Parenting as a Child-abuse Survivor

I was molested by my grandmother’s boyfriend.

I don’t remember when it began — I think I was 7 or 8 — but I recall bits and pieces of the abuse.

I remember him cornering me outside the bathroom and saying, “Don’t you like me? Just let me have a little kiss.” He was too close, and his breath was harsh. I cried, and he let me pass.

I recall cutting my leg on a nail in the dining room as I tried to dodge his hands.

I remember him blocking my exit from the kitchen and touching my budding breasts. I cried as I looked out the window and spotted a neighbor watching it happen. I prayed she would yell out or step through her back door and make him stop.

Instead, she turned away and closed her curtains.

Lastly, I remember how it ended. During an episode of “Oprah,” I heard a woman say she’d felt trapped by her abuser.

“I know I how you feel.” It slipped from my lips, surprising me and my mom.

And so began a long stretch of questions, sad answers, confrontations, and denials.

In the end, there was no police report. There was no therapy. He didn’t even move out of my grandmother’s house.

Life just went on, and I went with the flow.

Twenty-five years later, I thought was fine and had recovered decades before. Then I got pregnant.

The seeds of fear and doubt that my abuser had sown — seeds I knew were there but I thought I’d buried deep — began to sprout.

How my experience affects me as a mother

  • I was afraid to breastfeed.

I knew I wanted to nurse Baby Bird, but I wasn’t sure I could. I wasn’t sure I could handle being touched so often in such an intimate place. I was afraid the sensations associated with breastfeeding would remind me of my abuse.

Even after Baby Bird was born and latched on, I still wasn’t positive I could stick with breastfeeding. It was uncomfortable. The feelings were confusing — there was nothing sexual, but there was a disconcerting vulnerability. It felt like I had lost control of my breasts, and that made me queasy.
I had to mentally remove myself from the experience until I became accustomed to nursing.

More than a year into breastfeeding, there are still times when I experience emotional discomfort while nursing. Baby Bird has become much more assertive, and she’ll sometimes pull at my shirt, tug on my bra, or squeeze or slap my breasts. I sometimes have to mentally detach. Those moments are fleeting, but they still happen.

  • I felt on edge when Baby Bird was around or held by men.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t want a man to touch my child.

Not her father. Not my father. Not her uncles.

I could feel the anxiety building if she cried while my husband was changing her diaper. I’d rush into the room and take over.

He probably thought I was being overbearing. In reality, the hurt little girl in me was compelling me to go “save her.”

If he was holding her and patted her butt …

If he rubbed her stomach to get her back to sleep …

If he rubbed her back to stop her tears …

The anxiety … those seeds of fear …

How did I move past that? It took months of telling myself that “Greg isn’t Mr. X. Greg would never hurt you. Greg would never hurt her. Greg ISN’T hurting her.”

I know my husband would never intentionally hurt our child. I just had to convince the hurt little girl in me.

  • I was sometimes afraid to touch her.

Diaper changes, bath time, even cuddles sometimes brought up irrational fears that she would see me as an abuser. What’s worse is that I was afraid Baby Bird would be taken from me if I told anyone how I felt, so I struggled in silence with those fears.

I used to talk Baby Bird through diaper changes, telling her everything I was doing and why. I didn’t want there to be any question of why I was wiping her more than once, or why I was inspecting her so closely.

Detailing what I was doing clearly wasn’t for her benefit — after all, she was just months old. Doing it gave me some mental distance from the moment and gave the truth time to sink in — I’m not my abuser and I have a healthy, loving physical relationship with my child.

The diaper change detailing isn’t something I do anymore, but I could see myself reviving the practice once Baby Bird is older. No, not out of fear, but as a gateway into discussions about appropriate/inappropriate touching.

Where I am now

I wish I had an easy answer for how to be a brave parent after overcoming childhood abuse, but I don’t. I don’t know that there is an easy answer.

In truth, I’m afraid for my child. Despite knowing that we’re surrounded by loving, nurturing people who would never intentionally hurt her, I’m afraid.

I want to protect her from the world, which is fair because I know that’s what all parents want to do. But I’m afraid I’ll take it to the extreme and become the ultimate helicopter parent, scared to let her go to sleepovers, stay with relatives, or go on playdates without me.

I’m afraid she’ll think I’m smothering her — and I’m afraid I will be.

I’m afraid I’ll taint her childhood with the last vestiges of my abuse.

The best I can do is teach Baby Bird that her body is her own, and that she has a right to refuse anyone access to it. Make sure she knows she can tell me or her father about ANY touching that makes her uncomfortable. Make sure she uses the anatomically correct names for her body parts so if, God forbid, we ever have to file a report, she can clearly explain what happened to her.

I’ll protect her as best I can, but I know I have to let her live.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and doing it with my history hasn’t made it any easier. So I’m taking it day by day, trying not to let my struggle affect my daughter’s journey.

I’m taking it day by day, just as I would with healing from any trauma.

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: Learning How to Parent as a Survivor
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18 comments

    • I’m glad (and sad) that it resonated with you. Thank you for reading, and all the best on your parenting journey 😊

  1. I bumped into this post on Pinterest researching something & it caught my eye because I do am a survivor of sexual abuse. My abuser was my mother whom I got taken away from. Your words spoke to me because they are exactly how I feel about my life as a mother. Thank you for being so open about this. As silly as it sounds, it’s nice to know I am not weird for feeling the way I do.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your experience but happy I could help you not feel alone.
      Your feelings aren’t silly at all. I wrote this hoping to hear from people like you. My hope was that by connecting with other survivors, I wouldn’t feel so badly or isolated in my concerns. As I’ve often said, motherhood is hard, but feeling alone and confused makes it that much harder.
      Thank you for your honesty and for reaching out to me. ❤

  2. I can’t even imagine! I work with kids at a community mental health facility and I hear/read this kind of stuff all the time. But I have to be honest, I don’t actually hear the kids first hand, describe their abuse very often. They’re either trying to work through it and have already been through that portion or it’s merely suspected. This kind of hit me differently. I’m so sorry you went through that. I’m sorry the adults in your life and your neighbor didn’t help. That makes me sick! Thank you for sharing this really hard and personal story.

  3. You are an amazing woman, you are an amazing mother, you are an amazing partner.
    It takes a strong person to write something so deep, so personal, and so open.
    Im sorry you had to go through something so horrible, its not fair – lifes not fair. Your fears are not irrational, they are valid and one day you will overcome them all. Until then, continue being strong, and wonderful my friend !

    • Sharing this post was scary, and I’ve had a few moments in the past few days when I considered pulling it down. But comments like yours and those of the other women who’ve reached out to me have buoyed my spirits and kept me going.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

  4. I’m so sorry for what you went through. So unfair. There’s a saying “Rougher seas make better sailors” It sounds like you had some really rough seas but you have managed to navigate them honestly and beautifully. You will be an amazing life sailor and help so many people on the way. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’d never heard that saying, but I like it and will definitely remember it.
      I hope someone is helped by reading about my expetiences — that’s the primary reason I keep writing on these tough issues.
      Thank you for your encouraging words. 😊

  5. This was hard and sad to read but so important that you get it out there and create awareness. You are such a strong and brave mama, I hope that one day you can overcome your past and your anxiety. Your daughter is so lucky to have you and because of what you went through I know you will do everything you can to protect her. My mother was molested by her grandfather and growing up I never understood why she was so overprotective of me, until one day she told me. It just made my mom human to me and brought us closer. Thank you for sharing this, it was so brave.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. 😊
      It took me some to me to work up the nerve to post this because I felt ashamed of what I’d been through. Then it dawned on me that I had no reason to feel that way. The shame was all his. I stood up for myself, a kid against an adult. I found my voice then, anf it was important to find it now.
      I hope my daughter sees me the way you see yours, and that she’ll understand if I sometimes keep her close.
      Thank you for reading amd commenting. 😊

  6. I’m so sorry that it had to happen that way. I know how you feel. I still struggle with some of those issues even now as my children grow older. I find myself wondering if they can see the anxiety in my face when they talk and interact with the people around them. I’m so glad you chose to share this because it helps me to know that I’m not alone. And that we can always talk about it if you would like. I wasn’t as young as you were but it definitely didn’t make the mental load of the situation any easier. I’m here for you always.

    • Thank you so much. I might take you up on your offer. 😊
      We’re definitely not alone, but it’s hard to admit that it happened to you, and it’s hard to acknowledge the after-effects.

  7. Crystal,
    Hugs, hugs for writing such a powerful, important and clearly difficult piece, and for the hard though joyful work you do every day in raising that beautiful little girl — despite that pain and those struggles, and for her sake, guided and informed by them. You do need to protect her, in ways you weren’t protected. You do need to pay attention to the signs and warnings that weren’t heeded for you. But hugs and most hugs for your realization — and showing to your readers (followers? Sounds so minionesque!) — that in the end, it’s not about you, despite the horrible experiences you were subjected to, it’s about her. That is the most crucial, loving gift you are giving her. Thanks for allowing us to share the journey, rocky waves and all.
    Lisa

    • Thank you Lisa. I just want her life to be the best we can make it, and me being fixated on a possible bad situation won’t help that happen. I’m learning to be aware and attentive without being obsessive. 😊

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