Question: I am divorced and my son who is 6 yrs. old spends time with his dad either every other weekend sometimes more if he has special things/events to do. Recently, my 6 year old told me he still takes showers with his father. Who is 42 years old. His father is 6’3″ and my son is maybe 4’11”. And I can’t see for any reason why this is necessary in a small shower stall. I personally don’t like it and expressed that to his father. And asked him to stop. Is this normal or not. And what can I do. Please help me with this dilemma. A Concerned Single Mother
Answer: I can understand your nervousness about what occurs between your son and his father when you are not there. After parents divorce, there is a new mystery world around the child that the other parent cannot see. I think you are asking much deeper questions like: Is my son safe? Is his father mature and responsible? Can I trust my son’s father to raise our son when he is with him? It’s hard enough to “let go” of our expectations when everyone lives in the same house. It’s enormously difficult when parents live in separate houses and they already disagree about other things. But it’s not impossible.
Parents often disagree about nudity and co-showering. There is nothing intrinsically harmful about dad and son showering together as long as it seems easy and natural to both of them. It may simply be part of their daily routine just as two people would stand side-by-side brushing teeth.
I suspect that people’s bathroom habits are completely idiosyncratic – one person’s normal is another person’s gross. That’s why rules about privacy are so important to create boundaries about what’s ok in one home that may not be ok in another home. Unless of course, you felt your son was in some sort of danger from inappropriate touching or language. You should not assume that your son is in danger because he showers with his dad. But if you have those kinds of suspicions, you should keep your eyes and ears open and, by all means, speak up and take action.
I would caution you about creating suspicions in your son that he didn’t feel on his own. You can explore your son’s reactions to the showering with a little subtlety. You do not want your son to think less of his father should you be mistaken. Be available to listen to your son when he returns from visits with dad. Is he having fun? Are they building a caring relationship? Does he look forward to seeing his father again or does he seem to want to avoid time alone with him? Children are very good at letting us know what is happening in their lives if it is safe to talk about anything.
You do want your son to express feelings of discomfort if they arise. Your role is to listen and to help your son clarify his feelings. Then direct him to communicate with his father. The primary communication about this subject should be between dad and son. If your son is unhappy about the way something happens at dad’s house, he needs to learn how to tell dad himself. It may take weeks of trial-and-error to learn to be effective.
You may, however, communicate your concerns constructively by asking your ex-husband for the reassurance you need. It takes time to rebuild trust after the stress of divorce. In an ideal world you want to be able to support one another in your different parenting styles with understanding and appreciation. Your son’s well being rises with the level of mutual respect between his parents.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.