Our Discussions

Advice on Child Abuse and Sexuality in America
1 (a mother)
I am unfortunately in the process of a divorce from a Persian man because the Department of Children's Services has accused him of abusing my children and we are no longer allowed to be together. I would still like to raise our children, son (9) and daughter (6) with knowledge of their Persian roots. They need to learn the language. Both children miss the food, dancing, stories, and celebrations. We would like to make friends with Persian families.
To be honest, I do not know if my husband is guilty or not of abusing our children. Although he is a very domineering man, I was proud of his devotion to our children.
I can tell you much about the Department of Children's Services. Our case has been open for ten months. I was strictly a non-offending parent until I started to question my husbands guilt. I told a social worker and my psychologist that my children told me that my mother was asking them questions and telling them things about the case, which was forbidden by the court. Consequently, my mother and DCFS collaborated fabricating a report in which they have stated that I have numerous mental and emotional problems and accused me of physically abusing the children. None of this came up in the ten months of the case, until I questioned my husbands guilt. They took my children away from me for four days. I have them back but must be in the system for another six months, with many restrictions and the threat of the children being removed once again. I am not allowed to have contact with any of our Persian family which has been painful for both children and myself.
It's a long story, but I can offer advice to parents. My mother-in-law is the one who started this case. She called to ask DCFS for advice. She's from Tehran and thought they would help. Instead, because she had ONCE spanked my daughter on the back of her feet with a belt and sent her to bed without dinner, now she is not allowed to ever see my children again. This is a woman that cared for the children lovingly for three years while I worked. Now they are accusing her of molesting my son and there have been "concerns" as is common with certain ignorant Americans, that the family would abduct the children and take them to Iran. It has gone so far that it was suggested that my husband and his mother were making pornographic videotapes together with my daughter when she was four. This is based on nothing. Neither one of them even own a videocamera! My mother-in-law never had an attorney and she never even was allowed to sit in court, yet she lost her rights to see the children, even under monitored visits.
2 (a mother)
It is very sad that the agency that is supposed to protect children actually often harms them by taking them from loving parents. I don't think it can be in a child's best interest to remove them from a loving home, even if the discipline is a little harsher than American standards feel is right, and put them in the care of strangers. Even Americans fall afoul of this snoopy agency, and people from Iranian culture are even more likely to.
One thing I have worried about for Iranian families is some common sayings. I understand sometimes you will say to a child something like "doodoolet mikhoreh" and it is loving. Please please be very careful about things like this. When the child is old enough to speak English, if he/she said anything to other children at daycare or preschool or wherever that "my father says he would like to eat me," you might lose your child. So please, before using common idioms, think about how it translates and what might be the interpretation by the Child Protective Services.
3 (a mother #1)
Absolutely, I agree! Now, I have a question, and this may sound odd, but I need to know. My mother-in-law is from Tehran but spent part of her childhood in Shirazi. When she was caring for my son, unbeknownst to me, she took showers with him up until the age of seven. Is this normal in Iran? DCFS freaked out about this along with my American-British family. Also, she has commented on his penis size and said things like, "Oh, you have such big/ nice/ cute ..." (and then she used a Farsi word I don't know -- sounds something like -- boomboolah -- someone told me it is sort of a slang word for testicles. My son told me that she's done this about two or three times and once or twice squeezed his testicles. He was seven and under. DCFS says by doing and saying what she did was molestation. I just don't know what to think. Any ideas? Thanks.
4 (an American teacher )
Good morning mother #1,
I am sorry to hear about your concern. I really wish you hadn't brought this up to DCFS, they are a well meaning bunch of uneducated witch hunters. You may have left the door open to "contributing to the abuse.."
I don't mean to upset you, but now the report is written and if your mother in law comes for a visit, and there is any problem that DCFS gets wind of, you could face loss of your child during the investigation. I was Director of a woman's shelter here in California for 9 years and I went through hell with them and their lack of perception.
In Iran, the male child is usually treated as a king until he is about 11-12, taking a shower with the older woman until 7-9 is a matter of course. They usually don't bathe with the men. Only in christian countries is sexuality tainted with distrust. Before you have any more "conversations" with DCFS, I would really suggest that you speak with someone from the Persian community that you respect.
By putting this on the forum, you have put your child in jeopardy from some "well meaning readers" who might decide to file a complaint.
Please be careful,
5 (a madar)
this is outrageous to me that such thing is called child molastation! my mom always made songs about her every grandson's penis and adored it, things like "it smells like cardemin(sp? it is called "hel" in Farsi)" and things like that. there are tons of folk songs about "doodool" and "boobool" and who made them or sings them? women, mothers and grandmothers.
I think it is very good to bring up such things and let us know. I did not know that taking a shower with my son would be considered child abuse!
up to what age can mother and son (father and daughter) take a shower together? how about my son and daughter taking a bath together? we often put them in the bath tub together, up to what age is it okay? I wonder what American culture makes out of this with regards to sexuality issue? I have many questions about the things that I am sure I don't even consider an issue... I am very amazed and surprised at the people who preach diversity and then in practice humiliate other cultures and do not value them at all and trash diversity!!
my request to you is to please educate us and let us know of the regulations in this country so we watch out for them. I really would like us Iranian parents to learn these stuff so cases like mother #1's will not repeat.
I must say to mother #1 that your mother-in-law's act is only of kindness and love and has nothing to do with child molastation. it is very common for grandparents to be proud of their male grandchildren to carry their name and brag about their breeding organs that will keep their family name alive. it comes from our patriarchal culture.
6 (a madar)
Dear mother #1: I am half American and half Iranian. I grew up in both places, have a son, and Iranian in-laws. What your mother in law did with your seven-year-old son is common in the Iranian culture. It is not molestation; the admiration of sexual organs in children, especially boys, is a sign of affection in the Iranian culture. We may not like it. It may not sit well with our prudish American sensibilities, but it is not a crime and to bring attention to it as such can only cause a terrible cultural and emotional rift for your son.
Sexual molestation involves the intent to arouse or be aroused, the intent to overpower, NOT the intent to admire and show affection. It's a fine line that we must try to see if we want to live in two cultures. Just as an example, not so long ago, in Iran, women would attend the public baths and take their sons and grandsons with them; there was a great deal of nudity, obviously. Would you consider this sexual? Nudity is not sexuality unless we've been taught to believe so. And in America, we have been taught this.
For the benefit of your family, I urge you to try and see the situation from a cultural and historical point of view. American values are not the only "civilized" values. "Civilized" is a point of view and not to be lightly taken or forcefully imposed on others. That's not to say that you cannot ask that your mother-in-law discontinue taking showers with your young son. You have every right to feel comfortable where your son is concerned and your mother-in-law has every obligation to comply with your rules. But I urge you to hide your harsh judgments from your son, because, in fact, he may understand his grandmother's affection better than you do, without malice.
7 ( mother #1)
Dear madar #6, I am not the one judging my mother-in-law and that's why I brought up the question in this forum. My American family and the Department of Children and Family Services are accusing my mother-in-law of molesting my son.
I found the information you offered very helpful. I had no idea!
I myself find our American culture very puritanical -- except when it comes to just about everything in the media! For instance, I live very near a family nudist resort, Elysium (no sexual contact allowed there and members are screened). There just isn't anything sexual about the place. I would love to join, so I mentioned this to the children's therapist. Bad idea. According to DCFS I shouldn't even allow my children to see me naked, and by taking them to a nudist resort, I would be seen as sexually abusing my children.
If you don't mind, I would like to give a copy of your comments to my children's attorney. I don't believe my mother-in-law molested my son. This would help, I think. Of course, she also punished my daughter by swatting her on the back of the feet with a belt. DCFS says that is child abuse and that is another reason they're not allowing her to be with my children. It's very sad because my mother-in-law loves my children more than anything in the world.
Please let me know if it is okay with you if I just show the children's attorney your e-mail so she can get an idea of the cultural difference. Also,do you have any idea where I could find resource material on the subject, to help my mother-in-law in court?
Again, thanks for your comments.
8 ( mother #6)
Dear mother#1:
I am both heartened and disheartened by your reply. It seems that you are trying to do your best by your children and to give the benefit of the doubt to your mother-in-law. I commend you for your open-mindedness regarding the Iranian culture and your sensibility regarding the American one. Of course you may show your email to your attorney.
The comment in your reply that concerns me has to do with your mother-in-law's use of what is called the falak in Farsi, a form of punishment (also used in the extreme in situations of torture) wherein the bottoms of the feet are beaten. This is where culture and morality (by this I mean "doing the right thing") clash for me. Any form of physical abuse, in my mind, is unacceptable. As a parallel case, my mother, who is American, had an uncle who took each of his children, every Sunday, out to the woodshed for a beating with his belt. This may have had something to do with the culture and traditions of the time, but it can never be justified. To hurt a child is unforgivable and is most often used as a parenting tool by those who cannot find the time or the mental capacity to teach and listen to their children with words. I'm not saying that your mother-in-law is a bad person who deserves the authorities after her, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not want my child to be alone with her unless I felt certain that she would never lay a harmful hand on them again.
I do think it's important to guard diverse cultures from being misunderstood, but there are certain boundaries. Causing pain is one of them.
As for further reading, I cannot really help you there. Unfortunately, there is not much literature on Iranian family traditions. You can read the novel, The Fortune Catcher by Susanne Pari, which is about Iranians and Americans, but it is certainly not a sociological examination of the culture. Still, it might help you understand issues in a broader context. It's in paperback on Amazon. Also, a book called "To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour which is a memoir of living in Iran and America (written also by a half-and-halfer) might be interesting. Whatever you do, don't apply "Not Without My Daughter" to Iranian culture; it is a sad story of a battered woman, but it is filled with anger and misconceptions and mistruths about Iran and Iranians.
I wish you luck and the best for your family.
9 ( a pedar)
It is sad and unfortunate to see cases of child abuse constructed out of lack of understanding of other cultures.
For several years now, I have been involved in a volunteer group called Citizen Review Board, in Oregon. As volunteers and citizens appointed by the Chief Justice, we review, hear, and make recommendations to the court and SCF, regarding the cases being handled by the SCF (formerly known as CSD).
By reviewing many cases, I have come to appreciate and have a total understanding of not judging by hearing one side of any case. Therefore, I do not have any specific comments regarding the case being discussed in our forum.
However, I have also seen many cases where the simple solution to returning the child home and closing the case was making the SCF caseworker aware of the cultural differences and expectations that may seem at odds with our "value system" in US. It is with this thought that I find the discussion of "our child abuse" case an opportune moment to urge and ask all the wonderful and concerned madars and pedars on this site to think about joining the Citizen Review Board (CRB) in their County of residence. The caring and devotion that is rich in the Iranian culture is not to be isolated to our group or similar Iranian groups only. By getting involved in programs that can benefit from our cultural background and upbringing, we can educate and insert our good values into our adopted society.
As far as the discussion of our case, I am not aware of the grandparents having the "right" to "falak", or hit in any shape or form, their grandchildren. If there was any such "right" it was strictly a "parental right" only. Am I wrong on that?
Please send your replies and/or opinions regarding this subject to madar-pedar@surya.eecs.berkeley.edu.

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