My mother died this week. While I loved her deeply, our relationship was, as they say, complicated.

The relationship between mothers and daughters is always complicated – all the more so when there is sexual abuse by the father/stepfather or another family member.

The central questions victims ask themselves, in such cases, are: whether their mothers knew the molestation was taking place; and, if they did know, why their mothers chose not to intervene on their behalf.

This can feel like betrayal on the most visceral level. How is it that we can be rejected by our mothers? Our very hearts cry out.

Many factors come into play:

  • A woman who is herself abused may fear for her life, if she does not acquiesce to the sexual violation of her children (daughters and/or sons).
  • Alternatively, a mother may fear abandonment by her partner/spouse, especially if she does not see herself as capable of supporting the children on her own.
  • A few women may be callous, particularly if they are addicts whose judgment has been impaired. This group of women may actually trade a child for drugs.
  • Many women live in denial. Unwilling or unable to cope with the thought of molestation by the father/stepfather or another family member, these women ignore what may to an outsider seem like clear signs of sexual abuse [1].

As for rescue:

  • There are women who do not understand the abuse dynamic (the inherent inequality between adult and child) and, therefore, see their daughters (even children as young as 6) as “competition” for a partner/spouse. These women are likely to blame a victim for the molestation, mistakenly characterizing the violation as seduction by the victim.
  • When the child molester is a family member, but not the father/stepfather (for instance, a brother, uncle, or grandparent), there is a greater chance of rescue for the victim, since “competition” does not come into play.
  • When child molesters challenge the veracity of the children they have violated, mothers are faced with a credibility issue. Some women will side with their partners/spouses as against their own children. This can be crushing for victims.
  • Women in denial never deal with the rescue issue.

Often, mothers and daughters are alike in more ways than we might care to admit. But ours is the choice of whether to follow in our mothers’ footsteps. We need not make the same mistakes they did…or inflict the same wounds.

[1] Signs of possible sexual abuse can include:

  • the presence of child pornography in the home,
  • changes in behavior by a child (disobedience on the part of a normally obedient child, for example),
  • sudden unease by a child around the offending individual,
  • secretive behavior by the offending individual,
  • unexplained nocturnal visits to a child’s bedroom,
  • sexual comments about a child in the mother’s hearing,
  • inappropriate touching of a child in the mother’s view, and finally
  • the statement by a child that sexual abuse has taken place.

None of these is, by itself, conclusive.  Each though merits inquiry.



Filed under Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

15 responses to “Complicated

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing my own Mom five years brought a grief so great I didn’t know if I’d bear it. I searched for her love right up till her death, maybe beyond. The complicated love/hate relationship, or it’s aftermath, is like untangling a tumbleweed of barbed wire. I still need her cool hand on my fevered forehead sometimes.

  2. Patricia Grace, the author of “Shattered”, had this to add on the topic, recently:

    “Even a mother who supposedly doesn’t know, often knows quite a bit. Later in life the same person who abandoned us can also be a person who helps, supports and loves us, redeeming themselves and saving the other in the process. Such was the relationship with my own mother.

    But…[s]haring with a mother could also increase one’s pain and make things harder not better…

    For each it is a separate journey…More importantly, if a woman wanted to disclose and hadn’t before to anyone, I would recommend they do so with the help, guidance and support of a therapist. Others’ responses can cause even more devastation. You can almost count on it.”

  3. -” There are women who do not understand the abuse dynamic (the inherent inequality between adult and child) and, therefore, see their daughters (even children as young as 6) as “competition” for a partner/spouse. These women are likely to blame a victim for the molestation, mistakenly characterizing the violation as seduction by the victim.” – This is so hard to believe, but it is true what you say, and as someone who experienced this, I am at a loss for words on how damaging this can be for someone in this situation.

    • I am deeply sorry to hear that you suffered in this way, Marie. Unfortunately, some parents still blame a child for abuse, even today when abuse is better understood than in years past. Such blame is entirely inappropriate (not to mention devastating to the child). Children are NEVER responsible for the abuse to which they were subjected — whether physical, emotional, sexual or in the form of neglect.

      • Anna, thank you so much for your compassionate reply. This whole sexual abuse issue has devastated my life, but through therapy and sheer will power I am trying to move on. It is never easy when your own mother blames you for being sexually abused and hates you for it. Thankfully, I have tried to forgive and move on, but it’s not been easy to do. On a lighter level – a thousand thankyous for all the likes. I am so pleased that you chose to read all those posts – thanks again! By the way it’s great to find other people who have experienced what I have gone through and offer so much in the way of support and compassion.

      • You are clearly a resilient young woman. These are difficult issues that can take a lifetime to resolve. You give me too much credit, but I’m glad we’ve met, too. Anyway, lawyers accept all compliments (LOL)!

      • Anna you are such a good and kind person and far too modest for a lawyer :))

  4. Dear Anna,

    There are also husbands who watch a woman pour all her affection into a (often the first born) son and become resentful and jealous because they feel like they gained a son and lost a wife and lover.

    I am sorry to hear about the loss of your mother, but I know how you feel. I have never felt close to either one of my parents and my dad died first (no tears shed by me) and now my mom is in a convalescent type home over a thousand miles away. It is hard to get emotionally worked-up when ones parents lived their lives for themselves.

    • Thank you for giving us the male perspective, Michael. It should not be forgotten that boys can be victimized, as well as girls. When children become enmeshed in the emotional life of their parents, distance/detachment may be the only way those children can see as adults to break free. The alternative is a kind of suffocation.

      • Thank you for your insight and kindness, dear Anna. You are so right. There is an Old Testament verse that says that the failings of our parents can be visited upon us unto the third and fourth generations. It seems to be so.

      • That is a poignant observation, Michael, and bears directly on abuse. Your pain resonates deeply. Not only can abuse be generational, the scars of abuse — the ongoing emotional and psychological impact to victims — can effect those around us, our children and their children.

        This is not the act of a cruel God. It can though feel that way, even to believers. Nor is this reason to live in isolation from our loved one. The tenacious nature of abuse reflects, I think, the depth of the wounds inflicted on us.

        Despite the severity of our wounds, a good and merciful God bears us up — often using love to help heal us. His healing can extend to the third and fourth generations, as well.

        I am always impressed by your profound understanding of Scripture, Michael. And grateful you think so well of me.

        Your sister,

        Anna ❤

      • Yes, Anna. We all seem to have things we react to and often in a not so healthy ways as far as having meaningful and lasting relationships with others. It is hard to imagine the world the way God created it to be with people walking together with one another in total transparency and without any fear in His love (“and they were naked and unashamed”). That said, God has put it in my heart to live that way with those whom He has put in my life… open and transparent and filled with love for them. It is not easy but when a connection is made in the Spirit, it is worth it.

      • A beautiful act of faith, Michael.

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