I often find myself up against the effects of my childhood sexual abuse, not only as a woman, but now as a mother.
“Momma, Can I put on some make-up?”
I tell my daughter she is beautiful with out it, but “Sure honey, what’s the harm?”
Internally, I am struggling with ideas of beauty and sexuality and safety and how all of this will play out in her life. I can’t help but want to tell my daughter “No”, she can’t wear make-up; and in the years ahead of her, “No”, she can’t wear anything that sexualizes her in any way. I want to protect her as much as I can against catching the attention of a predator – even knowing that idea is a farce. Make-up and fashion statements have nothing to do with victimization. Predators don’t look for lipstick and short skirts. They look and wait for opportunity, usually within surroundings that are comfortable to a child.
At her age, I became a sexual object to some one. I know enough now to know, it had nothing to do with what I looked like, but more of the opportunity given to a man with a sick addiction and no self control. It’s not what the child looks like, but how vulnerable she is.
Does every woman grow hollow inside when she hears a man tell her daughter that she looks pretty? It shrinks me into a scared ten year-old little girl, now wondering if this man too, will do to me what other “good” men have done. Except, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about my daughter. It’s about the compulsive urge I have to protect her from ever being preyed upon, like I was.
I could be wrong. Perhaps the guy at the cook-out that complimented my daughter is of no harm. But when I got that kick of uneasiness in his presence, I paid attention. It doesn’t occur every time I or my daughter are around men. Only sometimes. So every time, I listen and know that whether the man involved is her best friend’s father, the town pastor, a friend’s brother or even someone related to her, I will never let her be in a position to be groomed by him.
I have to teach my daughter how to listen to and feel that sixth sense that we all have. The most effective tool she can possess is trusting herself. For now, we call it the “uh-oh” feeling. It’s an idea a school social worker taught me while interning at an elementary school. I connected with that “uh-oh” feeling because I recognized it. It’s what made me keep a secret for over eight years. I want my daughter to not be scared of that feeling like I was, but to pay attention to it and to react to it no matter what.
The most difficult part to all of this is when that uneasiness sets in at times I know are irrational, like when my husband helps our daughter with her shower or is having a playful game of tickle monster with her. I have to convince myself that in spite of what the literature and statistics say, I will never continue the cycle of abuse – as the victim or the abuser. I have to pull myself out of the hole these innocent events and ingrained thoughts push me in, and recognize the irrational fear.
After my failed search for stories on what it’s like to live and experience motherhood as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was reminded how quiet survivors are. I know the role that shame has in keeping it that way, but a discussion on the effects of the abuse that resurface, or suddenly arise, when we become mothers is something we need to talk about. I feel like it’s vital to our ability to raise healthy girls ourselves.
“Momma, If a boy kisses you, does that mean he loves you?”
Perhaps the “everything happens for a reason” rhetoric finally makes sense to me now. I am able to see the damage that is done, when our daughters are told yes to this question. Love is more than a kiss, or any contact with her physical body. Teaching her to equate love with either, implies she is suppose to love, in the presence of the other. That doesn’t leave much room for choice.
“Baby, a boy kisses you because he chooses to kiss you, it doesn’t always mean he loves you. And a boy, or any one else, should never kiss you unless you want him to. If he does, I highly encourage you to punch him in the nose.”
(I am also the mother of a son and recognize the need and desire of mothers everywhere to keep their son’s safe; as well as, their daughters. This story is more in line with the effects of the abuse and raising my daughter. That doesn’t mean, I am concerned any less about my son or the numerous male survivors struggling with their own stories.)
**Originally featured on Scary Mommy.
24 thoughts on “Raising A Girl As A Survivor.”
I was abused as a child and I definitely find that my fears are triggered more by watching my daughter than by watching my son. We are in a unique position to protect our children from predators and we know all too well that they’re usually right in our midst, not some creepy stranger. No one ever encouraged me to trust myself and it’s been a long road for me to learn to not seek outside approval. I watched people in my family cover up and be silent about bad things that had happened to them. I can’t protect my kids from everything but this is one cycle I can help to break. Brave, brave post.
Thank you for reaffirming the idea that predators are most often not the creepy guy standing off to the side, but someone’s uncle, friend of the family, etc. A few commenters on the SM site don’t seem to understand that. They took my words to say that I will raise my daughter to not trust men in general…whut?? This article was borne out of the idea of stressing the message to teach our daughters to trust themselves, not distrust everyone else. Anyway, sorry for the tiny rant…I just feel comfortable responding to you with it because I know you and others like you understand. Breaking the cycle is a mantra of mine, funny you said that. Thank you Karen. It’s women like you that push me in wanting to keep talking.
I saw how many comments you got and couldn’t read them all. I think one of the things that made me vulnerable to abuse is that I was subtly told that good girls are quiet and don’t make trouble. I was never taught to use my voice and I’m changing that with my kids. It’s unfortunate that some people missed your message but many others get it and that’s why you need to use your voice!
A very brave post, I am extremely moved.
Thank you, truly. Brave is a tough adjective for me to swallow, but I am incredibly humbled by it.
I’m extremely moved by the response to it. Thank you so much for reading.
wow huge congrats for getting on Scary Mommy. and, more importantly, thank you for sharing your voice. xo
Thank you so much. I said to another commenter on FB, getting on Scary Mommy is a blogging bucket list kind of thing for me. I’m thrilled, and especially that it was this particular article. It has involved a lot of anxiety for me but so very worth it.
Thank you for sharing this, and sharing again.
Thanks for reading girl!
I read this yesterday and can’t stop thinking about it. My best friend from childhood was sexually abused, and she shared these very sentiments with me when her daughter was born. This is such an important topic and I’m glad to hear someone speaking out about it. I’m so sorry for what you went through. I have no doubt that sharing your story will help others. Thank you!
It makes me so happy that your best friend has you! I have a one person in my life like that, that has been with me through it all. I don’t think she’ll ever understand how much her support and always open ear (no matter how difficult it is to hear) means to me. Thank you for reading my story.
I was married to a woman who had been sexually abused as a child and also raised (for a bit) a stepdaughter who had been. I know very well those scars never close and are always bubbling near the surface. I actually wrote about this last November…
It sounds harsh to say, but this is a huge reason I’m glad I have all boys. Sure, this COULD happen to them, but it’s nowhere near as likely to happen to a boy as it is a girl.
I read that post TD and remember thinking that I wish more men understand as you do. There is nothing fleeting about surviving the effects of abuse, its always there.
For some reason I could not get to the other site on my cell and am very grateful you shared it here. You will always pay attention to that gut instinct uneasiness of yours. It has been finely tuned, in ways that I wish it hadn’t. But others WILL benefit. Thank you for sharing this.
You said once to me before that this instinct I talk about has been “finely tuned”. That has always stuck with me…especially in writing this one. It’s actually helped me shake off the haters that commented on this post. A few completely took my words the wrong way and accused/called me overbearing and insinuated that I am instilling fear in my daughter that will harm her later in life. It bugged me for about a hot minute…and then I remembered what you said. Thank you for that and your support on this article. 🙂
I am a survivor. I just became one. For over 30 years, I was a victim. Awesome post
Awesome comment. It made me raise my coffee mug in salute to you this morning. Thank you so much for reading.
You are brave and amazing and all of us everywhere should be mindful and trust the “uh-oh” voice.
I love this post and am grateful to you for shedding light and starting a conversation. We have talked with our kids about the freedom to talk to others (particularly our pastor or their sunday school teacher or a counselor) about what is happening in their lives. Silence can make room for darkness and bad stuff gets to thrive in darkness. “Move toward the pain and keep it in the light” has been my mantra in my own journey of detangling from the past.. With this in mind, my 6 year old son was overheard not long ago (by his more quiet sister-yes, girls can be more inclined toward this) telling his sunday school class that his mom and dad yell at each other sometimes and make him sad. Ouch. It was embarrassing to see his teacher the next Sunday and actually every time I do; but I also felt/feel convicted. That exposure was good for all involved. Point is, I’d rather err on the side of my kids keeping lots of light on things than not enough. (more the principle here than going around telling all of our personal life to just anyone, btw) Good job of keeping the light on, Dawn! 🙂
Thank you so much, Darya, for the heartfelt and completely agreeable comment! Out of the mouths of babes, right? I too would rather have kids say what’s on their mind instead of keeping things that bother them bottled up. That style of parenting teaches a child their words are safe, no matter what. And thank you for reading this post. I hope that you are having success in your own path to recovery.