Friend has son massage her feet: Is this a form of child abuse?

by Chaz
(Florida, USA)

This is an issue that bothers me. Can't find the answer on the Internet. My friend has her 10-year-old son rub her feet when they are sore. She has done it so often that her son will just do it if he sees that she is sore. She also likes it when he scratches her back. Other thing is, she is still bathing her 6-year-old son. She is a good mother and it is probably nothing. I guess why it brings so much attention to me is: Her stepfather was a covert molester. Raised her more as a wife than a daughter.

Reply from Darlene: On the surface, what this mother is doing would not necessarily by definition be considered child abuse. Furthermore, many would look upon what she is doing as harmless to the child. However, I do not subscribe to that mindset.

The expectations this mother has of her 10-year-old son (rubbing her sore feet, scratching her back) are more indicative of a nurturing spouse than they are of a young child. In my opinion, what this mother is doing is inappropriate for a number of reasons.

The remainder of my answer to this Ask Darlene question "Friend has children massage her feet: Is this a form of child abuse?" can be found at Comments below this submission. Depending on system activity, there are sometimes delays in comments going live on my site; but rest assured, they do eventually appear. So if you don't yet see them, I hope you will return later to read what I, and possibly others, have written. I thank you for your patience and understanding.

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Comments for Friend has son massage her feet: Is this a form of child abuse?

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Jul 29, 2008
Inappropriate, but not necessarily child abuse by definition...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

This mother's expectations can lead to, if they haven't ALREADY led to, a blurring or crossing of relationship boundaries: this boy is her son, not her partner. Such blurred or crossed boundaries can lead to a variety of maladjustments for this boy:
  1. The fact that her son willingly and, without being asked, automatically rubs her sore feet, has sent the message to the boy that this is what a "good son" does for his mother. This morphs the parent-child dynamic into one that is parent-partner. If he hasn't already learned, this boy WILL learn that he can manipulate his mother by providing "soothing" services. The scope of such behavioural characteristics is not possible to address within the limitations of this thread. Volumes have been written about such manipulative behaviours, and how they follow well into pubescence and adulthood.

  2. There is a "male-female" dynamic that if not already present, may well BE present as he develops and matures. This dynamic can very easily have an adverse impact on his pubescent years, as well as how he relates to others his age, both male and female.

  3. She may have set him up for, BE setting him up for, or she may have already created sexual fetishes in him; fetishes that he could suffer a lifetime of struggles with.
As for this mother continuing to bathe her 6-year-old son, there simply isn't enough information for me to provide a reply to this situation. What I can offer is what generally happens when children become aware of their bodies. Top of the list: they will request, even demand, that they be allowed to bathe themselves. If parents refuse such a request, self-esteem and embarrassment issues arise, as well as issues of appropriate vs. inappropriate touches; the child learns that s/he cannot say "no" and that s/he does not have control over what happens to his/her body. This can set the child up for future sexual abuse.

Of course, it is a parent's responsibility to ensure their child is safe while bathing and toileting, so parents are forced to balance the independent needs of the child with that of their safety. This is where compromise and negotiation can be used quite effectively, as long as it is done keeping in mind the child's age and stage of development.

As good a mother as you believe your friend to be, I believe she needs to learn the boundaries of healthy mother-son relationships. She needs to understand that her 10-year-old son cannot and should not be placed into a parent-partner role, and why he shouldn't be. She may also need to learn that her youngest son needs some independence in his life. I sincerely hope that you are a close enough friend to be able to gently bring this to light for her.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Jul 29, 2008
Not at all
by: Anonymous

I don't think that this is a form of child abuse. I do the same thing for may mom when she is sore. I just think of it as a nice and helpful thing to do for her. As for the bathing part. I have a six year old brother as well sometimes my parents bathe him and some times me or my older brother do. Its only to make sure that he bathes correctly. Its perfectly normal.

Jul 31, 2008
by: Anonymous

i think this is all normal me nad my mum love havin r feet rubbed and r backs scrathed it really runs in the family. my mum always asks me to rubher feet but as i hate rouchin feet and refuse and end of! lol i think its nice she still has baths with her son its probally more not wantin to let go of his child hood

Aug 10, 2008
Darlene's Perceptions
by: Suzanne

Are just that, your perceptions and opinions.

However, my opinions and perceptions will vary from yours also.

The bathing issue? I don't know too many 6 year olds that bathe properly and come out clean all of the time. So, this is a non-issue.

Last time I checked I couldn't scratch my own back. If one of my chidren is available to scratch it then they do! As for the the foot rubs, we don't share that task in this household. However, sometimes we give each other mini-back rubs.

Nowhere is it written that a partner does certain things, and children other. There is nothing sexual going on and no abuse of any kind from what you are talking about.

***Edited as inappropriate by Darlene Barriere - Webmaster***

Note to Suzanne: While our perceptions and opinions do vary on this issue (and I believe you should read again what I actually wrote about the bathing issue), please refrain from being offensive toward the person who wrote the query.

Aug 16, 2008
Have a question?
by: Anonymous

Note from Darlene to Anonymous: While I can appreciate that you would like me to reply to your question, I have had to temporarily suspend this feature in order to focus my time on other related website projects. This particular thread is reserved specifically for the question identified above; I have therefore deleted your post. I thank you for your understanding. In the meantime, if you suspect abuse going on within the family you identified in your post, I urge you to contact your local child protection agency to report your suspicions.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Jun 20, 2009
I agree with Darlene
by: Helen


I am a psychologist by profession and I agree with Darlene here.

We have to be very careful about the ways in which we treat our children as we could inadvertently adversely affect their psychological, emotional, spiritual and sexual development.

The person who has asked the question has raised the issue of covert abuse, as in treating a child as though they were your partner/spouse. This amounts to a form of emotional abuse. Yes emotional abuse might be more difficult to define and identify. However, evidence suggests that it can be highly detrimental to children and their development.

If during your childhood you are treated inappropriately as the parent or spouse of your parent/caretaker, then this can have all sorts of adverse effects. You effectively lose your own childhood, which becomes more about other people's issues and unmet needs (which they have not dealt with and are projecting inappropriately onto you), about fulfilling another or others' needs, rather than your own.

Some single parents can slip into these roles, i.e. they do not have a partner and make the child into their partner. Some do not have satisfactory marital relationships and try to make their child into their partner for this reason. Some try to make their partner into their parent because their parents were inadequate and these are the issues which they are projecting inappropriately onto the child.

Jun 20, 2009
I agree with Darlene (continued)

When any of these examples take place, a child's development is affected. They are inappropriately forced to take on a caretaker role, which gives them a number of messages:

1) I am not important enough to count. Others must always come before me. This can adversely affect self concept and self-esteem. It can also set a child up for abusive/exploitative relationships and experiences in the future. The child learns to take care of others at the expense of themselves - the needs of others must always come first, is the message.

2) It is acceptable for people to deal with their unmet issues by projecting them inappropriately onto others. This could lead to future patterns of abusive behaviour, either on the part of the child or from others to the child.

3) I cannot say no. If someone wants something from me then I have to fulfil their need. More potential for future abuse and exploitation.

4) Sexually, as Darlene says there could be unhelpful consequences. This might involve fetishes (e.g. possibly and obviously feet in this case) and/or issues of dominance/submissiveness and control. A child might carry anger with them and then act this out in unhelpful and even violent ways in the future. Evidence suggests that our sexual development is affected by early experiences and interactions with others.

5) Loss of the authentic self. As parents and caretakers our role is to assist children to connect with their authentic selves. We are all unique, we are all "mines rich in gems of inestimable value". Each person's gems are different and special and we should carefully nurture and help each child to develop their own unique potential. There should be a balance between meeting their own needs and the needs of others. (If things go too far the other way, i.e. their own needs are always placed first, then selfishness and arrogance could develop). Care should be taken not to project our own issues inappropriately onto children as this can damage them.

Obviously there is no such thing as the perfect parent. However, sensitivity, understanding and self awareness are needed, in order to strive to avoid doing damage to those who are looking to us for care and guidance. If we are in denial of these issues, then therein lies the danger. We need to educate ourselves and raise our levels of awareness and understanding, with a view to not passing our own issues onto children and being the best parents and caretakers we can be.

Jun 20, 2009
To Helen:
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Your comments are very well detailed and laid out, Helen. Very professional. Thank you for taking the time to reply here, and for such a great contribution to this site.

A Video Reading by Darlene Barriere
Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Feb 12, 2010
by: Nathan

I have Seen the same situation in most countries of the world. Even in my childhood I rubbed my mum's feet till she waches TV / till she sleeps, my aunt does the same to my cousins, after she is back from work she orders my little two cousins (cousin sis 5 & cousin bro 9 years old) to rub her feet till she having a nap. She tells to massage her right foot to cousin sis & massage her left foot to cousin bro. After massaging 30 min she awap the sides what my cousins work. They have to clean her shoes & slippers too.
This situation is normal, I don't think this is wired.

Apr 29, 2010
Harmful effects of massage
by: Anonymous

We had a very difficult situation in our family around an issue like this. Many years ago my brother-in-law was angry because "he wasn't getting enough sex" from my sister. His extreme outrage was obvious in their home so that the children (teen boy, preteen girl) knew all about it. After this had been going on for some time, I was visiting and the husband told me that he was feeling better because he and his daughter were giving each other full body massages each night after dinner. I didn't know what to say. This man had a huge temper and I didn't have the courage to confront him, and my sister was not open to discussing or intervening in this situation. So I did nothing except keep communication open as much as I could with the daughter. At one point I told my own adult daughter about what had happened. Two years later she went into therapy and told her therapist about this. The therapist said the situation needed to be reported to the authorities, and my daughter gave name/address of the young girl, who was dragged out of class and questioned about "what her father was doing to her." She became hysterical, the mother got called in, and the child protection worker let the family know that "a family member had reported the situation." When it became clear my daughter and I were the culprits, there y wouldn't speak to us for a very long time. This was very painful. The one good thing from all this is that the young girl came to understand there were serious boundary issues with her father. Now she is an adult who says she understands why we were alarmed about what was going on. A question that has perplexed me all this time: my brother-in-law comes from a Mediterranean culture that possibly accepts this kind of intimate behavior between father/daughter. He thought I was "sick" to think anything wrong was happening with him and his daughter. He still thinks that. Where's the line between cultural differences and pathology?

May 01, 2010
Massaging Legs,back and Butt
by: Anonymous

When a mother asks her adult member of the family or friend that is of the same sex to do this is it wrong? I honestly think that it is morally wrong.

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