Parenting with an abuse survivor can be challenging. There are moments where the husband became both a mother and father because I checked out. Times when I dug my heels in an fight him about something benign and he didn’t understand. People that I would let in our lives and others I wouldn’t allow near us. Situations that I insisted were necessary and he’d disagree and we just couldn’t come to a compromise. And of course, it was a parenting decision that triggered me to slam a hammer into the foundation of our marriage. I don’t think we adequately understand how much sexual abuse affects a person’s ability to parent.
I asked my husband to discuss his experiences parenting our children with me. I was surprised by his responses and actually humbled that he sees my ability to parent higher than I think.
How has your wife handled parenting?
My personal feeling, given her history, she’s been a pretty good mother. She’s stayed away from some of the mistakes made by her parents. She did a good job of not making the abuse issues show up in her parenting. (Believe me, I was floored by his response…I think I did a rather crappy job of keeping my abuse issues away from my children.)
She has a very skeptical view of what other people are doing. She needs to know “Where are you going?” “Who will be there?” “Who’s who and who is doing what?” Very careful about who is around the girls.
She is more cautious/careful than I thought necessary. Didn’t allow kid’s to just go flitting off without questioning who will be there. There was a very limited number of people who could babysit, visit or be around.
She’s talked openly about her experiences with the kids. They know what happened to their cousins and why their grandfather is in jail. This has been both a negative and positive experience for them.
How has sexual abuse affected the way we parent?
The husband feels that it hasn’t and I disagree. I struggle with the feeling that I am too controlling in the area of who my girls are around, where they go and what is happening. The husband is probably more lenient of a parent than I am in regards to them making their own decisions about who to be around. Yet, somehow, despite my fears, we’ve managed to come to an agreement and give our girls some level of autonomy that doesn’t trigger me into panic attacks.
Have you and/or your wife talked to your children about their mother’s childhood experience? How do you feel it has affected them?
Yes. We have been very honest about what happened. It has affected them. Whatever we said or did affected them. How we handled leaving the church affected them. What they’ve been exposed to because of this in our lives affected them. Their grandfather’s arrest removed some of the naivety and not in a bad way. They know through our experiences that bad things can happen. They know that just because someone reads the Bible and leads worship doesn’t mean they cannot be evil people that they need stay away from. And they know that their parents will do everything in their power to protect them. My wife’s biggest testament to her ability to parent: Our children have not experienced abuse.
What steps did you take to protect your children?
1) Communication. We have been honest with them. About abuse. About our marriage relationship. About sex. We’ve given them education. My only worry is we were not cautious enough when we should have been because my wife was not communicating with me about what she had experienced.
2) Boundaries. We have boundaries even when they complain and people don’t agree. Where they can go, who they can go with, who they can be around, activities and places they can be involved with, who they are friends with.
How did you deal with the impact of the relationship between your wife & her family?
BEFORE I give his response, let me say one thing. This is not a slam against my family. One of the first things that revelation of abuse did was turn the spotlight on my family and how much our children would continue to be involved. We fought and said many horribly, hurtful things to one another over this issue. We are at a place where my husband loves my family and recognizes the source of our issue sits in a jail in the desert. So…here’s his response.
I was pulled into the family without having full disclosure in regards to who did what to to who & why. Who has issues and who doesn’t. I was not informed.
I asked him what disclosure would mean and how it would change our parenting decisions.
I would have cut down on trips to visit
I would have been more careful where girls spent the night (We fought about this…A LOT!)
I would not have EVER, EVER let your dad near my kids.
I would never had a relationship with your dad.
I felted duped. I talked to him about the Bible, about God, about you … when he’s evil … make’s me feel like a moron. Like a jerk. I was the last to know. It was like you all decided that I didn’t need to know. I couldn’t have protected my kids or you.
Actually I needed to know. I don’t now what the cousins have been told. About us, God…abuse. I don’t know what my kids will be exposed to and it makes me feel like I can’t protect them.
The whole situation is weird. In 2010 we are struggling and I don’t really understand why you are falling apart. Then the crap starts coming out, in pieces, over time. You learn something new every couple months and we endure the bomb shells and shrapnel. I couldn’t make any decisions because just when I thought it was over, you’d come out with something new. It was hard to take at times.
I felt that you and your family began this fake, family thing. Like all the issues between you didn’t exist. I know it was part of the survival mode and necessary. You pulled together even with the issues, but I worried that it was going to make things worse for you and expose our kids. I felt like the outsider. No say in what happened to our family.
This is the reality. It’s hard and painful and ugly. I love my family. I love that my children have a relationship with their cousins. I love that my nieces and nephews know they can talk to me and I’m going to love them and do my best to protect them. I try to not think how my silence caused this…and YES, I KNOW that’s not true, but if I had spoken up earlier, my father would not have been given carte blanche freedom with our children. My relationship with my siblings is something that I pray about all the time. I love them, yet there is a dysfunction between us that is toxic at times and I often have to take time-outs for my health. And I am still coming to terms with my parent’s role in our messy lives. I love my momma, my father is dead to me.
Time will tell how my children have been affected by my life. I don’t pretend that I did this on my own…my husband has a huge impact on my parenting. I have been honest. I have protected. I have done the best I can with the tools I was given.