Posts Tagged ‘daughter’

My daughter and I both made a mistake and she is paying for it.

For those who don’t know, I have a daughter. She is bright, sensitive, loving, curious, and emotionally mature for her age, but she still is a child. She admires the art that I do. This makes my art journaling particularly intriguing to her.

A week or two ago, she came up while I was prepping some pages for future work and asked if she could see my journal. I told her that I would show her some pages, but not others and it was very important for her to not look at my journal on her own, because there were many things in it that I did not think that it was a good idea to show her. She agreed, I showed her a few benign pages, and we went on.

This is where I made my mistake. Up until now, she always has been trustworthy about such things and she is amazingly good about keeping her word, so I didn’t even consider the need to put my journal out of her reach. Her mistake was that she succumbed to her curiosity and went looking in the art journal.

As she puts it, “I thought that you were just embarrassed for me to look at your art. I forgot that it was a journal.” She got way more than she expected. Night before last, she came into my room after she went to bed, in tears. When I asked what was wrong, she told me what she had done. It was already 10 pm at that point and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I just worked to calm her down and reassure her, so she would be able to go to sleep.

My reaction inside was, “Oh, shit!” though. I didn’t know how much of of the journal she had looked at or what she understood at that point. She clearly knew that I had been hurt very badly and that was frightening to her; she also needed to be reassured that she would not be hurt in the same way.

That was Thursday night and it now is Saturday night and we have talked about it 4 or 5 more times. Clearly she still is disturbed by what she has discovered. Nine is too young to deal well with the frightening truth that the people whom you love are vulnerable to being hurt badly. It’s too young to not be frightened badly by the realization that people will deliberately do great harm to others. It’s an age when a child still needs for the world to feel safe and predictable. Even she realizes that she is too young to deal with this well and she says that she wishes that she hadn’t looked. While she had been told before that I had been hurt and she knows that I am working with a therapist, seeing the intensity of the art and reading my uncensored words describing my struggles obviously made it all much more real to her.

The good news is that I have written very little that is descriptive of the abuse and either she didn’t see those pages or she didn’t understand what she read. Neither of us are ready to talk about the fact that I was sexually abused yet. She’s at the point developmentally where she reacts with disgust to any sort of reference to sexual activity. I don’t have a clue as to how to tell her without upsetting both her and my insides too badly.

The bad news is that she seems to be working her way towards asking who the “he” that hurt me is. One of the things that she did see was a piece on which I wrote, “I hate him so much.” I never express ‘hating’ someone around her, so she found that statement to be upsetting. Who hurt Mom so badly that she hates him? I don’t know how I am going to respond if/when she does ask. While she hasn’t seen my father in three years and she isn’t particularly fond of him, she does know him. How will it affect her to learn that her grandfather hurt her mother that badly? How will it affect her to realize that she has been around someone who has the capacity to hurt children? How will she react to the knowledge that her grandfather cannot be trusted?

And then there is the simple fact that I don’t feel ready to commit to telling her that my father hurt me. There is no explaining to her what a confusing state I am in right now, where most of me believes that certain things happened, but parts of me are convinced that the rest of me is delusional. She isn’t in a place where she can deal with that sort of ambiguity, but the idea of saying flat out that my dad hurt me feels too overwhelming to me.

If she asks me directly if I was writing about my dad, I will have to say, “yes,” but otherwise I don’t yet know how I would handle it.

I’m not sure what is best to do here. I know that she will eventually need to know, but what she already knows is making it hard for her to get to sleep at night.

What I am sure of is that this gives me one more thing to be angry at my dad about. His actions continue to hurt people, and while I can do my best to soften this blow, I can’t erase the basic facts and how learning about them will change my daughter’s view of the world.

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OK, this is going to just be some blathering “out loud” to try to see if I can start to figure out what I think/feel would be right. I’m also hoping for some feedback (please be kind to me!)

I think that one of the quandaries faced by trauma survivors is “How much do I tell my child(ren)?” and “When do I tell them?” We all want to protect our children, but we all know that if we are in an active phase of the healing process, there are daily signs that something is very wrong.

Even though I did not specialize in counseling children, I do know that if something is wrong in the family and the child has no idea what is wrong, he/she most likely will wrongly conclude that he/she is the source of the problem somehow. So when I went back into therapy and things started to become difficult for me, I knew that I had to say something to my daughter. This was right around her 7th birthday, so I kept it very simple: my grandfather had hurt me when I was a child and while physical hurts from that long ago, sometimes “heart hurts” are much harder to heal. I was working with Mama Bear to try to heal so my heart wouldn’t hurt so much. This was back when I was commuting 2 hours each way to therapy and on one family trip to the city my therapist was in, my daughter and I went to have juice and cookies with Mama Bear in her office, so she could meet Mama Bear and things would be a bit less mysterious to her. (Well, OK, Mama Bear also was dying to see her, since she had last seen her as a baby.)

That all worked for then, but she is older and more sophisticated now, and this has been going on for almost two years. She is smart and has noticed the lack of contact with my parents. But she doesn’t ask me questions, because she knows that while I will answer questions about most anything, there is a lot here that isn’t age appropriate and so I won’t tell her. But I can see the questions in her eyes some times.

I am at a loss right now as to whether to say anything more now. If not now, then when? I can’t just wait for her to ask, because I had to stop the questions back when she was an overly inquisitive 7 year old who had no clue that there were some things that she really didn’t want to know about. I think that she is starting to understand that there are terrible things in the world, but she still doesn’t really get it. And I just can’t see that it would in any way be good for her to learn that by being told that her mom was terrorized, never mind brutalized by mom’s grandfather.

Of course, there is a whole range of detail between “heart hurt” and “rape.” So do I include the fact that my grandfather touched me sexually during one of the times we are talking about safe touch and how important it is for her to not only feel able to say no, but that I want for her to feel safe to tell me if anything should happen? Or not? Would that just be a burden for her to carry? I don’t want to burden her and leave her feeling that she needs to take care of me. I already battle the care taking tendency in her.

So, I think that I have concluded that I leave it be for now. But one thing that I don’t want to have happen is to have her get to well past the age when she could have handled knowing and then find out somehow. (I’m thinking late teenage years or older.) First of all, I don’t want for it to become a shameful secret. Secondly, I don’t want for her to feel hurt that I didn’t trust her or think that she was mature enough to tell her.

Now, she’s 8, turning 9, so it isn’t like she is going to reach that point any time soon. On the other hand, she’s matured an awful lot in the last 2 years, with a lot of that coming in the last 8 months or so. I suspect that in the next year she is going to become far, far more sophisticated than I am ready for her to be. Who knows, maybe her curiosity will overcome her inhibitions about this topic and she will start to ask questions again? I fear that long before I am ready to say something to her, she will be ready to know more.

But, really, what do you tell your child about something like this? What emotions do you allow to show? How do you help them feel safe, even while learning that Very Bad Things happen to people they love?

I just have so many confused, tangled up thoughts about all of this. But maybe if I start trying to sort them out a bit here and there, I will have made more sense out of things by the time my gut says that she is old enough to know more. I hope.

So, thoughts? I would especially welcome experiences from parents. What did you do that worked? What would you have done differently? I know that every child and situation is different, but I would value your hard won experience.

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I do have something that I can talk about… Mama Bear said the nicest thing to me today that I can remember her ever saying…

We were at the end of the session, when we just talk, but don’t do any real work, so I can have a chance to “tuck back in” any loose parts and ground before I leave her office. I couldn’t help but shake my head and say, “Oy, my family…”

“Are you talking about how much they harm and are harmed by each other?”

I snorted, “Yes.”

She looked intently at me and said, “You do realize just how thoroughly you broke the cycle, don’t you? The buck stopped with you and it will not continue with your daughter. Somehow, you did that and no one else did.”

I nodded my head, “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I know that I can’t protect her completely from being hurt at all though, because I am still hurt and that affects her.”

“No, you can’t prevent all harm.” She smiled gently, “But you have completely messed up your opportunity for her to be harmed anywhere nearly as much as you were. Can you see that?”

I started to tear up, “Yes, that’s something else that I have been thinking about. So many terrible things happened to me before I was 8. She has a secure base now that I never had a chance to develop and I’m not going to let anything destroy that base for her.” Just like nothing can rewrite history for me and give me the childhood that I desperately needed, history also can’t be rewritten for my daughter and nothing can take away the early childhood that gave her what she did need. She isn’t going to come out of this unscathed, but if I have anything to say about it, she is going to come out of it better than OK. “I am so glad that I waited to have her, so I had a hope of being a good mom.”

“I remember when you and your husband brought her in for a session as a baby. I was just so thrilled for so many reasons. You were such a cute little family and I loved seeing you together. You are a good mom, C. And I’m sure that G. has something to say about that. You have come a very long way and you did it yourself.”

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Today I was chatting with a friend about my dilemma in regards to my mother and she asked me some really good questions that I had to dig deep to answer. My answer to one of the questions started out with, “In my ideal world…” My friend’s response simply was, “In my ideal world, you were never abused.”

That just stopped me in my tracks and made me start to think “What would it have taken for me to have never been abused?” It isn’t a simple case of subtracting the abuse; things would have needed to have been radically different for there to have never been any abuse. Abuse of all types and the qualities that encourage abuse are so deeply woven into my entire extended family. So many things would have needed to change fundamentally about so many people that the result would no longer have been recognizable as my family.

Sometimes on TV shows there will be an alternate reality version of a group of people, but on TV, even if the people are acting differently, it still is the same group. I don’t think that would have been the case here. If you take the abusive dynamics out of my parents’ families, I think that by the next generation, the family literally would not have been recognizable, because that next generation would have made completely different life choices.

Anyways, my point is that in order for me to have never been abused, the family would have needed to have been fundamentally different. There are no simple changes that could have protected me, because any changes would have required that someone be different from their core on out, in order to make a different choice. But in order for them to be that different, the entire system needed to be different. Instead, the sheer momentum of the previous abuse and neglect in the family ensured that it would keep on being passed forward.

Being sexually abused feels incredibly personal. How can it not? Sex is supposed to create intense personal connections- between two consenting adults. Even with casual sex, the partners choose to have sex with the other person because of something to do with that person, no matter how trivial. It’s personal. But with sexual abuse survivors, there can be something horrible about the fact that it feels personal. I know that for me, I struggle with thinking, “There is something about me that caused the abuse. If I wasn’t me, then it wouldn’t have happened. It’s my fault.”

Intellectually, I understand that being sexually abused is never the child’s fault. All of the responsibility falls on the perpetrator. After all, how many children have safely danced naked in front of their parents and only been told to go put some clothes on? Probably the majority of children. But getting my insides to understand that the mistreatment wasn’t the fault of any part of me has been a challenge.

Somehow, today, after seeing how much would have needed to have been different for me to have been safe from abuse within that family, parts of me are finally getting that the abuse really wasn’t my fault. My being abused really didn’t have anything to do with me, personally. I was the child who was available. I know that my grandfather also abused an older cousin when she came to visit. Any child in my position would have been treated just as horribly by my grandfather. He would have been just as interested in creating that much shame, fear, and pain in any child. He needed to hurt people and I was there, so he hurt me.

My dad was not capable of a healthy relationship with a child because of how he was raised. That had nothing to do with me. Any child of his would have had just as messed up of a relationship.

My mother was incapable of seeing anything that was too threatening to her, even if it was right in front of her nose. Any child of hers would not have been sufficiently protected.

I have seen hints that an uncle may also have sexually abused me, but I’m just not sure. When faced with the likelihood that multiple people within my family hurt me badly, my thought was, “What is it about me that all of these people in my family harmed me, intentionally or not?”

It isn’t anything about me. It’s all about the family system that I was born into. That’s all that it was about me- I was born into an abusive family.

What is about me is the fact that the abuse stops here. I will protect my daughter from any possible danger, even if I am being overly paranoid. As long as I do not feel comfortable being around my father, I will not allow physical contact, even if I do not understand why. I have taught her that her body is hers, how to guard against various dangers, and that I will always want to hear what she has to say, especially when something is wrong or bothering her. In fact, I absolutely want to hear about it if someone ever says that something should be kept a secret from me. No matter how painful and exhausting, I will get to the point where I feel as though I can live as a whole. I will regain the parts of my life that have been put on hold for now.

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