Parents, let your children lie.
It was around 6pm when my family gathered together in a circle on the floor. We held hands, closed our eyes and listened as my adoptive mother attempted to channel one of her favorite spirits. This particular spirit would help her tap into her kids’ minds so that she could play god and be able to use her omniscient powers to “know” what we all were thinking. Her boyfriend held my left hand smoothly as my adoptive father clung onto my right.
I was around 11 or 12 years old.
We all abhorred the rituals forced on us by this woman who forced me to call her “mom.”
The term Mom was reserved for a woman who spent her life looking for me after believing she could reclaim me from the orphanage once I was healthy and ready to come home.
This woman who forcibly took her place was scary and dripping with white privilege. She was soaked in the savior-kool-aid drink mentality that saturated every corner of her being.
As we sat there in a somber circle, she broke the silence. She then pointed to her youngest foster son and told him to “tell his story.” He was five.
My brother was shaking and had trouble articulating what he wanted to share with the family. He was embarrassed, vulnerable, and also confused.
Because of his nervous stutter, my mother decided she would take over and speak for him. She did this often though. She spoke over the foster and adopted kids. She believed that had it not been for her, we would not be alive today.
And she told us this to our faces.
She stifled our voice over and over again.
“John just got back from taking Gab home forever.” She said with no emotion at all. She rarely referred to our father as “dad, or daddy.” She mainly used his first name, not allowing him to fully embrace the act of being a father. John was the name I heard instead of “dad”.
She felt she won because she saved my brother.
My brother proceeded to speak.”he. he. he. put his tu-tu in my mouth” he stammered out slowly.
We never used the anatomical names for our bodies. It was another way for us to not be able to “own” them. It was also another way for us to be “different” from the rest of the world. They liked that we were sheltered and that our vocabulary was not high. They enjoyed any control they could possibly have over us.
All eyes were on him. A five-year old, admitting that he was forced to suck Gab’s private parts. I can’t imagine the embarrassment he must have felt. I can’t imagine the pain, and the fear as he watched all of us look at him. All of us judged him. The millions of questions that ran through our heads could not be satisfied in one evening.
My adoptive mother then looked at each one of us and asked us if we too were abused. After observing the way we reacted to my brother, there was no way in hell I was going to admit that I too was being sexually abused by this older foster kid. There was no way I wanted to feel the way I assumed my brother felt. There was no way I was going to allow my APs to secretly blame me.
Because that is what they did after I admitted I had been abused by him for several years. I finally admitted it when I was in my mid 20s and I felt so sick.
Children can smell fear. They may not know where it is coming from exactly, but they can smell it. They know when a situation is not safe and when they will be judged for “letting him touch you.”
As years went by I conversed with my adoptive mother about my brother being abused; hinting at the fact that I too had been violated, but she never got the hints.
When my brother became unhealthily sexually active at a very young age, and into his teens, and also into his adulthood, my a-mom would say “he wasn’t abused, you know he liked it.”
It was phrases like these, that kept me from being honest with her, and also my adoptive father.
Phrases like these made me think that if I had told the truth the day she asked when I was a pre-teen, would she honestly think I provoked the older boy? Would she think I wanted to be touched?
Phrases like these, hurt me more than keeping in the pain that I was already suffering. Because I am in control of what I choose to share. But once it is out there, I have no control over how people will react to them.
Sometimes we lie because we don’t want to go through the embarrassment my brother went through. We don’t want people to look at us, often times judging us. We don’t want people to say:
“Why didn’t you tell them sooner?”
We don’t want to be questioned further.
We don’t want people to say “had it been I in that situation, I would have….”
Lies can protect us. They can keep us safe. And as children, in situations like the one I described above, a lie would have spared my brother from the visual ridicule and obvious judgment.
Had my APs created a space where we would feel safe to tell the truth, or had they looked for signs instead of force out a confession, healing would have been able to begin.
So parents, if you suspect sexual abuse or any other form of abuse, don’t force them to tell. Not every parent is like my APs. But there are many who are, there are many who think they were God’s gift to humanity. There are many parents who behave in a way that they are not even aware of how it impacts their children. There are many who will use religion to coerce their children into truth-telling. There are many who believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie.
Really? For whom?
When your children lie, are they afraid of the consequences? Do the consequences really make them not lie next time or does it make them find a way to lie better?
In the situation described above, the consequence for lying was not a “we are going to fix this and the first step was getting rid of the abuser” The consequence, we felt, was our APs being upset with us for “letting him do this” and not wanting to take the blame. After removing the Gab, there was no counseling offered to my brother, no more talk about it except for the occasional “he liked it” comments. There was no follow-up except for blaming the victim.
Parents are to blame if children are being abused.
The “I didn’t know” is bullshit!
There are clues EVERYWHERE, we just have to look for them.
I am a mom and if my daughter was/is being abused, and for some reason she felt more comfortable lying about it because she feared my reaction, it WOULD BE MY FAULT. If she feels she needs to lie, then I am not being the best parent to her.
If my daughter is being abused, it is MY FAULT because my job is to protect her. Part of protecting her is creating a safe space where she can communicate with me.
This is not always easy, but it should always be possible.
Part of protecting her includes:
- Making sure she is safe and this means asking her the right questions.
- NOT being afraid to be her “friend” too. This does not mean that being her mom takes the back seat, it means we need to think like a friend because at certain ages, children confide in their friends more than they do in their parents.
- Being up to date with the newest apps, chats, and different social media sites.
- Checking in on her SM accounts (not to see if she is misbehaving, this blog is not about that).
- Reading her stuff.
- Emails to her friends
- Read her journal entries,
- Check under her bed to see if there are notes of frustration or fear.
- Check her pillows
- Check in with her counselors at school
- Check her underwear drawer for anything that seems out of place.
- When doing laundry, check for unexpected discharge (yes, you’d be surprised what a pair of underwear worn by a five-year old can say about how they are feeling or if they are suffering trauma).
Be open with your children and remind them that you are there for them and that you are keeping an eye on how they are doing. Don’t make it about “I’m going to try to catch you doing something bad” but instead make it about “I want you to feel safe.”
My APs never made me feel safe. There were signs that three out of the five of us children were being sexually abused.
The signs for me were:
1.Bed wetting. I personally wet the bed until I was about 15 years old. The trauma of constantly being violated and feeling I could not tell anyone was huge. It infiltrated every aspect of my being and haunted me while I slept. I feel that when we wet the bed, we are in such a deep sleep (our bodies way of shutting down and ignoring the pain but yet protecting ourselves) that we are not able to sense or feel the warnings that we are about to use the bathroom in our beds. We are deeply tense if that makes sense. At night, we shut the world off, and instead of being aware of our body, we over compensate. And then we wake up in our own urine. Over and over and over again. Adoptees are not only coming to new families with a lot on their plates, they may be coming with sexual abuse which only adds to the inability to recognize the feeling of having to pee. Parents, take this seriously!
2. Pain in the lower region. I complained to my parents about pain in the lower region and my a-mom just thought I had started my period early. I told her numerous times that I had not started my period but she insisted that she was right. One day she made me lay down on the floor (I was between 10 and 12) and she told me to open my legs. She then proceeded to examine my private area for “signs” that I had started my period. I felt so ashamed I stopped complaining about it because I didn’t want another cavity search. Parents, take this seriously!
3. Talking about diseases. I remember this like it was yesterday. I was overly curious about diseases like aids. I told my father once that I thought I had the aids virus and that I was so scared that I was going to die. He laughed it off. If your child comes to you and is overly interested in diseases and asks you if they possibly have one of these, DO NOT, laugh it off. This is a perfect time to engage with your child. This could be a sign of being touched in an inappropriate way or feeling as though some kind of contact made them feel they “got” a disease. Parents, take this seriously!
4. Talking about sex. Children are usually shy when it comes to sex and they don’t usually want to hear parents talk about it. This is normal! But a child who is overly interested in sex and who talks about it all the time and wants to know more and more and more….we need to ask ourselves “why do they want to know more?” For me personally, I started talking about sex not necessarily to my parents, but to friends. It was easy for me to talk about it, even though I didn’t know “exactly” what it was. I was unaware that what my older foster-brother was doing to me was what adults may call “sex” but I was very comfortable about the topic. I was also not bothered at all when others talked about it including my parents. Maybe this had to do with the fact that what they said about it was what I was experiencing….and I guessed it was “normal”. But I didn’t understand why my sisters didn’t like to talk about it. That was confusing. One day one of my daughter’s friends came over and she was dancing sexually and talking about sex and telling my daughter how to dance sexy. I brought this up with her father (whom I trust) and he later approached the subject. He made some calls and found out that the person he was leaving his daughter with when he went to work had an older son who was touching her. Parents, take this seriously!
5. Masturbating more than usual. This could be a sign they are or were sexually abused. When you are sexually abused, your body is being stimulated in ways you didn’t think was possible. So after being touched a few times, you begin to crave more touch, more affection, more of that thing you know was wrong but sometimes felt right. For me, any chance I got, I used it to masturbate. I discovered the shower head at around 10 years of age and I also learned that plastic pop bottles could be used for so much more than sprite. I was so overly sexed that even when my family went out, I was able to use a tap or spigot. I learned all of these ways that would make my body feel and it was satisfying for a second, or two, or three and then I felt so much shame. I felt almost as if I missed being molested. Not in a good way, but in a sick way. For me, this person paid more attention to me than my APs ever did. And that feeling of a “friend” sat with me, even though I did’t really “like” what he did to my body. Parents, take this seriously!
6. Destroying things. At times I would get so angry and feel so at fault I would rip things from my shelves, pull clothes out of my dressers, and rip dresses off the hangers because I had no control over how I felt. All my shoes were thrown out the window. I was scared. I thought I was dying of aids. I was depressed. I felt I had no one. I always felt horny but didn’t understand why. One day, after remembering how I was “groomed”, I took everything I owned and crashed it on the floor. No one asked “why” I did this. They just told me to clean it up because I had made such a mess. Parents, take this seriously!
7. Forcing myself into solitary confinement. I had no desire to be around people for a long long time during and after. I spent days in bed after everyone else had gotten up on a weekend. I didn’t want to leave the bed, I didn’t want to leave the room. I journaled like a mother-fucker…pages and pages and pages. Parents, take this seriously!
8. Thinking and planning suicide. Sometimes we verbalize it, sometimes we write about it. But it is often on our minds because we want to escape the feeling of being grubby and eww. We want to leave this world with the hope that the next will make us someone else or will heal our broken bodies. Or, we begin the art of cutting. Parents, take this seriously!
9. Watching crime shows. I was obsessed with crime shows. I couldn’t stop watching them. Every time I heard the words molest or rape or perpetrator I learned that that was me. That was what I was going through. I watched crime shows because they always found the bad guys. I watched crime shows because the pursuit of the bad guys were so exciting. I could not watch the shows the biological children watched because for me, that was not realistic. I talk a bit about this in my book Rainbows But Not Unicorns. I could not connect with those kinds of shows because my life, as I knew it, was not amazing. Parents, take this seriously!
10. Wanting to be a social worker, lawyer, psychologist, teacher. When I was a child I wanted to be a teacher. My a-mother told me that I would make a good psychologist so she told me that was what I was to major in when I went to the college she got me into (she applied, took the test and wrote my essay…without me knowing! Not fucking cool). After the first couple months in college, I decided I didn’t want to pursue psychology, I wanted to be a teacher (which I hate now. Now I work with Adoptive parents at Nooma Consulting). I wanted to be the one to help identify abuse in a child so that I could alert the directors, or principles and be of service. I wanted to help them, and let them know that I could empathize. I wanted to save them, because I felt my APs didn’t really care to save me. Often, children who are sexually abused want to be someone who can help identify abuse in others so that the cycle can be stopped. Parents, take this seriously!
Parents, don’t force your children to admit they were touched inappropriately. It is humiliating. Look for signs that they are being hurt, and let them know that you are there for them. There is no need for them to “verbalize” this because often times verbalizing it hurts more than keeping it to themselves.
We adoptees and children who have been sexually abused live a life of counseling and therapy. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it does not. We spend thousands of dollars trying to “fix” ourselves, sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Help is not linear.
We don’t need to verbalize we were sexually abused, we need to process that we were sexually abused and part of that is admitting it to ourselves and being aware that if we admit it to others, it may not really free us but instead make us feel that we need to hide under a rock.
When we admit to things of this nature, we are not just being vulnerable with others, we are opening the door to more criticism by others including our family, friends and some who judge us for not “speaking up sooner, running away from it, fighting back.” We feel at fault one way or another.
Does the Truth really set us free? In the bible Jesus talks about the truth as being an experience that we have lived through. Not about becoming “saved” as many Christians phrase it.
Believing that my experience really happened is what allows me to be free, but sometimes admitting this experience to others causes me to be caged in. I know however that as my truth is shared, those reading are able to understand that they are not alone. What they have been feeling, what they have experienced; they are not alone. YOU are not alone.
Parents, if you suspect your child is being abused, don’t force them to tell you. Think about how they already feel knowing the truth for themselves and understand that verbalizing this could actually emotionally cause more harm than good.
Think before you ask. Think how you ask. Think why you ask.
When and if you do choose to ask, will your reaction cause them to feel like they wish they had never told you?
Will forcing THEM to tell the truth, really set them free? or will it set you free?
They are not lying to themselves.
They are not in denial.
Let them LIE if it helps them protect themselves. Silently know the truth so that you can help them process and get the help them need.