Growing up, I experienced nearly every challenge a child could face. My parents divorced when I was two. My father kept me and remarried. We moved constantly and never put down any roots. I was molested by three different men by the time I was ten over a period of at least seven years. I don’t remember when it started. I only remember when it stopped. My father and stepmother divorced when I was eleven and I was taken by my biological mother and her husband. I barely knew them and it was a difficult transition. But my life did not improve. It was a violent home. There was physical, psychological and emotional abuse. I was beaten, thrown down stairs, choked, kicked. I moved out on my own when I was still in high school.
My experiences as a child sparked a passion to help others and in particular, children. I never wanted any child to endure what I had. I spent a considerable amount of time working with children both professionally and on a volunteer basis. I knew that I had been damaged and focused on my own healing as well. I swore that no child of mine would ever experience the atrocities that I had. Not on my watch.
Then, I met my daughter. She was six years old the day I met her. I was dating her father. She was beautiful, sweet and smart. We were instant friends. But there was something about her that set off warning bells right away. She never wanted to go home. She cried hysterically and clung to me. She never talked about her mother or missed her. She talked openly about her fear of her stepfather. In fact, she talked openly about her fear of a lot of things. The dark, showers, bears. She was starving for love. It created a worry deep in my gut.
Eventually her father and I married. The worry for her continued. I couldn’t do much to protect her away from me. It was a terrible feeling. I did what I could to teach her about safety, what to do if someone scared her, how to ask for help and that no one was to touch her in a bad way. But when you don’t have custody of your child, you have to give her back every single time, even when you fear that the people who are caring for her might be doing her harm. She never came right out and said it. There were just these subtle signs that added up to me. But until she actually told me that was the case, there was nothing I could do but empower her to protect herself.
Then came the summer that changed our life. She was eleven years old. She started to tell me more details about the misbehaviour of her stepfather. She started mentioning inappropriate interactions, jokes and abuses she had witnessed. She said she wanted to live with us. She had finally spoken, or so I thought. We went to court and filed for custody. It was one of the worst summers of my life. Despite repeating her stories and even her own testimony, we did not prevail.
But she refused to go back to her mother. That’s what happens when a child is ready to talk. So she stayed. We arranged for visitations and the stepfather had been ordered to stay away from her. This went on for a couple of months until the day that changed my life forever. The day she never went back.
She woke me up in the middle of the night. She was shaking and crying. She demanded I come downstairs to talk to her. I was scared. She was twelve now. I could see by the way she was standing and speaking that this was serious. I knew it had to be something terrible. Beyond terrible.
She started pacing the floor, tears streaming down her face. She kept saying, “I can’t say it. I can’t say it.” I was sitting on the sofa, waiting for her to tell me this awful thing. My heart was pounding. I told her, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You can tell me.” She left the room and came back with a folded up piece of paper in her hand. As she handed it to me, she crumbled into my lap.
I wrapped my arms around her as I opened the little note. It looked just like a note a girl would pass her friend in class. A harmless bit of gossip or a joke. But this note broke my heart into a million little pieces.
“I was molested in the 3rd grade.”
It was scrawled out in a marker in her little girl handwriting. So innocent. These horrifying words. Everything I had feared but couldn’t prove, was true. My baby. My little girl. Why? Why couldn’t I have protected her?
That note started a journey for my daughter and me. It was a tumultuous journey for both of us. There were investigations and criminal charges. Her mother and mother’s family walked away from her and abandoned her, taking the stepfather’s side. My daughter was dealing with memories she had intentionally repressed and fears that she was bad or crazy.
As a mother, I had to walk down a path of pain for which I was unprepared. I had promised myself that no child of mine would ever go through this. And yet, by a strange twist of universal circumstances, I was given a child who had experienced this abuse nonetheless. I had to deal with that guilt and confusion. And the pain of my experience was re-ignited. I had to process that as well. It was overwhelming. I was broken by the pain of knowing precisely what my daughter had endured and the long process of healing she was facing.
And so I loved her. In some ways, I loved her as a baby, re-teaching her the lessons she never learned: “I am good,” “I belong,” “I am safe.” I had to teach her about forgiveness, the letting go of your right to see the wrongdoer suffer. I had to pad the holes left in heart when her biological mother abandoned her. And together, we had to figure out what kind of woman she wanted to be because that was and is, her work to do, no matter the obstacles in her way.
Our journey has been uneven, hard work and a challenge for us both. She didn’t know it was a challenge for me. But my journey with my daughter has been one of the best experiences of my life. This little girl, who was given to me by circumstance instead of biology, has taught me more about myself, friendship, courage, love, perseverance and the resiliency of the human spirit than I could ever thank her for.
So, to the monster who broke my daughter:
She is stronger than your intimidation. She is kinder than your cruelty. She is braver than your cowardice. She knows how to heal. She did the work and has the scars to prove it.
She is no longer broken. And she did that. My beautiful, healed daughter.
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!