I’m not a parent and I don’t plan to be. I’ve got too much stuff in my past that I’m afraid to pass on to another generation, and well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not all that fond of rugrats, even though they seem to love me for some reason. Children are like cats in that they always go to the one person in the room who doesn’t like them or is allergic. I would totally have a child if they didn’t start off as infants. I really don’t like the concept of being pooped on, peed on, vomited on and kept awake all night. I have a hard enough time sleeping as it is.
I was sexually assaulted as a seven-year old child for over a year in my home while my parents slept soundly in the next room. Even when I told them about the abuse, they didn’t believe me. They didn’t get me help. They didn’t prosecute that bastard. They ignored it and swept it under the rug. Just so you know, that was absolutely the wrong thing to do. I never got justice. I never got closure. I never got any sort of psychological help and it led me to believe that it was my fault. I was the one to blame. Of course, it didn’t help that my asshole grandmother did actually blame me for the abuse. My parents didn’t blame me, but they did nothing to dissuade me from believing that what my grandmother said was the truth.
I was abused in my home, the same home my family lived in, and nothing happened. Eventually, months after my big confession, they did kick him out of the house. I think they did anyway. My memory on that time is pretty fuzzy at best. It could be that he left on his own.
Since I’ve started writing about this awful chapter in my past, which hasn’t been that long really, even in the history of this blog, some of you have made comments about how you hope nothing like that ever happens to your children, and if it did, you’d like to think that you’d handle it better than my family did. That’s pretty sweet when it comes to it. The fact that you read my experiences, and the first thing you think of is your own children is a good sign in my opinion. I think if my parents read that, they wouldn’t think of me, but about how they could cover it up.
I would like to think that you would handle it better than my parents did, too. I hope that my family’s handling of sexual abuse that they brought under their roof and then ignored is an anomaly. If anything, you couldn’t possibly handle it much worse than my family did.
So, this is a letter to parents that have read about my past, thought about your own children, and what you could do to make sure that never happens to them and what to do if it did. I don’t have any experience in parenting at all, but I do have experience being a child who was sexually abused and neglected.
You know your children better than anyone else. You’ve been with them since the first moment. That, in and of itself, is a victory. Good job! You know what they’re like when they haven’t gotten enough sleep. You know what they like to eat, what their personalities are like, etc. Knowledge is your best tool, because when a child is being sexually abused, they won’t act the way they normally do. Their behavior will be different. They may lose interest in going to places they normally enjoy. They might cringe when you mention a certain person, place or thing that shouldn’t be cringe-worthy. You will notice that something isn’t right.
So, your child is acting strangely. Narrow it down. What in particular is making them act that way? Is it school? Is Bobby Simmons from down the street bullying them or is it something more sinister? Talk to them. Ask them questions about their life. Why does going to summer camp make them cringe when it’s their favorite place on earth?
Listen to them. Communication is not a one way street. It’s not just about barraging them with questions; it’s about listening to the answers and putting all those puzzle pieces together. You’ve narrowed your child’s strange behavior down to summer camp. What is it about summer camp that makes them, all of a sudden, not want to go? It could very simply be that there’s a bully there making your kid’s life hell, or it could be something entirely different and worse.
If summer camp is suddenly abhorrent to your child, don’t force them into going as a character building experience. They’ve already learned enough there and forcing them into that situation isn’t going to help anything. Go experience it yourself. If your child is having problems in school, go talk to their teachers. They spend a lot of time with your kids and they probably have some ideas.
If your child somehow works up the nerve to come to you and tell you exactly what the problem is, do not ignore it. Don’t assume that they are making it up. They might not tell you directly because they don’t have the life experience or context to be able to say, hey, mom, coach Willy is touching me inappropriately. Coach Willy has already convinced them that there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing, it’s their little secret, and, oh, by the way, Coach Willy will kill them and everything they love if they tell anyone.
The amount of sheer guts it takes for a child to come to you and confess is astounding. That child is taking the biggest risk of their entire life by telling you. They will never make a bigger decision with more impact than that. Ever. So, if your child does hint around that there’s something not right about summer camp or Coach Willy, you best do something about it post-haste. Do not ignore it. Pull them out of there. And above all, get them some help.
Being sexually abused is the most confusing and awful thing a child can ever go through. They are told by their abuser that there’s nothing wrong with it. Even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, I WILL KILL YOU IF YOU TELL ANYONE. Talk about mixed signals. That’s so much for a little brain to process.
The worst part is that, because your child is still growing, that abuse will always be part of them. It is now a built-in feature like hearing or liking nacho cheese. It is, and always will be, a part of them. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the truth. Because it will always be there, you, as a parent, need to do everything in your power to help them learn to cope with it. It won’t be easy for your kids or for you, and a lot of horribly candid conversations will happen, if you’re lucky. If you’ve built a strong bond with your child and they feel like they can trust you, it will be really difficult for you. The more they trust you, the more they will share and the more you will want to murder. Don’t murder. It won’t solve anything. It won’t make your child feel any better having a parent in prison because of something that happened to them.
Don’t let them bury it. Don’t ignore it. Talk to them about it. As difficult as it is for you to hear it, believe me, it’s even harder for them to say it. Above all, make sure they know it is not their fault. Make sure they know that it won’t happen again as long as they are honest with you. Give them lots of big hugs and professional help and they’ll make it through. It won’t be easy to recover, but it can be done.
I hope that none of you have to deal with any of this and that this advice is all for naught. I hope your children never have to go through what I went through, but if they do, I really hope that you deal with it better than my parents did.