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.