The e-mail sent from a reader of Not The Life I Chose said simply, "You are an awful Mother."
I guess I'm lucky. It's only the second direct (but probably emotionally honest) "blame" I have received from a reader on this blog written to, for and, in many ways, by the mothers of children abused by the men we as their mothers trusted.
Many, if not most, of the comments on Not the Life are from "three types of women" sharing about the choices each of us make after we hear the wake up call, after we hear that devastating knock on our door by law enforcement. Until then we too probably googled to see where all those "other" sex offenders and their families lived didn't we?
So, what about our relationship (yes our love) with/ for the person whom we used to think of as a soul mate, Do we Stay or Do we go? Do we believe wife-hood is forever or only motherhood? What is, was, and will be our role going forward? What about our relationship (yes our love) with/ for the person whom we used to think of as husband, but who is now referred to by one and all as a "sex offender" with all the punitive and collateral damage that entails in middle class families.
As mothers, and wives, we tell of our own mind blowing betrayal and how there is no real going back for any of us. Some divorce quickly change our names and run back to look for a new normal, a safe middle-class life with another man (often strangely like the first). Some of us stick with our husbands, visit him in prison, defend him, even side with him against "the system." but we soon decide that we must stay silent for fear of prejudice against us.
We are "The awful Mother who let 'it' all happen"
We now dread having our own addresses "googled" And how do we as mother's get over our own secret fear that we are indeed "awful mothers"? Get over our own pain enough to change "things" for our children going forward?
We must dare to remove the label we were once willing to affix to those "other" mothers because the one who blames us the most, who fears recognizing truth the most is probably ourselves.
We search the internet and join Not the Life I Chose because each of us feels alone and in pain. We fear being tarred and feathered with the same brush we once saw used to tar and feather those "Other Mothers" who, once agreed "must have known." Mothers we once thought "just let it all happen."
But still we sometimes blame ourselves. Secretly believe "I must be an awful mother" So we begin to honestly examine what we too once believed about our role in marriage, in motherhood. And by examining and sharing what we did and what we failed to do (and perhaps forgiving ourselves along the way ) connecting the dots we understand there is a generational cycle of shame, blame and sexual abuse perpetuating child sexual abuse in families.93% of child sexual abuse "happens" within families. The majority of "offenders" are not Strangers but fathers and grandfathers.
Some of us dearly wish we could simply go back to "Not thinking about 'it'" for the rest of our lives. Tradition bound, we want to roll the same loaded dice, blindly make the next "right" choice and magically possess the Happily Ever After life promised us when we married the first Prince Charming who betrayed us. . The past is the past. Right? Lightening doesn't strike twice? But it often does. Un-examined Sexual Abuse bleeds on down, becomes a generational cycle of sexual abuse unless we learn from the tragedy that "happened" to us .
As mothers, don't we have to somehow find strength to tell the truth to ourselves, to examine the past in order to make a better life for our angry, abused and still grieving children? How do we figure out what we need to know about what went wrong? How do we tell others so they will understand what we learned from bitter experience? How do we recognize real change in ourselves or in our loved ones? How do we know when we are safe and not simply loyal, trusting and setting ourselves up for betrayed, Again
"You are an awful mother." is what I once said to myself at 3AM. Anger and (self) blame spews out first. Who hasn't at least thought of suicide? My father told me it was my fault. I "attracted" him therefore I was to blame for my own abuse. And I believed him. As I grew older I blamed my mother, vowed I'd be a "better mother" as a wife I would create a "perfect family" Love my children bushels and bushels. And went on to marry a man strangely like my father.
I, we, are not alone.
Not when 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys report being abused as children. There are 800,000 + names on the National Sex Offender Registry, There are plenty of "us" out here in the national silence.
I know it is hard to think about, speak about, blog or write about incest and child sexual abuse as an on-going national problem. When we remain silent out of fear, we agree with prejudice that refuses us visibility and freedom to tell about our own experience and openly connect the dots of child sexual abuse up and down generations.
Did not our own fathers tell us "Don't tell?" and now society tells us to we must keep their commandment. And if we tell? Well we will be "awful" children, "awful"wives, "awful" mothers who must have / or should have known because as "the mother" we all lived right there while generations of sexual abuse rolled down upon us and then upon our children and our children's children and... No wonder our sons and daughters don't understand, Call us Awful Mothers.
As for myself, there are things I deeply regret, things I did and things I failed to do. There are things I now realize about my own childhood which rendered me incapable of seeing and speaking out then and for a long time I feared "Telling." and fear it even now. Maybe all mothers in my situation, wake up at 3AM and go over a secret laundry list of "If Only's" Wondering what I knew, what I failed to know, what I perhaps never wanted to know? And If so...
I believe if we dare begin the conversation, others will join us on Not the Life and gaining courage will speak out elsewhere. If I am emotionally honest about my own life, if I am willing to hear the pain of other daughters, and speak aloud about the lives of family that went before me, perhaps I, perhaps we each can make an invaluable contribution to stopping abuse rolling on down harming others as it harmed everyone in my own family.
Finding courage, becoming visible. We need to tell our stories,because Story Matters. If not, why would society and our abuser have threatened and silenced us all?
Perhaps in "Telling" my family's story, The Sex Offender's Wife, A Daughter's Life, A Mother's Voice, Breaking Silence, Beginning the Conversation. I may enlarge understanding and lift some of the pain, Even "Make a Difference" not only in the lives of my grandchildren and their children, but perhaps in the lives of others. That is my hope.
And perhaps in sharing Strength and hope on Not the Life, we will all not only reach out to other Mothers and sons and who are still hurting but will perhaps begin to speak out, to begin the journey to change the cycle of sexual abuse that threatens the next generations of boys and girls alike used and abused, bullied, derided and "treated Like Girls"
Perhaps it's in the "Telling " that we free ourselves, And in the "Telling" we finally claim our adult power to protect the vulnerable. For In the "Telling" we change the trajectory of our lives and the lives of our children and all those other children going forward. . .