’s your turn to tickle me!” My husband was in the room with them, but HELLO!! No 45 year old man should be asking my 3 year old to tickle him. This is not normal behavior. He also takes pictures of her on his little digital camera all the time.

The problem is that my husband thinks I’m overreacting. I mean, nobody wants to think their cousin is the creepy child molester, but his behavior is very weird. More often than not child abuse is done by someone the child knows, not that random stranger behind the mall. If this was someone at church or a neighbor, my husband would be much more concerned, I’m sure. But he just keeps insisting that Creepy Carl “means well” and just doesn’t know how to play with kids because he’s never been around small children before my daughter was born. He agrees that Creepy Carl shouldn’t be tickling Gracie, but he won’t step in or say anything, because he doesn’t want to cause trouble or imply that something wrong is going on. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to cause a family feud either, but I can’t just look the other way and hope for the best.

I try to always stay in the same room as my daughter, but I have a newborn and sometimes have to go into another room to feed or change her. It is also difficult because Gracie is the most outgoing kid ever, and likes Creepy Carl because he brings her treats and plays these silly chasing/tickling games with her. And being such a small family, there is no one else for her to play with on these occasions. I have asked my husband to watch her while I feed the baby, but he just doesn’t have that mother’s knack of tracking a toddler. If he gets talking, he has no idea where she is or what she’s doing, and as he isn’t concerned about Creepy Carl, he “forgets” to track her.

Case in point, the last time we were together, I went to a bedroom to feed the baby, and I heard Gracie and my mother-in-law going into the next bedroom. Next thing I know, I hear Creepy Carl in there too, and then my mother-in-law left the room. I quickly stopped nursing, went in, and Gracie was jumping on the bed, and Creepy Carl was taking pictures of her. Not a criminal offense, my husband says, and he’s right.

Then I feel like I’m totally overreacting and looking for trouble. I’m just nervous about the whole situation, I don’t want Carl and Gracie hanging out on a bed together, you know?

Sorry this is so rambly: I guess my real question is, how do I make my husband see my concern is valid without outright accusing his cousin of ulterior motives? I need my husband to be “on my team” when Creepy Carl is around, and even better, I’d like my husband to speak up and say “no tickling, no kissing”. Has anyone been in a similar situation, with relatives you don’t feel comfortable around? How did you set limits and protect your children without making accusations or even implications of child abuse? Maybe Creepy Carl does mean well, but his behavior is inappropriate, and I don’t want Gracie thinking she has to kiss or tickle ANYONE that tells her to, even if they’re family.

I hope you or your readers will have some insights for me, I feel like I’m between the proverbial rock and the hard place.
Thank you so much, Amy.

Take care,
A Concerned Mom


That’s the sound of alarm bells, going off in my head, in perfect harmony with your own alarm bells of mother’s intuition. Which should never, ever be ignored. Especially in this case.

Your husband’s family keep returning the the excuse that Carl “means well” and “doesn’t know what he’s doing.” I am going to say the straight-up opposite: I think he knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.

Since I personally had SUCH a strong reaction to Carl’s behavior, I consulted a friend of mine for a second opinion. Jodi is an attorney who works in child abuse and I asked her if she saw as many red flags as I did.

I’m a big believer in Mom intuition, and if you have a voice in your head that is going off and says danger alert!!!! then I think you need to listen to it. The truth is that abusers do groom their victims and their parents by some of the behaviors you have discussed, the candy giving, the kissing, the tickling, or, it all could be innocent and he could just be overly affectionate. This is a good article on grooming. But, if it makes you, or YOUR DAUGHTER uncomfortable, it needs to stop. This article includes warning signs of sexual abuse and some of the behavior you have discussed is listed. I hope this reinforces that you are not crazy for warning bells to be going off.

Have you tried to talk to your husband rationally? Not when you’re upset or when something has just happened, but before a visit and when everyone is calm? Just tried to say: I’ve noticed this behavior and it makes me very uncomfortable. Ask your husband how he would feel if something did happen to Gracie? Child sexual abuse devastates a family and repercussions lasts for years. Sparing a relative’s feelings is nothing compared to your daughter’s safety and welfare. And you were right when you said that most children are abused by someone they know. Once again I am not saying he is an abuser but obviously you are very concerned about this behavior.

If for some reason you suspect, or begin to suspect, that something has already occurred, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local police and child welfare, call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453. It may not be a bad idea just to call the hotline to get their opinion on the behavior you are concerned about. All calls are anonymous.

(Disclaimer: this is not legal advice)

Just to repeat: MANY of the behaviors you mentioned are specifically, explicitly mentioned as classic “grooming” behaviors. You are not imagining things. The gifts, the candy, the eschewing adult company and paying attention exclusively to the child. Nonsexual touching. The threats of consequences when Gracie tries to refuse or avoid physical contact (“I’ll take your present away unless you play our tickle game!”). The slow testing of the waters (sitting on laps, kissing on the mouth, following her into bedrooms) to see what Gracie (AND YOU) will tolerate.

OF COURSE it’s possible that Carl is just a clueless, well-meaning guy who simply relates to children better than adults. Maybe he’s a lonely man who always wanted children and his little cousins are filling an innocent emotional void. But dude: I’m really not 100% sure about that, and you aren’t either, so you absolutely must proceed accordingly. Like Jodi said, sparing family feelings and the keeping the status quo are soooo less important than your daughter’s safety.

Call that hotline. Send your husband the articles. Talk to him when you can be as calm as possible and lay out the rules that you want — nay, DEMAND — to be enforced around Carl, including CONSTANT PARENTAL SUPERVISION.

And talk to your daughter. Predators count on children to be innocent and naive on the whole good touch/bad touch/abuse touch thing. They count on us as parents to put off any conversation about sex for as long as possible. And it’s probably true — I’ve had more talks with my son about strangers and fewer about the swimsuit parts and who is allowed to see or touch them. We like to think that we know and trust everyone in our young children’s lives and that our protection is enough. But as you saw with the bed-jumping/photo-taking incident, it’s frighteningly easy for someone we don’t 100% trust to slip through our defenses and gain access.

ChildHelp has an entire website
dedicated to talking to children abuse and molestation. You probably sat through some of this curriculum back in elementary school. Talk to Gracie about what’s okay and what’s not using these guidelines. Even if Carl is perfectly innocent and nothing ever happens (and of course that’s our most fervent hope), knowing your daughter has the power of discernment and saying NO! and the words to TELL YOU might make future family visits a little less unnerving and…uh…creepy.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Spring

    April 19, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I just want to reinforce that you are not crazy! Of course Carl may just be a socially awkward, well-intentioned, but sort of clueless guy. But maybe not. I was frequently molested by an uncle whose behaviors started out much like Carl’s, and all the family dismissed his behavior as just being his eccentric and innocent “way” until someone finally actually caught him in the act of molesting another cousin. I know you don’t want to cause a family rift, and that’s right, I think. But I really believe you need to have a hard and fast rule that Gracie IS NEVER ALONE with him. You don’t have to tell anyone else except your husband that this is the rule, or why it exists. Good luck, and again, not crazy!

  • laura512

    April 19, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I only got halfway through the letter and I had to stop and comment. Trust your gut. I won’t go into my (possibly triggering) personal history, but just…trust your gut. Now I’ll go back and read the rest and probably see that Amalah has given you the same advice, but with like….constructive stuff as well.

  • Melissa

    April 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Stories like this make me nuts.
    Here is how the husband and I look at things: If one partner raises a concern, then the other partner is concerned too. The end.
    Family issues are really, really hard and often ugly. But these are your kids. YOUR KIDS. There have been times, I’m sure when the husband thought I was overreacting/hysterical/in need of some [email protected] but he sides me with me unless there is abundant evidence to the contrary because we’re a team.
    Ask your husband if your demands are really that unreasonable in light of the worst-case scenario. Of course they aren’t. So put it in team language and demand that he support HIS team — HIS family, HIS wife, HIS daughter.

  • the grumbles

    April 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

    AHHHHHHH! The “mom” alarm bells in my head are going off too. Please at the very least have your husband read this, even though I know you wanted to be anonymous. There is too much at stake to pansy around with people’s feelings. If it’s nothing then GREAT, but why risk it?

  • bethany

    April 19, 2010 at 10:52 am

    LISTEN TO THOSE WARNING BELLS. My mom and dad got into a huge fight when my brother and I were little because my mom heard those same bells about one of my uncles, and she REFUSED to let my brother or me be alone in the room with him. My dad was enraged that my mom was “practically accusing” that uncle of being a pervert, but my mom, a victim of sexual abuse as a child herself at the hands of an older brother, did not back down, God bless her. She just refused to budge on this issue, no matter how upset it made my dad.
    Later, this same uncle molested one of my girl cousins and one of his granddaughters, and we strongly suspect he also molested one of his sons when he was a young boy. Unfortunately none of this stuff was ever proven and my uncle was never arrested or anything…but smoke, fire, etc. I am extremely grateful that my mom stood her ground AND that she taught me and my brother about our bodies and our personal rights at an early age.

  • Anonymous

    April 19, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Ugh, I felt nauseous just reading this. Even before reading Amy’s reply, my first thought was women’s intuition. If you even think something is off, that’s because it is. To reiterate what has been said, your daughter’s safety goes above and beyond starting a family fight. Don’t dismiss your feelings, because they are real.

  • Jenny

    April 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

    One of my best friends was molested/raped repeatedly by her step-father for YEARS, and even after her mother walked in on them “wrestling” (his terms) at 2 a.m. she refused to believe anything was going on. Some people are hard-headed about what they will admit they see/know, and it sounds like for whatever reason your husband is in denial about what may be going on with Creepy Carl. You need to set rules as the other posters have described, with your husband that Gracie is never alone with him, and also take the opportunity now to teach your daughter about good and bad touch and how she has a right to say no when she is uncomfortable. If your husband keeps dismissing your concerns, get some objective professional help. You (and hopefully your husband together) should see a counsellor experienced in sexual/child abuse and get ideas on how to better communicate your concenrs to your husband, and develop an action plan for how to protect Gracie. GOOD LUCK and so sorry you are dealing with this nightmare.

  • Erin

    April 19, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I’m going to say trust your instincts…and I’m going to take it even further. I really hope I don’t offend anyone here, but I feel very strongly about this subject. We have to operate under the assumption that his motives are pure until proven impure…but here’s the thing: that’s not a gamble that you can take with your daughter’s life and emotional and physical well being. That doesn’t mean you have to full out confront him in front of family or anything, but it DOES mean that you assume that he is a predator and you NEVER, EVER leave your daughter alone with him OR, I need to stress this point…leave her alone with ANYONE who would leave her alone with him. That, unfortunately, includes your husband. Take her with you when you nurse. Go sit in the car and nurse and take her with you. Go for a drive when you have to nurse and take her with you. If your husband is not on the same page with you, this is a serious problem. I don’t want to be the harbinger of bad feelings- but he has a responsibility to you and your daughter and if he agrees with you about the tickling and about the inappropriate behavior and he’s too afraid to do anything about it for fear of offending someone- he needs a reality check. He does not want to have to know that he could have done something to prevent something awful from happening but didn’t. THIS IS HOW ABUSE HAPPPENS. People don’t want to offend people. Family is important, yes. But not as important as your daughter. So if it were me, and I’m trying not to be pushy but I really really believe what I’m saying here…I’d tell my husband to man up and make sure he could comply with your wishes regarding your daughter never being left alone with this family member, or it will result in you not visiting the family anymore. Because it’s just that important. How do you know the uncle won’t just “stop by” while it’s just your daughter and husband at home? Do you think he’ll stand up for her then? Because predators will find any opportunity to do what they do. Again, we don’t know if this guy is actually a bad guy. But it’s not a risk I would be willing to take with my child.

  • Amy B

    April 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I know you don’t NEED another comment, but PLEASE OH PLEASE put your foot down on this issue. The risk of causing a family rift is NOT WORTH SACRIFICING YOUR DAUGHTER. I am sorry because I am sure this must be difficult for your husband, but TO BAD, his nuclear family, his wife and kids, come before his extended family.

  • EB

    April 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Wow. So hard with the family issues, but at the end of the day, your husband needs to be your partner. You and your children need to be his number one concern; you should be the most important people in his life. He grew up with this guy, and the small family definitely makes one want to close ranks, but he married you, and that daughter is his flesh and blood. His cousin doesn’t need protecting – he is a grown man. But your daughter does. I think Melissa makes an excellent point, and I wish to second it. YOU ARE PARTNERS, YOU ARE A TEAM. You must stand together and protect your children. And there are ways to do this without turning your back on the family. But in order for you to trust your husband as a good parent and protector of his children, he must trust you (and side with you) when you say that Gracie must not be left alone with the cousin. End of story.

  • jenn

    April 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I will echo everyone else – you have instinct for a reason. Trust it. My stomach was in knots halfway through the second paragraph. That man knows exactly what he is doing, his giving consequences such as threatening to take things away when she doesn’t respond to what he wants is clear evidence he is completely aware of his actions and they are intentional. As Amy and her attorney friend mentioned, he is testing her and you to see what will be tolerated and how far he can go with it, until the time is right.
    This is such a tricky area to negotiate because of how your husband and his family are reacting. The fact of the matter is, you either never let your daughter out of your sight around them, even if your only choices are to toss a blanket over the baby and nurse in front of him and/or everyone else or bring your daughter with you when you nurse, or cause a rift between you and your husband and in-laws. Your daughter’s innocence is WORTH IT!! I can’t emphasize this enough!! I was sexually abused by a neighbor when I was a little girl and no one thought anything was wrong, it’s just “the way he was”… Of course, all of that ignoring made me feel like either I was crazy and what he was doing to me wasn’t wrong, I was just sick in the head for thinking it was, and it also made me feel like I wasn’t important enough for people to care about/listen to if I did try to tell them. That kind of thinking has affected many, many other areas of my life and had taken me years to work through once I finally started dealing with it. I will repeat: YOUR DAUGHTER’S INNOCENCE IS WORTH IT. I will also say the further he gets, he will start threatening her with consequences for her telling on him. The man that abused me said he would tell my mom what we were doing if I said anything. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but at the time I was so scared and ashamed, it worked.
    You also need to have a frank conversation with your daughter about what is appropriate and what is not. At 3 she is old enough to understand the basics and to be encouraged to trust her own intuition. INCLUDE in that conversation that him offering her gifts and then saying he’ll take them away if she doesn’t do something she doesn’t feel comfortable with is not ok, and she needs to know it is perfectly fine to say “no” to him, even if she doesn’t get that treat. You can even assure her you will give her your own special treat just for that. Children have phenomenal intuition and if something he does makes her unhappy or uncomfortable, and she says she doesn’t want to do it, you stand right beside her and BACK HER UP no matter what your husband or his family says.
    The further he gets with testing the boundaries, the more negatively he will react when he is denied what he wants. That should also be a clear red flag to you, even if no one else will admit it.
    One last thing, the fact that your husband and his family are so permissive and excusing of this man is another clear indication something is wrong. No one wants to believe someone they know, are related to and love could do something monstrous like molest a child. My friend’s father, drunk and feeling frisky, pushed me down on a bed in a bedroom office at their house and stood over me, between my legs, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FRIEND. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. She just turned around in the chair (she was at the computer) and laughed uneasily and said “silly daddy!” to try to break up the scenario. She was so embarrassed that her father was an alcoholic and that he would do that, but she loved her dad, that she could only act like nothing was wrong.
    Keep your daughter away from that man.

  • Beth

    April 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    No, sorry. End this. I cannot possibly imagine this as well meaning. If this were another child? Yes. A 45 year old man KNOWS. This is gross. For the love of god.
    My apologies if this is overly emotional–gut reaction.

  • Debbie

    April 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Maggie at Mighty Girl made a really good point a while back on the topic of teaching your young child about child abusers. She said that her son was probably too young for explicit good touch/bad touch talks about private parts, but that she and her husband have taught their son that his no means no. This means that if he doesn’t want to hug someone, or kiss them, or any other kind of nonsexual touching, he doesn’t have to, ever, and they just tell the person “okay, well he’s not interested in that right now, and that’s okay”. They never pressure him to touch when he doesn’t want to. I thought this was brilliant! It sends a message to the child that he/she doesn’t have to give in to pressures to do something physical that they don’t want to do. It tells the child that they have control over their own body. Sadly, I think too many of us grew up being taught to be concerned about another person’s feelings if we refuse a hug, but think of the consequences of that lesson when a child is pressured inappropriately by an abuser.
    Secondly, if Carl doesn’t know better, then why not approach the situation as a form of educating him? Why not say something along the lines of “I know that you mean well, but I think it’s important that you understand that many parents consider some of your behaviours inappropriate. I feel that it is important that you understand that so that you never get into a sticky situation with a child.” Use his ignorance and everyone’s assurances of it to your advantage, make it less about your suspicions of him and more about his ignorance of appropriate behaviour. And then you can just publicly denounce his inappropriate behaviour with “Carl, we talked about this.”
    Finally, as one who has seen the effects of years of abuse first hand, I am telling you that there is absolutely no way that ruining relationships within the family if you happen to be “overzealous” in the protection of your daughter will be worse than the ramifications of leaving his behaviour unchecked.
    It’s time to go Mama Bear on his ass. You can do it!

  • Dawn

    April 19, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Alarm bells all over the place. DO NOT ALLOW THIS PERSON ANY CONTACT WITH YOUR DAUGHTER. EVER. Screw the family. You protect your children at all costs. If your husband can’t back you on it then maybe you should send him to the family events alone. Your first obligation is to your kids who don’t know the boundaries and are counting on you to provide them. Listen to your instincts and protect your children. Please, please please do the right thing and insist on contstant supervision! It’s not worth the risk. Ever.

  • Tracy H.

    April 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    On a recent episode of Oprah, she had admitted/convicted child sex offenders on her show giving advice to parents (sounds awfully creepy, but “straight from the horses mouth” I guess) on how to protect your children and one piece of advice was what Amy mentioned about talking to your daughter about good touch/bad touch and teaching her to say “No” if she feels uncomfortable…the offenders all agreed if it wasn’t easy, they would usually stop and move on, that if a child said No or called them out on their behavior, they would just seek out another victim. Empower your daughter and TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!

  • Rachel

    April 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Wow, yes yes yes trust your instincts, PLEASE! For your daughters sake. And if you husband won’t speak up, then YOU do it. She is your daughter, you can speak up, too, even if he won’t. Your daughter has no voice, you have to be her voice in this, please speak up for her.
    And in the mean time, here is a book that may help you trust those instincts. It is called “Protecting the Gift”. I think it is really important that every parent read this, it has such great information!
    Please speak up!

  • jenn

    April 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I just wanted to add, with regard to having a frank conversation with your daughter, that you can come up with creative ways for getting her to understand the urgency and importance of her trusting her own instinct and feeling ok to say “no” to him, by saying something like “He is sick, his head doesn’t work right and he does and says things other grown ups don’t do. If you don’t want to do something he asks you to, it’s ok to say no. I believe you, I trust you, you are a strong, smart girl and I love you”. Reassure her again and again that she is strong and smart, that you trust her and love her. She really needs that support, ESPECIALLY if she has already been in situations with him where she said no to him and he threatened her, and the rest of the family laughed it off. She needs to know someone else trusts her instinct as well and supports her and will back her up. And I can’t emphasize enough you sticking up for her when she does say now, especially if the rest of the family says “Oh come on, sweetie, it’s fine!” Everyone is trying to avoid hurting the cousin’s feelings when they should be trying to protect her, and this public ignoring of her discomfort only adds to the confusion, which he COUNTS on.
    I will likely be thinking about this all day, I just wanted to encourage you to have this talk with her, these are things I wish my brother and mother would have said and done for me. I have a 3 and a half year old, your daughter is not too young for this conversation, including being frank about how our bodies are special, that’s why we cover them with clothing, because only certain people can see our bodies, and no one should ever make her feel uncomfortable touching her ANYWHERE, including her hair, her face, her arms, etc.
    Love and strength to you and your daughter xx

  • Sara

    April 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    No no no no no no nonononono. I agree with all the other commenters. Listen to your instincts. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable with the situation. If that means setting “rules” with Creepy Carl that upsets the family, then too bad for them. If that means not seeing them as often (off-topic, but do you not get to see your side of the family on these holidays?), then perhaps that’s what needs to happen. Definitely educate your daughter. Kids like the attention, and don’t necessarily always know when it’s approaching dangerous territory. You are right. Listen to your instincts. Your husband will (should) stand by your decision – whatever that may be. Good for you momma on listening to your gut.

  • Lisa M

    April 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    This guy is not a potential abuser…he is one. I absolutely believe 100% from the behaviors you describe that he is working a definite progression. Keep away from him. Yes, his family will be upset…too fucking bad.
    I don’t even think there should be ANY contact unless your husband understands exactly how critical the situation is. NO CONTACT. The things you are describing are NEVER appropriate. No 45 year old man thinks about taking pictures of a girl jumping on a bed. Sorry, he’s not just creepy, he’s a pedophile. And he sounds pretty practiced, too. I would not be surprised to find that he has previous victims.

  • Muirnait

    April 19, 2010 at 12:42 pm This question definitely set off big alarm bells for me too. It is very, very good that you, as the mother, see these warning signs and want to act on them.
    I agree with what Jodi said, that Carl’s feelings are simply not as important as your child’s welfare.
    Perhaps, in the interesting of avoiding hurt feelings, there could be some rules set out for all family members? Like, no non-immediate family alone in the room with her? Extreme, I know, but…I’m just trying to think of a way to frame it that would involve the least hurt feelings. Nobody wants to be accused of something so awful, of course, but if Carl ISN’T interacting with her for the wrong reasons…he still needs to be talked to about boundaries.
    YOU are her parents, and if you’re not okay with something, you need to say so – even without explanation. “No, we don’t allow Gracie to have her photo taken that much.” (You could always tack on, it’ll give the kid a big head, or something?!)
    Anyway…the alarm bells are there for a reason. Trust your instincts, and trust yourself.

  • Lisa M

    April 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I’m sorry, I had to get the first comment out of the way. Some of the other commentors have had some great suggestions. One of the most important things you can teach Gracie is the power of the word “NO”. Start by using it in front of her 2nd cousin. Often. As in “No, Creep Carl, I don’t want you to play with Gracie where I can’t see you.”
    “No, Gracie, you don’t have to play with Creepy Carl if you don’t want to.”
    “No, Gracie, you don’t have to kiss/hug if you don’t want to.”
    “No, Creepy Carl, I don’t want you to take pictures of Gracie. We have plenty at home.”
    The more often she sees you standing up for her, and yourself; the more powerful she will feel about saying “No” herself. And the more likely she’ll tell you if something crosses the line. Because you will have drawn the line, clearly and decisively.
    Please, please, please know that this is going to be very uncomfortable at first, but you are right. This is not appropriate under any circumstances. This is not a weird guy who just doesn’t know better, it’s deliberate; and he will accelerate if he thinks he can.
    I’m so sorry; but you CAN handle this. Good luck.

  • Meadow

    April 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I saw that Oprah, too. It was creepy, but very interesting to see what the offenders said about how they built up to their molestation and what they understood before vs after therapy while incarcerated.
    I’m just putting this out there, but what about speaking directly to Creepy Carl? If you could discuss with your husband ahead of time and just one of you talk to him about it, being calm and rational? Not necessarily accusatory but saying that his behavior makes you uncomfortable and where resources are for help if he is having urges to behave inappropriately? Maybe talking about consequences of sexual abuse for victims and abusers?
    What do others think about that? I know it may seem simplistic, but it just seems to me that acting directly on the clues may wake him up to creepy (but innocent) behavior or help him seek help for what he probably already knows are inappropriate urges. Am I nuts for suggesting this?

  • Christina

    April 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    My fiance and I have a situation that is the same coin but other side. My fiance’s father is a social moron. He means well but he is incredibly inappropriate socially and regularly steps over the line verbally. My future father-in-law makes me incredibly uncomfortable on a regular basis. I don’t have any reason to believe that is a child abuser. (I do however think he knows exactly what he is doing and why the things he says are not acceptable. His children excuse this behavior, I do not. Also, he knows it. He doesn’t act nearly as poorly towards me. This only proves to me that he knows and I bet Creepy Carl is the same.)
    However, my fiance and I have already agreed that his father wont be heavily involved with his grandchildren. He will never, ever babysit them and he sure as heck wont be playing with them unsupervised.
    What I’m trying to say here is, even if Creepy Carl is only Creepy and not actually a molestor, it doesn’t matter. Even if he is only a mildly inappropriate moron, if you don’t feel his behavior is something you want your daughter near, then that is your right.
    Your question was focused on what to do to protect your daughter from possible abuse, which is obviously important. Personally, I’d shift your focus to: I don’t give a rat’s booty what he MIGHT do, his current behavior is bad and you are done allowing him to interact with your daugther.
    Also, I feel for you with the power of a thousand suns. Nothing is worse than in-laws that are a hot mess.

  • Amy in StL

    April 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I grew up with a lot of uncles around and a lot of older neighbors looking out for me. There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood; so I usually spent my time “playing” with the older retired folks. I know that sounds odd but almost all of them were really harmless and just didn’t have kids around anymore. One of them even raked his leaves into piles for me to play in. Even as a preschooler I knew which ones were creepy and which ones were okay. I can remember one neighbor who exposed himself to me and reading the article about grooming I see that he’d been doing just that. I left his house and never went back. I didn’t tell my parents because I knew it would upset them; but when I said I didn’t want to go down there anymore my parents accepted my decision. Even though he would see me on my bike and ask if I wanted to come by later, I always said no and knew my parents would support me.
    That was key – knowing that my parents had my back. Kids know when a situation is icky; and they need to know they’ve got support.

  • lolismum

    April 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I am sorry, but this is one of the situations where you do not need to wait for your partner to come around. My children’s safety come first. I will disown family and divorce partners who underestimate such serious concerns. Your husband is being an idiot. Sorry to be blunt, but he’s being a complete idiot. You cannot undo abuse, there is no happy medium here. Don’t visit, take your child somewhere safe and fun for the holidays or stay at home. Nothing, nothing should come in the way of ensuring the safety of your darling 3-year old. Your job is to protect her. The end.

  • Pamela

    April 19, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    I am not a mom, I don’t have mother’s intuition, and I’m not an abuse survivor. If it’s helpful at all to get some advice from someone who has no personal experience with any of this, then take it: You are NOT crazy.
    I have the chills from reading this letter. I am 100% sure that Creepy Carl will hurt your daughter if given the opportunity. You do WHATEVER you have to do to make sure that never happens.
    He never leaves her alone? He kisses her on the mouth? He follows her around taking pictures? NOT OKAY.
    Most dudes I know, especially those who don’t have children of their own, will go to great lengths to make sure that their actions around children could never be misinterpreted. Recently, my partner was about to let a 2-year old boy smash a digital camera against a coffee table — so he wouldn’t have to grab the arm of a child that wasn’t his own, just in case it looked weird. (I stepped in, because of course it’s never weird when women touch children who aren’t their own… But I digress.)
    The fact that this dude doesn’t check himself around your daughter is very revealing. This creepazoid cannot come anywhere near her, ever again.
    And I am so peeved that your husband is making excuses for Creepy Carl and putting your daughter at risk that I should probably end this before I insult him.
    Good luck, Concerned.

  • Julie

    April 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I’d completely agree with the rest of the posters – trust your instincts! I would also start immediately calling him on any of the behavior that you feel in innappropriate, and not in any sort of a gentle, joking way. Firm, clear, and unyielding “That is innappropriate, please stop NOW.” whenever something occurs that you are uncomfortable with may get you the reputation as the family prude, but so be it. It’s even a reputation you may want to cultivate if you find it useful! Draw a line in the sand, don’t let him cross it, and model how to say no in front of your daughter so she can learn how to say it herself. If he does turn out to be innocent, then you’re teaching him a valuable lesson about interacting with young children. And if he’s not, then you’re sending him a clear message that your children are not easy prey.

  • Leslie

    April 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    So many great points, here—the most important being to keep trusting your gut and to start talking to your daughter in an age appropriate way about sexual assault. One amazing nonprofit in my area, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, has lots of fantastic free resources for parents:

  • Abby

    April 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    You may want to try this approach with your husband.
    Let him know that your daughter needs to know what is appropriate and non-appropriate behavior from grown-up men. While you guys might be able to tell the difference between innocent and not innocent, it is asking your daughter to draw too fine a distinction to accept that behavior from her uncle and somehow not accept it from other men that will be in her life (teachers, coaches, etc.). If your husband sees this as a learning opportunity for her, rather than an accusation about Carl, maybe he won’t get defensive. You could even start with “this has nothing to do with Carl’s intentions, it has to do with Gracie not learning that it is OK for grown men to do these things with her.”

  • Bethany

    April 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Just agreeing with the others that this is seriously creepy behavior and whether or not it is likely to go further (though I feel like it is) it’s wrong at its current level and needs to stop. If a little kid doesn’t learn when she’s young that it’s wrong for people to try and bribe kisses and physical contact, when will she learn that?
    You’re in my prayers/non-creepy thoughts.

  • J.S.

    April 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    I wanted to agree with Erin above. It can happen so fast, even in a crowded house with tons of people around–maybe especially in a crowded house with tons of people around, because parents are so distracted. Please don’t leave your daughter with anyone who would make excuses for Carl or leave her with him (i.e., all or any of your in-laws, sad to say). She will thank you for it later.
    If you’re a book-reading type of person, may I suggest Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker? It is the very best resource I’ve ever had to reassure me that, as a mom (not to mention as a woman), trusting my gut is always the right thing to do.

  • Anonymous

    April 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    You are not crazy. Listen to your instincts and help your daughter listen to hers. This set off more alarm bells than I even want to think about, for very personal reasons. Let’s leave it at that. Please do not leave your child alone with this man.
    I like what Julie said: draw a line in the sand, enforce it, and model how to say No. Teaching children how to trust and act on their instincts is one of the most valuable things we can do as parents.
    As an aside, I absolutely loathe the expectation that children — particularly girls, I think — hug and kiss people even when they don’t want to. This teaches children not to trust their intuition, that their bodies are not entirely their own.

  • Valerie

    April 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Even if Carl is clueless and doesn’t realize that this behavior is inappropriate, it is high time he learn. Looks like a family sit-down is in order.
    I know it’s scary, but you CANNOT be afraid to ruffle some feathers here.
    You can do this! Don’t ignore those Mama Bear instincts!

  • incognito

    April 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I have no new advice to add, except to say I’m so sorry the OP feels so alone on this. I hope the advice and these comments reassure her that she is completely in the right. Maybe it’s easier for us to see it laid out in black and white and harder for her husband who has so much family history, but like someone said, yours is the family he chose and where his loyalties need to lie.
    I also agree with the suggestions that you guys speak to Creepy Carl directly, unless an expert recommends otherwise. At a minimum it lets him know you’re on to him. And if he doesn’t actually know that his behavior now is inappropriate, it is about damn time. I repeat, what he’s doing ALREADY is inappropriate. There’s no reason to wait for it to escalate before letting him have it.
    And if, god willing, everything here is totally innocent, having these conversations with your daughter and your husband may help them both understand what’s cool and what isn’t with OTHER people, too.

  • incognito

    April 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    And every time you catch him taking a picture of your daughter, ‘accidentally’ break his camera. Yes, he and Gracie need to know the picture TAKING is weird, but the camera/phone also needs to fall in the trash compactor/in the toilet/under the wheel of your car. God knows what he’s doing with the photos.

  • beanery

    April 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    One more person to support your gut feelings. I feel sick to my stomach after reading this. I clicked all of the included links so I could get more info about how to talk to my 4 year old about this. I’ve wanted to have that talk with him (especially after a male teacher was dismissed at his school for suspicions of misconduct with a child), but I just didn’t know how to approach it in a way he can understand and retain. I think teaching him the power of “No” is a wonderful idea. I really hate when adults force children to give hugs/kisses when they aren’t comfortable doing so.
    I think everyone hear has great advice about standing your ground. This guys is a creep, innocent or not, and he has no business being left alone with your daughter.

  • Lisa M

    April 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I’m sorry for the multiple comments, but I just keep coming back to your husband’s reaction (or lack thereof). I hate to add more stress to your situation, but is his cousin much older than him?
    Is there any way that your husband was abused by his cousin when they were younger? The complete denial of a problem when there’s such evidence makes me wonder if his denial comes from a place he’s not ready to confront.
    Maybe he had issues talking to his family about it (if it happened…just hypothesizing) and they dismissed him the way they are dismissing your concerns.
    This does have a point…if he was abused, he is not going to support you until he confronts his own past. That’s a big if.
    I just hope you don’t wait for him to come around before you take action on your own. Even if he wasn’t abused, even if if he never admits that his cousin is not just creepy but downright disturbed, you still have a responsibility to your daughter to protect her; even if your husband doesn’t support you. As other commentors have pointed out, the stakes are just too high to tip-toe around the issue; or worry about hurt feelings.

  • kelly

    April 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I’m echoing others, but I wanted to add to the chorus so that the OP — and her partner, if he reads this — knows that so many readers feel the same way. Please, OP, please trust your instincts. Your letter set off many, many, many alarm bells for me. Please do not leave your child alone with this man.
    I like what Julie said: draw a line, enforce it, and model how to say No. Teaching our children how to trust and follow their intuition is one of the best things we can do as parents.

  • Stephanie

    April 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with everyone’s previous comments, but wanted to add my perspective on how hard it is to convince your partner (my husband) that you just have a bad feeling about someone who is thought of as family. Our nextdoor neighbors are really great people, but when the husband drinks too much, which seems to happen on a regular basis, he gets close to crossing the line. When I was pregnant, we were next door, and the neighbor had had quite a few. He just lifted up my shirt to “see the belly.” No asking, nothing! I was very uncomfortable about this, but my husband just played it off as “he didn’t mean anything by it.” The neighbor also tells me all the time how pretty I look, wonders why none of his female coworkers dress as nice as I do (ick!), and hugs me a little too closely and for just a little too long. My husband just says “but the two of them just love you so much, they think of us as their kids.” Whatever. No way I’m letting him watch my baby alone. Ever.
    So yes. It’s hard to convince your partner when the alarm bells are going on in your head but not in his. Good luck!!

  • J

    April 19, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    i got a gross dirty feeling after reading this. this is such a nightmare of a sticky situation to navigate. you can take so many bits and pieces from the comments above and form your own plan of attack so to say. yes, an accusation of that magnitude can ruin a person if it’s untrue and he really is just a weirdo, but NO you should NEVER EVER squash that bad feeling in your gut because your children’s lives are a million times more important than his or anyone else’s. it’s sad to know there are some moms who don’t even have a small bell let alone an alarm. your children are lucky to have you has an advocate for them. i agree with the comment from debbie of playing upon his family’s assurances of him as “harmless” and “naive” and use it to your advantage, tell him you don’t want his behavior to be interpreted in a “wrong way”, and with muirnait to point out how he’s crossed some personal boundries with gracie. that will get it in his head that you’ve noticed those things and you’re going to be more aware of him and his actions, that he’s not going unnoticed. empower your children to know about and protect their bodies, good touch/bad touch, and the power of “no.” i agree with lisa with using “no” to carl in front of your children, “no carl, we’re vising with the family so we’re going to stay in the living room” “no carl, gracie said thank you for the treat, she doesn’t have to hug/kiss you.” and “yes gracie, you can tell him ‘no’ if you don’t want to play/hug/have your picture taken” send carl the message that you’re not asking him, you’re telling him and you’re not going to be wishy washy. and EB is SO RIGHT with your husband needing to be on your team. it’s so not fair to you to have him brush you off as “oh honey you’re reading too much into it/you’re seeing something that’s not there.” so long as you, the mother of his children, have these VERY REAL concerns he needs to be on your side, he can not have others disrespect your wishes and feelings even if he doesn’t see it that way himself. your children need to see that their dad has their mom’s back who has their back. “sorry carl, but my wife would like it if we all stayed in the living room during our visit so let’s respect that.” “carl, my wife said to please give gracie her space, so give gracie her space.” again, not being asked but told. and i agree 100% with EVERYONE about not letting your children be alone with him or anyone who would let them be alone with him if he is in the house. stick with your gut. if you need to use the bathroom, take her with you with a “come on gracie, let’s try using the potty” or if you need to nurse tell her “come with me gracie, i’m going to feed the baby and i’ll get you a snack too” anything that lessens the possibility of him getting her alone. i’m a bit curious to know of any updates on this, like if you’ve finally gotten your husband to open his eyes a bit more or if you’ve gotten carl to back off.

  • Kim

    April 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Oh My God. So many warning bells are going off right now. Your letter has me all freaked out.
    Never, and I mean NEVER, is it ok for that kind of behavior, or the condoning that the family is doing. That’s just a ripe environment for molestation to occur. I am all sorts of uncomfortable right now after reading this. I think all of us know that this is completely inappropriate and is an inch away from becoming a tragedy.
    Please confront your husband, and the family, and whoever else you need to. This is not just “oh, he doesnt’ know what he’s doing”. This is “he has no boundaries, doesn’t know right from wrong, and is about to do some very SERIOUS damage to your little girl”.
    I’d go so far as to ensure that Carl never sees my children again. And if I don’t get the husband’s support or the family’s support, so be it. My kids come first. I don’t care if I hurt someone’s feelings in the process.

  • Suzy Q

    April 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Oh, my holy hell, GET HER AWAY FROM HIM!
    I haven’t even read the other comments yet, but I can tell you this, Concerned Mom: This is almost EXACTLY my story. Only now, I’m a completely fucked-up adult who has been incapable of maintaining a good, intimate relationship (not to mention making really poor choices in men). I survived 9 years of being abused by a trusted family friend whom we saw on holidays and special occasions. It started with the tickling and touching, and escalated from there. That shit, those memories, they do NOT go away, even with counseling.
    YOU MUST STOP THIS FOR YOUR DAUGHTER’S SAKE. Cancel all family get-togethers that involve Cousin Creepy. I don’t care how mad the family gets. Your daughter’s safety is more important than hurt feelings. From where I sit, he is ALREADY abusing her, just doing it mostly in front of everyone, who conveniently turn a blind eye. Also, she’s too young to know good touching from bad, and by the time she can differentiate, it will be too late.
    As far as the picture-taking not being criminal, perhaps it is. I was “lucky” enough to be abused before the Internet, but you just don’t know what he does with those pictures of your daughter or with whom he might be sharing them. Pedophiles don’t need naked pictures to get off.
    Good luck. Stay strong.

  • Erin

    April 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I think its also important to point out that Gracie can say no to any kind of physical touching that she wants to. For a while I was forcing my son to give hugs and kisses to grandma and grandpa (and me, to be honest) just to be polite or nice. The fact is, if he doesn’t feel like hugging someone he shouldn’t have to. Teach Gracie that she is in charge of her body and has the right to say no to kissing or hugging or tickling even if that means she doesn’t get the toy.
    I’ve also addressed issues with adults through my child. For example, if my son doesn’t want to hug or kiss and the adult requesting the hug/kiss is insistent I always address Conor with something like “that’s ok, honey. If you don’t feel like giving Grandpa a kiss, you don’t have to.” Trying to make a pretty pointed effort to let the adult know (and Conor too, for that matter) that NO MEANS NO. Even when its a child saying it.
    Good luck. My heart goes out to you as I can imagine how difficult this must be for you.

  • Sarah

    April 19, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I agree with absolutely everybody. Even if it never goes beyond what has already happened this little girl will remember these moments and their creepy vibe when she is older.
    OP, please email Amy with an update. We’ll all be thinking of you and your daughter.

  • cagey (Kelli Oliver George)

    April 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    UGH. I want to chime in and reiterate what everyone is saying.
    I had a creepy uncle and he did try to groom my sister and I. Fortunately, my mother had already talked to us about these sorts of situations and from the get-go, we were able to talk to her about the situation so that it never progressed to anything beyond his attempts at grooming.
    And listen – my own husband is a very affectionate Uncle, but he is out in the open with the family when he is affectionate or wrestling. Come on, hanging out with a 3 year in a bedroom by herself is just inappropriate, regardless of the intent.
    Furthermore, I have loads of relatives trying to ply affection from my children with candy. Again, no head games are being playing and there are no attempts to get my children alone. Sometimes, candy is just candy.
    So? Hugging, wrestling, tickling and candy giving alone are not warning bells, but there is some extra activity here that is worrisome.
    I recently read a great article about respecting a child’s desire for no kissing or hugging. We could ALL do well to read this:

  • miriam

    April 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Part of the problem is that your husband has only one person saying NO, while everyone else is saying “oh, it’s nothing! You don’t want to embarrass him, do you?”
    So he’s also feeling icky about it, but all his family aren’t supporting him… so he just goes along with it. Like a little kid creeped out by a relative, but no one will listen. Of course you doesn’t count– since you don’t “know” carl and must be overreacting.
    OTOH, being a family outsider can work wonders– you can be the unreasonable daughter in law who “just doesn’t understand” and who “made” her husband stop bringing the baby to gatherings etc. This may help your husband try to have a conversation with his mom etc (I hate my MIL so I don’t mind being cast as the “unreasonable one”). Also, if there are some couples you know, perhaps your husband can get a second opinion, as it were. (heck, if he just read this post he’d get an earful!)
    Try talking with him like you’d talk to a 3 yo– “honey, carl makes you uncomfortable, and you worry about your daughter, but you also don’t want to make a big scene. Those are tough feelings to have” (exaggerated slightly for comedic effect). I’ve noticed that the harder I push my husband into a course of action, the more he digs in his heels. Just like a toddler– ARG! It’s the old saw about “letting it be HIS idea”.

  • beth

    April 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I just want to echo all of the statements already made. It IS inappropriate. You are NOT crazy. You cannot undo abuse. You HAVE to put your foot down. I particularly liked Debbie’s thoughts of using Carl’s “ignorance” to your advantage. And keeping Gracie with you at ALL times.
    Please visit for support.

  • beth

    April 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I just want to echo all of the statements already made. It IS inappropriate. You are NOT crazy. You cannot undo abuse. You HAVE to put your foot down. I particularly liked Debbie’s thoughts of using Carl’s “ignorance” to your advantage. And keeping Gracie with you at ALL times.
    Please visit for support.

  • beth

    April 19, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Everyone, not just Concerned, please visit

  • Emily

    April 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I don’t have anything more to add to some wonderful suggestions above other than another person to let this mom know: you are not crazy! My alarm bells are ringing just reading about this guy’s actions. I also agree with others who pointed out that, even if Carl is not a predator (but I would have to say, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…) it’s about time for him to get an education about how to interact with kids in a way that’s appropriate. I feel like if there was some reason like an intellectual or emotional impairment that could cause Carl to be socially inept, your husband’s family members wouldn’t just be making excuses for his behavior, they would be trying to teach him the skills. The fact that they just want to laugh it off? Major red flag to me that the others might find his behavior squicky but want to avoid confrontation, or possibly even don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with it (I’m talking about the in-laws here, since your husband also feels uncomfortable about what’s going on). I’m an educator, which means that if I’m working in a school and suspect abuse I’m obligated by law to report it–everything I’ve been trained in leads me to believe that Carl is a potential abuser looking for a way in. I would take angering my in-laws any day over putting my child (anyone’s child) in danger. Imagine: I don’t think anyone in his/her right mind would suggest you let your daughter ride in a car with someone who was drunk. Yet this man’s behavior is just as dangerous, but you’re feeling pressure not to make a fuss–the in-laws are blind to the fact that Carl is endangering your daughter’s emotional life with his sick and weird games. Kick and scream, call Carl on his behavior, avoid these family gatherings if he’s going to be there. Above all, your husband needs to wake up to the fact that trying to “spare” Carl any embarrassment could have horrible consequences for his own child. Show him these comments, especially those written by posters who have survived physical or sexual abuse. Listen to your instincts, which are screaming “predator!” Trust yourself.

  • Kayleigh

    April 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    (Could be triggering, FYI).
    I had an uncle who related better to kids than to adults, too. We played all the time, and I absolutely loved being around him. He also tested the waters with kind of creepy things, which I ignored and blocked out. It was only when he really obviously broke the swimsuit rule that I told my mom. He had been living in an in-law suite in our home with my grandparents, and my dad moved him out the next day. I couldn’t stand to be around my grandparents for years because they didn’t believe me, and so the family was completely fractured. You’re in a horrible, awkward, painful position, but things could become so much more horrible and painful. Something as simple as a bad touch tore my family apart and left its mark on me for a decade. Do what you need to do to keep Gracie safe. Treating an adult less than “fairly” is nothing compared to neglecting to keep a child safe.

  • Lisa

    April 19, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Ok, I HAVE to put my two cents in here, even though it’s what you’re already telling her. I’m an RN and a licensed mental health therapist. The majority of my caseload right now are women who have suffered from sexual trauma. This Carl guy is bad news, and the husband who thinks his wife is over reacting needs slapped upside the head. Those behaviors from carl are way out of line, and yes, he’s grooming her. They usually pick one particular person out of the crowd. Adults who pay more attention to the kids than the adults need to be watched very closely. It’s one of the prime behaviors of a pediophile. Even if these behaviors from Carol goes no further than it already has, this little girl is learning inappropriate boundaries regarding what she should have to tolerate and is being traumatized. If she feels she’s not protected in this realm, trust me, she will carry this into adulthood. The dude has issues. And this little girl shouldn’t have to pay for it just to “save face with the family.”

  • Jaymee

    April 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I think you are overreacting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a family member kissing another family member. I do and always have kissed everyone in my family (gasp) On. The. Mouth! Society today tells people that it’s weird, but why? What makes it weird? The only reason people think it’s weird is because someone at some point in time decided that it was and started telling people, then it caught on. Well it’s not weird, and it’s not creepy. My husband has a small family too, his Grandpa, and Mom. His Mom kisses my son on the mouth all the time, buys him gifts, takes pictures of him, gives him candy, tickles him. My son is the only child in the family and that’s just what happens. People want to have pictures of their family and play with kids. That’s they way things work. My family is very large, both parents, 6 brothers and sisters, my grandparents, over 20 cousins, 8 nieces and nephews, the list goes on. My son is the youngest in the group and guess what, everyone kisses him (gasp again) On. The. Mouth. He gets lots of gifts, everyone takes lots of pictures of him, he is given candy, people tickle him, he tickles other people. So I personally think you are overreacting. It’s completely normal.

  • Margie

    April 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    If all of these excellent thoughts don’t work for persuading your husband, you could try framing it in terms of being for Carl’s benefit and your daughter’s future theoretical well-being. Like, “Carl needs to know that this behavior is inappropriate so he doesn’t embarrass himself with any other people with kids who aren’t family.” And, “even though you think Carl’s behavior is harmless, wouldn’t it bother you if some other adult male were behaving this way with our daughter? So for her benefit we need to help her understand that this is inappropriate, which Carl would no doubt appreciate because he loves her and wants her to be safe.” *swallow* Even typing that creeps me out, and I hope it’s not necessary, but wanted to give you some other ideas in case pure honesty isn’t doing it.

  • Heidi

    April 19, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Wow, I can’t even think about all of these comments, but I do have something to add.
    I’m really curious about how Carl would react if the LW would go to a friend’s house during the day of a family get-together for just a few hours. Maybe Hubby could go alone, and he could witness the meltdown when Carl’s preciousssss is taken from him for a few hours. Maybe finally the other family members could see how unnatural the attention is between Carl and Gracie. (there’s also the newborn daughter to think of here.)
    Also, if this is happening now, at 45, it’s happened before. I wish I could be a fly on the wall with this family, just one vacation. I’d love to ask Carl about friends outside of the family. Did something ever go wrong between himself and a married-with-children friend?
    Lasly, it’s not just men to be wary of. Women also form unnatural attachments to children and molest them under the guise of friendship. Be careful of everyone. Asking for references and doing background checks on babysitters should not be considered overprotection in this day and age.

  • jc

    April 20, 2010 at 12:09 am

    I agree with what everyone has posted here — Go with your gut. Protect your daughter. My Mother didn’t protect me while I was being molested, even though she knew what was going on. Guess it was easier for her to just ignore it. Well, I hate her for it. Why didn’t she protect me or stand up for me? I’ve had years of therapy too, and I’m still pissed off. And now that I’m a Mother it just blows my mind that she did nothing. I will do anything and everything to protect my kids. So go with your intuition and don’t let your kids down.
    Oh, and “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin deBecker? Excellent book.

  • Leila

    April 20, 2010 at 12:54 am

    I’m in agreement with everybody else. Just a thought on how to handle it with Creepy Carl while keeping the family calm. (NOT that you should have to do this, but this may be a way to keep the peace.) Tell the family that, while you understand that Creepy Carl may not mean anything bad when he engages in his creepy behavior with your daughter, you understand that this kind of behavior is common for pedophiles. And while you know that Creepy Carl would NEVER hurt your duaghter, your concern is that your daughter may be learning that this kind of behavior is okay from REAL CREEPS. I.e., that because she is so comfortable with Creepy Carl’s actions (which, from Creepy Carl are okay, but from others are bad), she may not speak up if a REAL CREEP was doing these things to her. So, to protect her from others, Creepy Carl should step back on these behaviors. Because indirectly he could hurt her by “grooming” her for others.
    Then don’t let her be alone with him, and if he does anything (and he will), you can refuse to let him see her.

  • Abi

    April 20, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Breaking my silence to restate what others have been touching on:
    Even if there is nothing wrong with Carl, your daughter needs to know how to refuse this kind of behavior, for when the person she’s dealing with ISN’T someone you know/are around. Basically, how would you feel if you knew someone was treating her this way, and you WEREN’T around? Don’t you want her to know how to react? Just because you’re there doesn’t make it okay. Even if his intentions are pure, what he is teaching her is harmful. It is NEVER okay to kiss someone else’s kid on the mouth EVARRR! And she doesn’t know this.
    I know you must feel extra vulnerable right now, trying to protect your own privacy while breastfeeding, and exposing yourself more (breastfeeding in the living room or whatnot) to expose her less doesn’t seem like a great solution. You need to trust your partner to protect you in this situation.
    Basically, just ask him how he would feel if some stranger were doing these things to her, while you weren’t around.

  • From Belgium

    April 20, 2010 at 3:22 am

    The behaviour of your cousin is not alright. I agree with everyone else that you and your daughter must have a big talk and that Creepy Carl needs to know you are on to him. My mother had some nasty expierences as a young woman (she was not a child but it made such an impression on her that she never forgot) and so she ‘schooled’ me from a young age. I – unfortunately- also had a nasty expierence with a teacher (I was 11) and I can tell you that it started out exactly the same way, candy etc. Lucky, nothing damaging happend and I still thank my mother for giving me a thorough education in these matters.
    Also I think you need to burst the bubble that the rest of the family live in. Let them know you do not see the situation in the same light as they do. A 45 year old who acts the way Creepy Carl does is not acceptable. And if that means spending Christmas away from your husbands family, I would consider that a small price to pay for my daughters safety and sanity.
    I really, really, really do hope it pens out alright for you and your family.

  • Emily

    April 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Mother’s instinct seems dead on here – I would scoop up my son and RUN in the other direction!

  • Emily

    April 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Mother’s instinct seems dead on here – I would scoop up my son and RUN in the other direction!

  • Lisa M

    April 20, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Please don’t worry about protecting Creepy Carl’s feelings, or the family, for that matter.
    How they react is not your problem. Your problem is to protect your daughter.
    If you really don’t want to rock the boat and make accusations ( I totally get it, right now it’s warning bells and smoke signals), just start making new rules and see what happens. If anyone flagrantly ingnores the new rules, then you have a quantifiable reason to get aggressive.
    Because regardless of the fact that 57 of the 58 comments think that you are right to be concerned, there will always be a Jaymee who thinks that behavior is OK. But is not OK, EVER, is ignoring a parent’s rules regarding their child.
    So, no more candy; the new rule is that family and friends must ask you FIRST if it’s ok to give treats.
    If a treat IS given (with permission from you, of course), there is no taking back. A gift is a gift, not a bribe.
    No more tickle wars; the new rule is that if Gracie wanted to tickle the creep, she would have already. Three year olds don’t wait for an invitation.
    No more lack of supervision; new rule is that Gracie must be with you or her dad at all times. For whatever reason you want. Your child, you get to make the calls, without apologies or explanations. that’s just the new rule.
    I’m sure you get the picture. Take any behavior that makes you uncomfortable, and rule against it. If the family can’t be trusted to respect the new rules (and they won’t from the sounds of it); then you have just cause to suspend all visits.

  • Autumn

    April 20, 2010 at 11:07 am

    It CAN be perfectly normal for an uncle to just really love his niece but Creepy Carl’s behavior is disturbing. I literally was ill all day yesterday after reading this post. I understand that your husband may not want to admit or deal with this but someone has to. You HAVE to teach your daughter some boundaries. What if she is uncomfortable and tries to say “no” and C. C. tells her “well, if this was wrong, wouldn’t your parents say something? Would they let you be alone with me if they thought I was bad?” and that may sway your daughter’s thinking. Children trust their parents to protect them and your inaction could be used as a weapon against you and your child. I have no personal experience with abuse but I do have a daughter and I ALWAYS trust my instincts. And hers. They’re there for a reason. I can’t imagine being in your situation but you can’t let it go. Think in worst-case scenarios. What if you’re wrong? You hurt some feelings, maybe cause some family drama? What if you’re right? Your daughter will be changed forever and you will know you could have prevented it. Hurt feelings lose ANY AND ALL significance when compared to your daughters mental and physical health. Don’t let anyone talk you down. Protecting your daughter is your JOB.

  • Lisa

    April 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I’m not picking on you for having a contrasting opinion. But I think it’s important to note that some behaviors are acceptable, and some families have different expectations. your family doesn’t sound weird at all, really.
    What is weird is the deliberate acceleration that Creepy Carl is doing. Notice the mom didn’t complain that the creep “always kisses her on the mouth”. She complained about a new event. And the picture taking on the bed, seriously, WTF? Most adults don’t follow a little girl into a bedroom and then stay in there alone with her. And 3 year olds who are having fun don’t need to be invited to play tickle games.
    So it’s when you add these items together that you see the pattern. They are not innocuous when you look at the greater context.

  • J

    April 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    i know i’ve already commented but i wanted to add on to my thoughts. i do agree with jaymee and cagey that overall, holding/hugging/kissing children on the mouth (we’re not talking about tounge kissing, we’re talking about little pecks) is just general affection and love for that child. tickling and chasing around and playing with a child is harmless and no real cause of alarm. kids are so cute and squishy and lovey and bring so much joy to people, why wouldn’t someone want to make them laugh and feel loved and be silly with them. taking pictures to have memories? that’s sometimes all it really is. not everyone who looks at or has physical contact with a child wants to hurt them. i’m guessing other people (men included) have hugged/tickled/had your child on their lap and you didn’t get a bad feeling about their intentions. if you did then i’d say yes you’re over reacting. but your alarms are only going off with carl and his persistance at always being around gracie. the persistance of hugging and holding and physical contact when gracie has expressed she doesn’t want to. his shrinking away from adult interaction/conversation to always be around gracie, that’s the concern. those are concerns that should not be ignored or taken lightly by your husband, who should have your back. gracie is your child it’s your job as her mother to protect her from what YOU feel is not ok. you should not be made to feel that you can’t control who’s doing what to her. but, if gracie says “i like playing with carl he’s funny/silly/happy” then you need to respect that as well and just let her know it’s ok for her to “take a break” from carl when she wants. and if that means never letting them have a moment alone to ensure it doesn’t go beyond basic physical contact/child’s play/affection, then so be it.

  • Pamela

    April 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Jaymee, all families are different, and in your family, everyone kisses your son on. the. mouth. and that’s not distressing to you because it’s the norm. No one is suggesting YOUR family is composed entirely of pedophiles.
    I hope you can see that your husband’s mother kissing her grandson on the mouth is very different from someone’s unmarried, childless, socially awkward cousin who lives in the basement kissing his second cousin on the mouth.
    That’s your son’s grandma, she’s raised a child, and you’re all okay with it.
    And this is her second cousin who she sees three times a year, who follows her around, snapping photos, trying to get her alone — and if you read the letter, no one was okay with the kiss on the mouth, even though they didn’t call him on it in any serious or effective way.
    I am sure your family is full of love and wants only the best for your son. Don’t let that one detail — kissing. on. the. mouth. — distract you from the real story here.
    Obviously, families can shower a child with love and affection and candy and presents and kisses without something more sinister being at play. This is different.

  • Marnie

    April 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    One word: Ewwww. That was really hard for me to read. The tickling thing? wrong, wrong, wrong.
    I agree with others who have said it’s important that both C.C. and your daughter – oh, and your husband – understand this isn’t acceptable, especially to you. There are ways to do this that travel along the subtlety scale. I would likely start at the midline, but you may have to get less and less subtle, and I’d escalate quickly if you don’t get the reaction you want. Things like saying loudly “But Carl, our gifts to you don’t come with srings like that. If she doesn’t want to kiss you today she’s allowed to say no.” “Gosh, Carl, why are you in here with her all by yourself. We should all be together out here.” Start drawing loud attention to what he’s doing and the fact that you don’t like it.
    I really hope you’re able to get your husband on board by asking how he’d feel if it was someone outside the family doing those things. If not, make him read the articles that have been posted here. I’m really surprised your husband is acting so nonchalantly about this.
    Honestly? I’d probably start planning out of town vacations during the holidays. “Gosh, sorry, we already bought those airline/train tickets / friends are expecting us. Have fun without us!”
    And, please, please update us soon.

  • amy

    April 20, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I think you need an ally – ideally that would be your husband, but it sounds like he’s not quite there yet. Do you have a friend who it would not seem too strange to bring with you to family gatherings? Maybe someone single who you could claim needed somewhere to go for the holiday? My best friend was there when my daughter was born, we celebrate some holidays together already, in your shoes I would absolutely ask her to come with me to Christmas/Thanksgiving/etc with the job of not letting my daughter out of her sight. You need someone to have your back/your daughter’s back, and maybe a girlfriend would get this in a way your husband doesn’t.

  • kelly

    April 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    @jaymee, and possibly in response to objections from the OP’s in-laws: it’s not just the kissing on the mouth, or the pictures, or the presents and treats. Any or all of these could be okay, I agree, but in this case, they aren’t. It’s the combination of the kissing and other physical contact with his obsessive focus on Gracie, his attempts to get her alone, and his manipulation using treats and attention. It’s not just Creepy Carl’s actions, it’s their tone, and most importantly it’s the OP’s Mama Bear alarm bells. If someone kissed my daughter on the mouth, took pictures of her, or gave her lots of presents, that might be fine. But it wouldn’t be fine if any of it made me feel the way this mom is feeling.

  • nonny

    April 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Yourr daughters safety is paramount! Screw the consequences, you do what you have to and do it now!

  • pbblythe

    April 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Deep breath.
    You are right and he is wrong.
    Not because of secret knowledge that he may not have, but because it is ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry. And in this, the safety, security and emotional well being of a child wins over the safety, security and emotional well being of a grown up. Every time. Thank goodness we have reached this pinnacle of evolution.
    I understand that different families have different cultural acceptances (kiss on the mouth vs. cheek vs. a wave hello) but the fact is that Creepy is trending in a bad way. It isn’t just kisses, it is dealing for favors, and seeking of alone-time during family gathering. It isn’t fair that the family expect your child to consent to this behavior because it keeps everyone happy. You aren’t happy, and I am betting your daughter isn’t either.
    I believe Leila has it right. By approaching the family in a non-confrontational manner, and placing it under the notion of teaching the child, it creates a moral imperative for them to agree. If they do not, then you have every right to choose to spend any and every holiday in a place which respects your parental decisions and your child’s safety.
    Do not let your babies alone with this man. Don’t expect sudden realization on anyone else in the family’s part either. All they need to do is to acquiesce to your position as your daughter’s advocate.
    Good luck and much support from this corner.

  • Christen

    April 20, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Well, sounds like I’m just adding to the chorus of “trust your gut” and talk to your husband here, but strength in numbers, right?
    And Jaymee, it’s not a simple of issue of “society says it’s not cool to kiss on the mouth” since Concerned has clearly observed behaviors that go beyond affection among family members. If her instincts tell her something is weird – even if by society’s standards everything is fine – she should roll with them.

  • Ms. K

    April 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

    @Jaymee, and everyone else who commented on her post
    Different families are different, and different cultures can be WAY different (I will never forget how surprised I was the first time I saw a random Turkish man pick up a stray child with a family that had just gotten on the bus. The man affectionately held the little boy on his lap while the mother wrangled an infant and a bunch of packages. It was totally normal because in Turkey, everyone loves kids – all kids not just their own – and they don’t have the same pedophile fear that we do.)
    BUT. Big but. In Turkey, and Jaymee’s family, and anywhere else that adult men are affectionate with children, it is okay as long as everyone is ok with it. If the kid doesn’t like it, or the mom gets weird vibes, or the man is creepy, then it is NOT OK.
    In this case the man is creepy, the mom is getting weird vibes and the kid is Definitely Not OK with it. All clear signs that this situation is NOT OK.

  • kaelak

    April 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Check the National Sex Offender Database: and do some internet research on Creepy Carl – you may find something that will convince your hubby.
    But even if you don’t, TRUST YOUR INTUITION and INSIST that Gracie is safe and protected. It’s your job, mama bear.

  • Adrienne

    April 22, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Oh god, I feel sick to my stomach after reading this. This is the most terrifying thing I have ever read on this site. I sincerely hope the OP prints out Amy’s response and shows it to her husband and convinces him that it is very likely that there is something very wrong with this situation.
    (And then I hope she provides us with a follow-up to let us know that either her husband is convinced and agrees to do something about it, or that she left his dumb ass and took her daughter to another state (and I am not even kidding), because until then I’m going to lose sleep worrying about this little girl.)
    There’s a book called ‘The Gift of Fear’ that talks about how important our intuition is in helping to keep us safe from violence. There’s a Q&A with the author that provides more detail (a small portion of which I’ve quoted below) on the Amazon page here:
    “It might be hard to accept its importance because intuition is often described as emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable. Husbands chide their wives about “feminine intuition” and don’t take it seriously. …
    “Men, of course, have their own version of intuition, not so light and inconsequential, they tell themselves, as that feminine stuff. Theirs is more viscerally named a “gut feeling,” but whatever name we use, it isn’t just a feeling. It is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation.”

  • Joy

    April 22, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Strength in numbers…trust your gut!! Let the mama bear out of the cage because you do not want to have “what ifs” or “if only” later in life. This is a situation that better safe than sorry is an understatement. I know that we want to maintain peace in our families, but not at the expense of our children. Your job is to do what is best for YOUR family, YOUR children, not to keep the peace at any cost. Prayers for you!

  • stacy

    April 22, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Ugh, you have my sympathies.
    My mom refused to leave me alone with my paternal grandfather. I didn’t know this until I was a teenager and my parents were in a messy divorce and all the past got spewed out in front of us kids.
    She thought he was creepy. My father did not. She found him alone with me in a laundry room.
    I was never out of her sight when he was around ever again.
    I have no memory of abuse, of candy, of tickling — none of that stuff.
    My mom didn’t like the guy. I was never alone with him.

  • Kim

    April 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Refuse to take your children to any more family get-togethers. Have Thanksgiving with friends instead. Never, ever go back there.

  • cagey (Kelli Oliver George)

    April 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I think Lisa hit it on the head regarding pedophiles with her line “They usually pick one particular person out of the crowd. Adults who pay more attention to the kids than the adults need to be watched very closely. It’s one of the prime behaviors of a pedophile. Even if these behaviors from Cal goes no further than it already has, this little girl is learning inappropriate boundaries regarding what she should have to tolerate….”
    Yep. Yes. Absolutely. My own creepy uncle preferred to hang out with us kids, he was our buddy. The same “buddy” who was constantly trying to get my sister and me into rooms by ourselves. And that? Is where I am concerned with the situation we are discussing.
    Yes, my own husband is an affectionate uncle, he comes from a culture (India) that prizes children and he grew up with a very big Catholic family – there were no babysitters, no concept of “date night”. Everything was about families and kids were always invited to parties. So, yes – he is very affectionate with my nieces and nephews, simply because he is comfortable with kids. But he is still hanging out with the ADULTS, not hanging out in rooms, alone.
    My point is that affection ALONE is not an indicator and this was my main concern with Creepy Carl – his desire to be alone with her COUPLED with direct efforts (candy, gifts) to get her special attention and favor.
    Seriously folks, I had a ton of uncles growing up and most of them were very affectionate with me (actually, my son’s middle name honors my favorite great-uncle.) But of all my uncles? Only ONE tried to lure me away from the pack. Guess which one.
    Sadly, uncles tend to get a really bad rap in this day and age.
    GREAT discussion, by the way.

  • N

    April 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    You know it sounds like a crappy marriage anyway if your husband makes you spend every holiday with these losers and gets mad when you show concern for your child. I’d say tell your husband you and your daughter are no longer attending any event where this cousin is present