Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.
Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse
Part 3: Mini-Parents
For both of my parents, I served as a surrogate spouse.
I mediated their fights, hoping they wouldn’t escalate to violence. They would come to me as their confidant. Dad would complain to me about Mom, sharing his quandaries, wondering how to deal with her.
He even consulted me as to whether he should divorce my mom when I was 14, or if he should take her to a psychiatric hospital when she was suicidal.
My mother, on the other hand, was a lonely soul. Many nights, she’d climb into my bed with me and spoon me. Then, she’d complain about my father, their sex life, how she was abused by her family and my father. At 13, my mother declared that my father raped her. My father denied it. I was so shocked and torn, not knowing who to believe. To appease her, I would sit on her bed daily, listening to hours long diatribes about her marriage problems.
She would expose her naked body to me, change in front of me, climb in the hot tub with just underwear, have me give her shoulder and feet massages, bring me into public restrooms with her, use excuses to see my body and make comments from the time I was a tot until I was 17 and more.
I had no voice, no way to say no.
She was my mother. I didn’t like it, but had no idea it was sexually abusive. I did not know females could be sexual abusers. I thought this was normal for mothers to do. I thought all girls knew what their moms looked like naked.
My mom was chronically and mentally ill, and slept most of the day, leaving us unsupervised. If she got up, it was to rage, dole out beatings, blame us for how terrible she felt, and then to sit in front of the computer screen. I’d sit with her, patiently watching her computer screen, hoping she’d appreciate me then. But normally, she’d ignore me.
So, I took over as parent and ran the house. Eventually, I was in charge of watching, caring for, and tutoring my younger siblings, cooking all family meals, picking up and cleaning our huge house, and doing dishes. I taught my youngest sibling to read, write, do math, use scissors, play, everything. At age 9, I was calling for all the appointments, hotels, stores, rides, and play dates for my family… everything an adult would do, I did. On top of this, I was my mother’s caretaker. I made her meals, checked on her hourly, and cleaned her room.
The best way to describe it is that I parented my mother and all of my siblings.
With the belief in the homeschooling community that teenagers don’t exist, my mom called me a “young adult” at 12. I was the oldest girl, the responsible one. I just wanted approval and respect, and to keep the peace as much as possible for survival. Indeed, it seems that our parent’s love was conditional on our love. Our value was tied to our obedience, to our service, to our usefulness, resourcefulness. But with so many adult pressures, so much fear of violence, and our worth conditional to reception of love, there was a terrible price to pay.
I was taught to abuse.
I was taught to beat my dogs…hit, kick, shock them with the shock collar, all while the poor dogs cowered and yelped in pain, struggling to escape. I hated it, but did not know it was wrong. If I refused, I would be in trouble. Either way, I was damned.
With my 4 siblings, I started raising them from the time I was 8. Growing up in such an isolated, violent environment, violence was one of the few ways I knew to handle problems.
Being taught Ezzo methods did not help.
Yelling or name-calling could keep them in line. If they didn’t cooperate, I would grab, push, drag, smack the back of their heads, slap them, or kick them (I always told myself it was a light kick, so it was ok). I thought all siblings did this. I thought all families acted this way. Due to my extreme isolation, I did not know I was a bully until I was 16 years old! When I found out, I cried bitter tears of guilt and shame. I apologized profusely, and made amends to them. It pains me to this day that I could not take back what I’d done.
We were trained to keep silent about the fights and abuse at home or face severe punishment.
Moreover, there was so much shame surrounding it. I made it my responsibility to be the guardian of outgoing words. Concurrently, I was my parent’s pawn. I believed them. They forced me to be an apologist for the very things I despised. Therefore, to preserve my sanity, my mind forgot the abuse. I told folks what great parents I had, and gave my parents cards saying “#1 Dad” and “Best Mother in the World!”
I stood up for spanking rights, parental rights, homeschooling rights, courtship, no kissing before marriage, and so many other things that I internally was at war with myself over.
To be continued.
Wow, so abusive. Aweful.
I’m so sorry that your mother inflicted abuse on you, and that both parents forced unhealthy enmeshment on you. No parent should ever do that to their child.
Your home life sounds horrific. It can be hard to know what’s abuse and what’s normal because we get used to what we know. The physical, emotional, and verbal abuse and neglect are unarguable. Within that context, neck and foot massages — while just a normal part of some families — may have been sexually abusive. I’m uncomfortable now with the back massages my dad used to get and give, but enjoy giving and receiving pedicures with my own kids, plus cuddles and hugs. As a mom, I rarely get to pee by myself — someone always wants to talk to me but I don’t think it’s sexual abuse.
You are right that different things are acceptable according to different cultures and families, and it’s so important for kids to get loving touch and hugs. On the other hand, in families where abuse is the norm, it’s common to find multiple types of abuse. It crosses the line to enmeshment and emotional incest when the child is set up as a surrogate spouse emotionally. If the parent gets sexual gratification out of further behaviors, then that crosses the line into sexual abuse.
Yes, I was thinking to myself as I read that actually, I did grow up knowing what my mother looked like naked, but that’s just because we lived in a culture where people of the same sex change in front of each other (even strangers in the pool locker room, etc) and that’s normal. It didn’t feel weird to me, mostly it just satisfied my curiosity about what my body might look like someday. But that’s very different–I think it’s about the spirit in which it’s done. I could definitely sense that there was a very different story here–the difference between “I don’t think it’s a big deal to change in the same room” and “I secretly want you to see me naked”… oh, ick.
I remember a time when I was 12 or 13 and my mom burst into the bathroom while I was showering and yelled at me at the top of her lungs for doing something (I dont remember, i think I used soemthing of hers or broke something). I tried to cover myself with the shower curtain or at least hide but she kept ripping it out of my hands, yelling at me the whole time….
I never thought of that as sexual abuse, but I guess it really is.