Is my boyfriend attracted to my daughter?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have such an uncomfortable feeling about my boyfriend. My boyfriend and I have been together for over ten years and we have a one year old son together. I came into the relationship with a young daughter which he accepted but never really became close to. Recently, I have such an uncomfortable feeling that my boyfriend might be attracted to my fifteen year old daughter. I have never felt like this before and don’t understand why I feel this way now, but a few things that he has said and done over the years has really stuck in my head and now that my daughter is becoming a woman I am worried.

When he and I started dating my boyfriend told me a” joke” about a pedophile taking a little girl into the woods. He laughed; I don’t know if he laughed because he thought it was funny or because it was awkward since I was just looking at him. I couldn’t believe this guy I was dating for a short time; one who knew I had a young daughter would tell me such a joke. A couple of years later he was telling me about a guy he worked with who was charged and registered with child molestation for abusing his step daughter. My boyfriend said it wasn’t the guy’s fault, that it was the girls. When I asked him about this later he says he didn’t say that, but that’s what the guy said. Another time my boyfriend made a comment about something like “old enough to go alone to the store, old enough for a pounding” (something like that, but not 100% sure), but I had asked him if that’s how guys really think, but he wouldn’t answer me.

Recently when the two of us were at a party some friends of ours asked about “our” daughter (she refers to him as dad, and he refers to her as his daughter since her father isn’t in the picture), he answered quickly saying “She is trouble, nothing but trouble” I was surprised because she wasn’t’ getting into any trouble at home or school, didn’t have a boyfriend or interest in boys. Another time a friend of ours made a comment about my daughters recently new hair color which was similar to mine and my boyfriend said how when he saw her from a distance and thought she was me and was like WOW! Then our friend said something like how is she doing and my boyfriend said again she is trouble! I was curious what he meant by this comment since it made no sense to me and he had said it twice. When I asked him what he meant he said she is a cute kid that will get a lot of guys, but then said “but I guess we don’t need to worry about that”. Recently he has told her a few times that she should color her hair the same as mine when he and I first met.

Over the years it has bothered me that my boyfriend and daughter aren’t that close, when asking him why he would say “I don’t want you to think I was putting the moves on her. Now he is always asking why doesn’t she want to go anywhere with us, why does she always stay in her room, and why doesn’t she talk to me. I have checked in with my daughter over the years asking her about abuse and she has said nothing has happened. But I just get such an uncomfortable feeling when she walks around in just a towel or low cut shirt or short shorts. Because now I think he might think she is flirting with him or “asking for it” because of the comments he has made. I worry that he might think she is “trouble” because she feels comfortable wearing normal teenage clothes around him, and that she might get him in trouble. I don’t see him looking at her or checking her out so I really don’t understand why now I think this, but the things I have listed really have stuck in my head and bother me. Also, I hate my daughter wearing that stuff, I hate to think of grown men looking at her and thinking of her as a sex object. I don’t know how to address this with my boyfriend because he is not one that likes to talk but really feel like I need answers.

A: The uncomfortable truth is that many men feel attracted to their teenage daughters as they blossom into womanhood. Biological fathers generally, but not always, are appropriately concerned about it. Some distance themselves from their daughters, much to the confusion of the girls who wonder what they’ve done to cause such rejection. Most dads find a way to appreciate and delight in their daughter’s maturing and support her in learning how to relate well with boyfriends. To support this, many parents adjust some rules of dress and conduct in the house to emphasize the boundaries between parents and their emerging adolescents. It’s only appropriate, for example, for a daughter to stop sitting on her dad’s lap, for the dad to kiss her only on the cheek, and for everyone to put on a bathrobe instead of walking around in a towel. Doing such things is just a way to underline that the child is growing up. (The same is true for mothers and sons.)

Things sometimes get more complicated when the parent is not biologically related. If his boundaries aren’t clear, a stepdad or a mother’s boyfriend may rationalize that a “daughter” isn’t really related so the incest taboo doesn’t apply. It does, of course. It isn’t blood lines that determine boundaries. It is the relationship with the mother and the age of the child.

Like you, I’m concerned about your boyfriend’s periodic throw-away comments about pedophilia, especially the story where it looks like he agreed that it was a child’s fault that she was molested. We may be making too much out of it. But such comments are at the very least insensitive and at most may indicate some lack of clarity about his role in your daughter’s life. When he says she is “trouble,” he may be saying that he is having troubling feelings he doesn’t quite know how to handle.

When in doubt about such things, the best thing to do is to confront it directly. Find a quiet time to air your concerns. Don’t accuse or blame or confront. Instead, let him know that you understand that having a daughter in the house who is coming of age is challenging for many dads; that many men are stimulated by having a sexy young girl walking around the home – even though they know full well that she is totally off limits. Ask if there is anything the two of you need to do to help make sure that both he and your daughter stay safe during this difficult transition. The two of you might come up with some clear rules, for example, about what is appropriate for her to wear at home. To further keep things clear emphasize how she is her own person with her own look and that she shouldn’t be urged to look as you once did. Do take an honest look at your own reaction to how she dresses and men’s reactions to her. It is possible that you are overreacting somewhat to your boyfriend’s comments because you feel so protective of your little girl. No one can fault you for that. But do think about it and perhaps talk to your boyfriend about that aspect of your concern as well.

It’s important to talk with your daughter about sexuality and boundaries in a way that doesn’t make her feel ashamed or blamed. Help her understand that she’s a young woman now and that regardless of her feelings about her right to wear what she wants when she wants, that there are people who might misinterpret her mode of dress. You’re not alone in thinking that current fashion is a challenge. But the kids are going to follow the trends. Our challenge as moms is to help our kids find clothes that are stylish and that let them express themselves but that don’t send the wrong message. You’re certainly not the only mom who is struggling with that issue.

You are asking important questions. Approaching the issues calmly and directly with both your boyfriend and your daughter will go a long way toward keeping everyone safe.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Is my boyfriend attracted to my daughter?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/07/01/is-my-boyfriend-attracted-to-my-daughter/

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