April is sexual abuse awareness month. This is definitely a topic that those who have been impacted need support on. Considering 1 in 5 women have experienced childhood sexual abuse, it’s safe to say that there are many moms out there dealing with this. Whether it’s something you’ve spent years in therapy for or have kept it buried away, childhood sexual abuse is something that can creep into many aspects of life. I can only speak to my own experience, but I was shocked to find how much it impacted my life as a mom.
As parents, there are generally understood feelings we all have: wanting to keep our kids safe, make them feel loved, and so on. For those who have experienced abusive childhoods, some of these can take on a new meaning. Here are some of the ways childhood sexual abuse has affected my life as a mother. Perhaps you have experienced these emotions as well.
Note: These are by no means meant to be all the ways childhood sexual abuse affects parenting. Nor do I think any of them are exclusive to those who have suffered through this.
Safety for Your Children
I can truly say the most important thing to me is that my kids never experience anything like what I went through. There were other traumas in my childhood that I want to protect them from as well. But sexual abuse can feel more out of your control since it can happen outside of the home.
Because of this, I allow pretty much nobody to watch my kids. My fiance’s parents are the only ones ever allowed to babysit. There are many others that I can wholeheartedly say I trust. But for some reason, I still can’t let go of that fear enough to trust them watching my kids. Perhaps it will change as they get older and can articulate experiences easier. But for the last five-and-a-half years, I haven’t felt comfortable allowing anyone else.
Stress About Normal Child Curiosity/Occurrences
I remember the first time my daughter told me her private parts were a little sore. This feels a little dramatic to write out now, but at the time I went into a complete internal panic. I kept trying to analyze any situation where she could have even momentarily been left with someone. It turns out she wasn’t wiping herself properly, but my mind went to a scary place.
Similar experiences can happen when your child starts asking the normal questions about their bodies and other people’s bodies. After my son was born, my daughter wanted to know why he looked different. I think one time, she even went to touch his private parts out of pure curiosity, and I was horrified. I immediately had to search online whether or not those were age-appropriate curiosities or if she was likely exposed to something. You can probably guess that it is completely normal, especially given a new baby who looked a little different from her. Normal and very innocent, but trauma can take your mind to scary places very quickly.
Fear of Touching Them
This one seems odd to me. Nevertheless, it’s something that I have thought about. There have been times when I personally felt uncomfortable touching my kids out of fear that they would find it violating. I’m talking about your average occurrences of helping to wipe them.
The reason my daughter was a little sore, as I mentioned previously, is because I probably avoided helping her wipe sooner than I should have. And when I was wiping her, even as a baby, I would verbalize what I was doing and why to make sure she always knew it was only to clean her. This always felt strange to me because any form of abuse was the furthest thing from my intentions. Yet, I was worried it would be perceived that way.
Wanting to Teach Them Very Young
Shortly after my daughter was talking easily in complete sentences, I started teaching her about anatomy and proper behavior towards it. It was important to me that she knew the correct words and to really emphasize what appropriate or inappropriate touching was. I’ve also spent a lot of time explaining to her that if anyone ever makes her uncomfortable, even family, she has the right to say no. And to always come to tell me about it.
Thinking back on my own experience, my parents had no clue what was going on. I really didn’t either. When I finally told them it was because I wasn’t able to sleep because of it. But there was no clear direction given to me beforehand to know it was wrong and worth telling them about immediately. Especially considering the grooming that often takes place, it felt extra important to secure that protective knowledge in my children’s brains.
Concerns About Breastfeeding
When I was pregnant the first time, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. But I was very concerned it would trigger me. To this day, if someone touches me by surprise (even on my shoulder), I jump out of my skin. So naturally, I was worried that would hinder my ability to nurse.
I was so happy to find that it wasn’t an issue at all. If anything, nursing and overall being touched lovingly and innocently by my kids has been extremely healing for me. I will still jump if an adult touches me, but my kids are so easy to be close to. Good thing, too, since kids are always crawling all over their moms!
Complicated Family Relationships
Surviving childhood abuse can put you into one of two boats. Either you will be at odds with anyone who questions your safety choices or struggle to do what you feel is right due to complicated family relationships.
I was thankful to be able to stand my ground. But it wreaked a lot of havoc in my family. When I told my parents that my abuser was never allowed on the same property as my children, I was told I was tearing the family apart. I didn’t care. (And yes, I had to live with him being around my whole life, despite everyone knowing about the abuse. The messed up way some families handle sexual abuse is a whole other story!)
The other side of that is feeling totally uncomfortable in situations, but your deep-seated fear makes it feel impossible to take action. This is how I was around my family up until my daughter was born. Without therapy and the strong support of my significant other, I’m not sure if I would have been able to stand my ground.
Look for Validation in Your Children
Something I have noticed is that I tend to look to my kids for validation. I don’t mean that I need them to tell me how proud they are of me. Rather, I feel as though I’m trying to redeem my own childhood by “getting theirs right.”
Two things here. The first is that it’s never our children’s job to fix our own issues, whether directly or indirectly. And second, it doesn’t work anyway! As parents, we will always mess up at times. If we’re counting on our ability as a mother to counter our own negative experiences with authorities, we’ll always end up let down. It’s not a healthy dynamic and as much as my mind wants to go in that direction, I try very hard to stay away from that thinking.
Overall Low Self-Esteem
This last one can seem like a bit of a catch-all, but low self-esteem shows up differently for everyone. For myself, I tend to be extremely harsh with myself. Consequently, I sometimes find myself spiraling into periods of self-hatred. Low self-esteem can also cause us to lose our tempers more, lack motivation, or even go to the other extreme of constantly serving well beyond our bandwidth.
Of course, many people suffer from low self-esteem and the fallout from it. In our case, it just happens to be from childhood sexual abuse. In any case, this is another important reason to seek help. It not only affects us personally but also our children.
These have been some of the experiences I’ve had as a mother after childhood sexual abuse. Everyone’s experiences and reactions are different. So you may or may not relate to the specifics listed here. If you are a mom struggling in unexpected ways from childhood sexual abuse, I hope this at least lets you know you aren’t alone.