The Truth About Moms, Child Abuse, and Guilt

Yesterday, I wrote an essay about my lifelong battle with incontinence. It includes two incidents of physical abuse by my mom. I fully intended to post the essay as part of an ongoing series I’ve been doing here. I went to bed last night, and I began to think, “oh, shit, I can’t post that. People will think my mother is a horrible human being and she would be hurt if she read it.” I thought of all the things that she’s been through in her life. Several miscarriages, spousal abuse, the loss of a child. Does she really need to have this exposed? I’m not using her name, nor mine, but that guilt remains. I wonder why.

There weren’t many violent incidents with her–certainly a lot less than the ones associated with my father’s drinking. Yet, the trauma I suffered on those nights was extreme enough that it still reverberates through my life and makes it difficult for me to access care that would help me. That’s part of the reason I want to post the essay. I need to talk about how in-home care funding works and why I’m having so much trouble. I feel like these incidents are necessary to explain what’s happening to me.

I have no guilt over relating my father’s alcoholism or the abuse he inflicted because of it. I don’t care if it hurts him.child-334309.jpg He’s hurt me and I don’t owe him my protection. Yet, after everything, I still have the urge to protect my mother. I’ve always done that.

I waited years to expose sexual abuse by a relative because I wanted to protect her. I thought first of how hurt she would be if she knew what was going on. Turns out, she didn’t believe me and made my life miserable. So, that’s what I get for trying to shield her.

I don’t think she’s a horrible person. There’s a lot I owe her in terms of my ability to adapt and function as a person with a disability–and yet there are these abusive behaviors. The dichotomy is hard to swallow, and I’ve allowed myself to dismiss and minimize the bad experiences for years. I believe she has an undiagnosed mental illness, but that doesn’t justify her behavior. She suffered a great deal, but that isn’t an excuse. I have more emotional and psychological problems because she didn’t believe me or stand up for me than I have because of the sex abuse. That needs talking about.

The conflicted emotions also bear talking about. The internet is full of abuse survivors who rant and rage and are held up for their courage. Many others remain silent because we can’t wholeheartedly hate those who hurt us. We don’t feel courageous, we feel doubly dismissed, confused, and alone.

I recently had this conversation with my cousin:


Rose: I’m sorry it has to be this way because I do love them, but I’m sick of pretending it’s all fine.
Erin: No, I totally get that. Both my parents played their roles in fucking us up, but I refused to see my mom as anything but a victim for so long…and I think that’s because she was dead. You know that whole, can’t think bad of the dead” thing that I got from God only knows where…lol. Then I said fuck it, and decided to deal in truth. Instead of skewed memories that “really didn’t happen that way.” But, because of that…I’m the asshole. I’m not going to play your game of false truth for acceptance anymore.
Rose: I was always the “liar” and the one trying to get them into trouble, and I never saw my mom as part of the problem even though she did some fucked up shit too. Now I’m just like, “Whatever, you guys can’t hurt me anymore than you already have. I’m a grown up. If you have a problem, maybe you should have straightened yourselves out when we were kids.”

I think, as a society we’re conditioned to excuse or ignore abuse by women.  Even among social progressives, women are consistently presented as victims.  Victims of patriarchy in a male dominated society where they have every right to be angry.  Because they do.  But nobody wants to engage conversations about women perpetrating violence on girls, and girls are conditioned to pardon and protect their mothers.  Maybe because violent women are “strong?” I don’t know.

There’s this voice in my head that says, “She fought with the school system, taught you to dress, bathe, cook, and clean independently. She’s spent the last year preparing meals for you because you can’t. So you’re going to repay her this way?”

This is what happens. It’s why so many people stay silent. But it’s not about reciprocal action or even about compassion. The things that happened to me matter.

Even knowing all that, I have trouble pulling the trigger on that essay post.