Dear Bundoo: My mother-in-law shames my daughter!
This week in Dear Bundoo, one mom wants to know how to get her mother-in-law to stop shaming her toddler, while another mom worries about a genetic disease her husband just told her runs in his family.
Our 3-year-old recently “discovered” herself, if you know what I mean. I’m OK with this because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, and it’s obviously not sexual. The problem is my mother-in-law. She raised my husband not to ever “touch himself down there” and says that it’s a sin and weakness. She lives nearby, so she’s at our house a lot, and it’s really becoming a problem for me. If she sees my daughter touch herself, she’ll give her a lecture that it’s a bad thing to do and “good girls” would never do that. She says that “church people” never touch themselves and that it’s a sin. I usually just tell my daughter to go into her room for private time, but if my mother-in-law is over, it always becomes a fight. My husband is basically useless here—she raised him, and he doesn’t see how unhealthy this is. What can I tell him and my mother-in-law to get them to understand that they’re doing more damage by shaming our daughter than just letting this stage pass?
— Frustrated with Mother-In-Law
You are correct: this is a completely normal behavior. Children start exploring all aspects of their bodies at this age, sometimes younger. What is not so age appropriate, however, is the concept of privacy, but it can be taught. Punishment and shame can send a very strong negative message that her body is bad. It can also make the behavior more tempting, which could exacerbate your problem. You can assure your husband and mother-in-law there is nothing sexual about this behavior. When you see her with her hands near her genitals, you can ask her if she needs to go the bathroom—some toddlers hold themselves when they feel the urge. If you know this is not the case, you can simply redirect her attention. Take her hand away and give her something else to do. Be sure to talk to her about privacy and appropriate public behaviors. Explain there are things people shouldn’t see you do, just like we don’t pick our nose, point or even pee in public. This kind of conversation will be ongoing through parenting.
I recently found out that my husband’s family has a disease called polycystic kidney disease. I’d never heard of it until he told me about it, but he says it’s a genetic disease that causes kidney problems. His uncle and aunt both have it, but he’s never told me before. I’m really angry with him for keeping this from me. It feels like a huge problem that he hid a genetic disease from me. But when I got angry, he said he never told me before because it didn’t matter, that because he doesn’t have it, there’s no chance that our kids have it. Is that even possible? We have a 4-year-old and now I’m worried that I need to take her in for genetic testing to see if she has this disease. What do you think? Should I have her tested? And is my husband right, that our kids can’t have it because he doesn’t have it? If our daughter gets sick with this, I don’t know how I could forgive him.
Dear Feeling Betrayed,
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a disorder of the kidney in which the kidneys develop fluid-filled cysts that can increase in number, eventually compromising kidney function in one or both kidneys. According to the National Kidney Foundation, PKD is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure. The cysts usually begin to develop after the age of 30 to 40, and about half of those people will go on to develop kidney failure in their 60s.
PKD can be genetic or acquired, meaning it can be passed down or develop from some other reason. In the case of genetics, it can be passed down by a dominant gene from one parent or from two recessive genes, one from each parent. Without knowing your husband’s age and medical history, I cannot know for sure if he does not have PKD. However, if he does not, then unless you are an additional carrier of the recessive PKD gene, you cannot transmit it along to your child.
If he has not been evaluated and is over the age of 30, then sending him for a yearly physical exam and asking for a renal ultrasound will help put this debate to rest. There is no simple test for your daughter. A complex gene linkage analysis requires blood tests from at least three family members to determine her risk. It is much easier to test your husband, and if he does not have PKD, then neither will she.
— Answered by Dr. Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Bundoo Pediatrician
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