Letting Go of Family Secrets: Transitioning Into Tomorrow

Dear Visible Man,

An incident happened recently that’s turned my family upside down.   My father told me that my daughter (his granddaughter) stole money from his wallet during a recent visit, and after looking into it, it’s clear that she did indeed steal the money.

I am shocked.  I can’t understand why my 23 year old daughter would not only steal, but steal from her grandfather who worshiped and doted upon her. I am horrified. I can still hear the pain in his voice as informed me.  I have offered to replace the money that was stolen, but he doesn’t want it.

Instead, he’s asked that I don’t mention this to anyone else (especially her mother) or confront my daughter regarding her actions, but he has also decided to ban her from his residence.  I love my child, but I am disgusted, angry, and ashamed that she would steal from a family member.

I am having difficulty maintaining this family secret, because she acts as if she got away with what she did.   How do you suggest that I handle this?  Do I insist that she apologize to the family and specifically to her grandfather?  Or, do I treat this as a no harm, no foul and just let it go?

Bewildered Parent, Renton WA

Dear Bewildered Father,

I appreciate your willingness to write about what has to be a difficult issue for you and your family.  No doubt you feel caught in the middle– as much as you are protective and concerned about your aged parent, you feel the same way about your daughter.

First, a few questions:

  • Why are you and her grandfather engaging in a conspiracy of secrecy regarding your daughter’s inappropriate and criminal behavior?


  • Are there mixed messages in banning her from her grandfather’s residence but refusing to communicate why she is being banned? Is the goal for your daughter to figure it out on her own?
  • Why are you feeling shame for her actions and behavior? What role did you play in your daughter’s decision to steal from her grandfather?
  • Why would you expect your daughter to behave as an adult when you and her grandfather continue to parent her as a child or adolescent?

It’s clear that both you and her grandfather are emotionally wounded by her actions. As a result, this is the time to confront the behaviors and actions she has chosen.  Although you and her grandfather may be willing to forgive and move forward, it is important for her to understand that society at large is not as forgiving as family and will respond very differently.

When confronting the behaviors and actions she has taken, I would suggest a cognitive-behavioral approach that is based on “reality outcomes.” A model that focuses on this is “Four Stages of RACE in the Journey of Self Discovery.”  It is important her to understand that society will hold her to the following standards:

  • Responsibility-The individual must want to accept the burden of being responsible for his/her well-being.
  • Accountability-The individual and no one else is answerable for his/her actions.
  • Consequences-are reactions and responses (not punishment) for what the individual does or does not.
  • Empowerment-Comes from within; the individual must want to his/her direction in order to achieved the desired goals and objectives

You should seek to eliminate the secrecy as well as remove yourself (feelings of shame/disgust) from the equation.  Encourage open dialogue within the family regarding the incident.  Encourage her grandfather as well as yourself to share with your daughter the emotional impact of what she did on the family.

The Gift of an Apology

Should an individual be told, directed or forced to apologize for behaviors and actions that have wounded another?  I say no.  An apology can only be given as a “gift” of regret or remorse that is extended to another.

An apology serves as an acknowledgement of the impact of one’s actions, a desire to atone for that impact, and also the attainment of the “Four Stages of RACE in the Journey of Self Discovery.”  This acknowledgement, atonement, and attainment of the four stages must come from within the individual and not be derived or directed externally from a third party or individual not directly involved in the wounding behavior/action.

In closing, I would encourage you to see yourself as a “father”, instead of a “parent”.  As you seek to assist your daughter to transition from late adolescence to young adulthood, it is also time for you to empower your psychological self to transition from the role of “parent” to that of “father.”

Hold to your beliefs that you have provided your daughter with a solid foundation.  It is now up to her to move forward into a world and society that has larger demands, expectations and consequences for choices and decisions made.

You will always be daddy, but now, it is time for you to step aside into the role of advocate, bystander, and consultant.  You will always be concerned for her and fear for her safety and success. However, you must make the choice to live with that fear—that is, to proceed forward and prepare for what may come—instead of living in fear—that is, halting her progress and yours by being afraid of what may come. In the former, you embrace your fear; in the latter, you fight it. And, since fear is a part of you, you only succeed in fighting yourself when you fight fear.

It is in this transition that you must want to choose whether to continue to live in fear or seek to learn how to live with fear.  Fear is here. Forever.  Learn to embrace your fear.

The Visible Man

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