Integrating Compassion with the Wisdom of God’s Word


The purpose of Aunt Dara’s Christian Advice Column is to glorify God by addressing human needs with compassion and the wisdom of God’s word.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Trying to Keep Peace in the Family by Keeping Secrets

Dear Aunt Dara, 

I'm praying about this and know things will work out but, I could really use some additional advice.  I'm 17 years old and have been dealing with my parents divorce since I was 5.  My parents have a really extreme divorce case where they have been in and out of court constantly for 12 years.  I'm sure in some lawyer’s office practically my whole childhood is documented.  Recently I was using my dad's computer and I accidentally saw that he had been looking at very vulgar pornography.  I quickly turned away but I saw some pretty mentally scaring things.  Since he is my dad and also a father to three daughters I felt disgusted, confused, upset, and angry that he could do such a thing.  It wasn't a one-time thing either.  There have been many times where he has forgotten to wipe the history and so it showed those websites when I opened a new tab.  Since this whole thing is highly upsetting and extremely awkward, I obviously didn't want to confront him about it.  So I tried to forget about it and I did a pretty good job, until it started happening more frequently and the images got more vulgar.  So one day when I was alone in the car with my mom, I told her about it.  It was really bothering me and I wanted to talk about it and try to make sense of it all.  I made her promise not to use it against him in court, and to not tell anyone about it.  

She didn't say anything to anyone until a few weeks later when my younger sister (15 years old) said something to my mom about it.  Then my mom was extremely concerned that my other younger sister (12 years old) would see it too by accident.  So without telling me she emailed my dad.  She was very vague in her email and told him that if he had anything inappropriate or unsettling on his computer that he should be careful about hiding it so that we didn’t see anything.  She told him she wouldn't use it in court and not to mention it to any of us.  However, the first thing he did upon receiving this email was call my 12-year-old sister and ask her about the email my mom sent him.  She had no idea what he was talking about so she answered honestly that she didn't know.  After that call my mom told my 15-year-old sister and me that she had sent an email to my dad and what it said.  We were upset because we felt our trust was betrayed, but as time wore on I was less upset about it.  

Part of me wants this to be fixed and for him to know that what he's doing is disgusting and wrong and devaluing other people's daughters.  However, that is not a conversation I want to have with him. Then a couple days later when I was on the phone with him he asked me if I found anything at his house that I was mad or upset about.  I had to respond quickly and I had no idea what to do, so I did something terrible and I lied.  I told him no.  He asked, "Are you sure?"  I replied, “Yes.”  I felt awful to have sinned and lied, but I still have no idea what the proper way to handle that situation would have been.  He also asked me not to tell my mom that he asked me that question.  I want to tell her, but I don't think it would be productive.  I just need advice.  I'm also torn about whether to do anything or not.  This is an issue that has always been close to my heart and I'm passionate about it.  So, it just bothers me to my core that my own father could do something like this and I am doing nothing to stand up against it.  How should I handle this the way God would want me to?  I really don't want this all to blow up in my face, but doing nothing is eating away at me.  Thank you for taking time out to read this it means a lot to me.

Upset and clueless 

Dear Upset and Clueless,

Hopefully your parents will have worked this issue out between themselves.  However, you have asked for additional advice from me, and I do have some advice for you and your sisters. You and your sisters should never have become involved in your parents' divorce, their apparent on-going animosity toward each other, and their continuous court battles.  That your parents have placed you and your sisters in this situation is both harmful and wrong.  You and your sisters are NOT responsible for keeping peace between your parents.  You are not responsible for fixing this or any other situation with your parents with which you have become involved.  You should resolve from this day forward to refuse to be used as a go-between, an advocate, or a peacemaker between your parents.  You and your sisters should never be placed in a position where you are pitting one parent against the other or made to feel as if you are being disloyal to one parent or the other.  This means that you should never be made to testify in court against one of your parents, nor should you be placed in a position where you are managing the responsibility for any evidence that one of your parents could use against the other.

As a psychotherapist, I work with a treatment team that consists of myself, the psychiatrist, the nurse, and the case manager.  I tell my clients when they come in for therapy that what they tell me during sessions is confidential, but with limitations.  I am mandated to report some things, such as child abuse or neglect.  I tell them that if they are suicidal or homicidal, nothing they tell me is confidential at that point because I will reveal whatever is necessary to assure their safety or the safety others.  Then I let them know that I work on a treatment team and I say, "I do not keep secrets from the treatment team.  Anything that is important for other members of the treatment team to know, I will tell them, so don't even ask me not to."  I tell you this because there is a difference between keeping things confidential and keeping secrets.  The things that you and your family members are trying to keep from other family members are examples of keeping secrets.

Secrecy is very unhealthy and damaging to relationships, especially family relationships.  While reading your letter, it strikes me that this situation could have been nipped in the bud if you had been honest with your dad the very first time that you saw porn on his computer, if you had told him what you saw and how you felt about it, and if you had asked him to take measures to prevent this from happening again.  Hopefully, by now your father has been alerted that his secret sin is no longer secret, and he has repented, or at the very least is doing something to protect his daughters, such as not letting his daughters use his computer or getting a different computer for his daughters to use.  In any case, you should stop participating in family secrecy.  You should let both parents know that from this day forward you will no longer keep things secret from the other parent, and you need to stop asking them to keep secrets.

God bless,
Aunt Dara