From Tracie: Parenting Without Shame

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Parenting Without Shame


It shrouded me in its shadow for many years.

Not always readily visible, but if you looked and listened closely, you would have been able to see it.

I worked hard, as I walked the healing path, to shred the shame of sexual abuse.
It would creep back and reattach itself, and I would shed it again.




I know that the sexual abuse from my childhood was not my fault. I did not cause it. I did not invite it. I do not own it, or the shame that came with it.

I conquered the shame.

So why, when I was reading a blog last night, was I hit in the gut with a fist-full of a new kind of shame?

The post.
The writer told a story about her time spent in an internship, where she came in contact with a sexual abuse survivor named Amber. She shared that Amber's story of abuse stood out because it was not a violent rape, saying, "Many of the children fell victim to abusers who saw them more as objects than as children. Amber’s perpetrator attempted to make her feel special..."

Why does this post bother me?
I was surprised that a professional would see Amber's case as unusual. Many sexual predators groom children as a way to gain their trust, and cloak their abuse in "games" and affection and "love". The fact that he made her feel special does not mean that he actually saw her as anything more than an object to satisfy his perverse desires.

Amber's story - being groomed for the abuse, not experiencing a violent rape ("violent rape" being a misnomer, because rape is ALWAYS an act of violence and never an act of love or affection), having confusion about love and boundaries, being in denial about the abuse and feeling love toward the abuser - a story similar to my own.

There is a part of me that wants to scoop Amber up, and hold her in my arms; and stop people who don't understand her from writing about her story.

....and then there are the comments.
The comments show a level of ignorance that is astounding to me.

"I think sometimes the perpetrators really don't think they're doing anything wrong."
Excusing the actions of the perpetrator, is half a step away from blaming the victim. There are some cases where a perpetrator does not have the mental cognition to understand, and may be acting out things he does not fully comprehend, but certainly those cases are extremely rare exceptions.

Sexual predators know they are doing something wrong:
-They do it behind closed doors, not out in the open.
-They tell the child to keep it a secret, through the ruse of it being a "game" or through threats.
-They manipulate situations and people.
-They do not talk openly about it.
-They lie when confronted.

"How can these victims grow up to parent children with healthy boundaries when they never knew them themselves?"

Most abused children do NOT grow up to become abusers. It is possible for survivors to parent with loving, healthy boundaries. Only 40% of sexual offenders report being abused themselves as children. Approximately 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1 and 9 victims; 25% have 10 to 40 victims.

The fist-full of shame hit me when I read that last comment. It was not shame over the abuse, that was discarded on the path long ago, it was shame over my choice to be a parent. 

I want to give grace to the author and commenters, to say that they did not mean to imply what my heart heard, "Abused children grow up and become abusers, they should not parent." I hope that was not what they meant. But last night, a voice whispered to me, "Is that what people think about you, when they learn you are a survivor? Should a sexual abuse survivor be a parent?" 

Are they questioning my ability to parent healthy?

The shame reached out and grabbed me with its cold hands.
...but I do not own that shame, it is not mine, and I do not accept it!
Not only do I parent with healthy boundaries, 
empower my daughter to develop boundaries and a voice of her own.

I will continue on the healing path, molting this new shame that tried to enslave me, growing and moving forward. 

I will not allow the ignorance of other people to define who I am, as a person, as a survivor, or as a parent. 

Have you ever questioned yourself as a parent because of something that someone else said? 


  1. More times then I wo9uld care to count in all honesty.. and I feel just like you. Especially with Doug being bipolar I often think if I had done more or pushed harder for help he would not be suffering with the disorder so bad..

  2. I think (and hope) the writer meant that Amber still hadn't come to terms with the reality of her abuse (and just lacked clarity in her writing). The kids who were acting out in anger and rage were further along in the healing process because they knew and understood what happened to them was horribly wrong. I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. But I agree, she should have been much more clear. Rape is absolutely an act of violence no matter how it's cloaked. And when done to children, it's even more horribly violent to me.

    I am so glad you don't own the shame and continue to speak out against lies and ignorance. You are giving so many a voice.

    I often question myself as a parent, and I think it's because I lack confidence in parenting and often doubt whether I'm doing "the right thing." But I have to remind myself, I am doing the absolute best that I can, and that is always "the right thing."

    Thank you, Tracie.

  3. I have questioned myself, and yet when I see my son I understand that the cycle has stopped with me. He set boundaries, at barely 5 that it took me til almost 40 to set. We are good parents, because we work hard at it and we choose to be. They chose abuse because it was easy and they were predators. Don't let anyone take that from you - a healing survivor and a Mother. You and I and the others beat the odds and broke the cycle. Shanyn, the Scarred Seeker

  4. Wrote a long comment and then deleted because I was missing the point I think.

    I'll just say survivors (who are educated about abuse and have worked to heal themselves) are often the best parents I know. They pay attention. They are serious about their responsibility to keep their children safe. They listen. They want their children to have the innocence that they were robbed of. So I am happy to read your last sentence. Don't let others define you.

  5. You're in a position to teach your children from a perspective that a lot of us don't have. We can all tell our kids what we "think" but you can parent from what you know. There's a big difference there. You're making a conscious effort and you should feel no shame, only pride in conquering, in teaching, in informing and in protecting. Your kids are lucky kids to have such an incredible mom.

  6. I can see why that post hit you the wrong way! Just want to validate you. I applaud you for speaking out and am grateful that you chose to speak more of your story because of the nerve this hit *HUG*

  7. "I will not allow the ignorance of other people to define who I am, as a person, as a survivor, or as a parent."
    So incredibly powerful. Your self-awareness and the conscious effort you are making to empower your daughter with that same ability is something for which you should be applauded. Keep doing what you're doing, Tracie. We all can learn from your example. Speaking out about your story, giving a voice to others, and continuing to battle the ignorance and lies is so, so very important. Thank you.

  8. Ah Traci ... I suspect that at one point or another everyone feels that "they" are looking at me and questioning my ability to parent. And now ... on the far side of it, as 2 of my children choose paths far from the way they were raised to go, I feel even more judged! Some times it is truly there. Most of the time it is just the devil trying to bring me down!

    And if broken people didn't have children .... humans would cease to exist! Not all of us have been called to survive the same things but we all had to survive something and we're all at least a little bit broken!

  9. "I was surprised that a professional would see Amber's case as unusual."

    YES. Everything you said - just yes.

    I totally understand why that comment would have hit you the way it did. However, please don't question your ability to be the excellent mother you are. <3

  10. I am convinced that the panic attacks that I suffered from throughout my first pregnancy had a lot to do with the kind of shame you are talking about. I found out that I was having a girl and that really terrified me because I was a girl and I know what I went through.

    I still have a hard time accepting that it wasn't my fault. Part of it has to do with others belittling what I went through because it wasn't "violent" and it wasn't rape and I was groomed.

    You are a great parent and a great advocate. Keep speaking and sharing your truth. I'm sure these people were not speaking with intent to hurt, it is just lack of knowledge or understanding and I'm happy for them that they don't have first hand knowledge.

  11. Oh honey. Those comments are just out of ignorance or generalizations. They don't know YOU. You are an amazing mama.

  12. Everything Chibi said. And you said. I have been hit that hard before, by posts and by unintentional comments. You've dealt with it with grace and power in this post.

  13. First, I am so so sorry you were made to feel this way. And that you ever felt shame from those actions of long ago. But I admire this post because it's highly instructive and powerful. And I agree with what you wrote. It always feels better to take charge and make your voice be heard, doesn't it?

  14. Just remember, people are stupid.

    When you hear/read stuff like that, be sure to holler GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN! and know that you are a wonderful, funny, interesting, thoughtful, empowering mom.

    We may have been influenced by our past, but we are NOT our past.

    I see you.


  15. I was shocked and infuriated at the ignorance you came across. How in the world could anyone ever question someone who survived abuse and their ability to parent? Don't worry, my friend. I think I speak for the majority when I say that it is because you are a survivor and because you have soared above the terrible trial of abuse, you can empower your daughter with exactly the tools and abilities she needs.

    You do not own that shame. I don't think I've read anything more powerful. You are an amazing woman, mother, creature of the universe.

  16. Tracie,
    What a lovely way to honor the beautiful and healthy mother you are. Good for you for not owning that shame.
    Good for you for taking care of your heart when you felt punched in the gut.
    This is a great post about what we as survivors can do to take care of ourselves when ignorant comments arise.

    Very well written.
    Oh, and great BIG HUGS to you!

  17. I've questioned myself SO many times from what other people say. I think it's a natural parenting "thing" to do. With THIS, though, don't let it make you doubt yourself. This is different - ignorant comments like that you have to ignore. You are a good mom.

  18. Tracie, I am deeply sorry that words I typed hurt you. I am not questioning your ability to parent. I have no right to do such a thing.
    I happen to know several women who were victims of sexual abuse as children who grew up to be excellent mothers. I have no reason to believe that you are anything but an excellent mother as well.
    The point that amazes me is that it is possible to do so without having been given the same protection and boundaries in your formative years.

    The point of my piece was that the person who molested this particular person left her very confused and she seemed to be unable to muster the same anger at him that I saw other children muster for their perpetrators. And I felt that rage was actually helpful in their healing.

    Having never dealt with the issue first hand I can not say how vulnerable I would feel about comments about it. I read your words here and see that you were vulnerable to further hurt and I feel completely awful about that. I only hope that you know that I never intended for my words to hurt you or anyone.
    I am on the outside looking in unable to fathom the experience and thinking about what that path would be like.
    Life is full of enough pain. I am deeply sorry to have caused any more of it.

  19. There's so much ignorance out there. I was crying when I read this earlier and came back tonight to comment because I just didn't know what to say. My heart hurts for you and the fact that you even have to wonder what people think of you as a Mom. I feel so much love whenever I read your writing about your daughter and it makes me feel happy about this world and the goodness that is still there. Lovely lady, just keep on being the amazing person and Mom that you are. Your story tells itself.
    And as for your question, have I ever questioned myself as a Mom? Only ever since they were both born, 38 and 28 years ago. I always wonder if I should have done something differently. The truth is, I just loved them with everything I had and still do. And they grew to be amazing young men. So I'm smiling....but sometimes I still wonder.

  20. That story could be mine. Is quite like mine. And the rage I felt at those ignorant comments...

    You are not alone.

  21. You are doing such a good job. You are. Shame is a weapon used to silence, and you know that, and are not silent.

    And your daughter knows, too.


  22. Thank you Tracie for addressing the issue of shame in the way that you did and for refusing to take it on as yours. Many of us were groomed as children before we were sexually abused. Rape isn't always violent but it is always damaging to the victim because it tells us that we have no value other than as a sexual object to some adult that is supposed to love and protect us. It is confusing because it attacks our childhood identity when we are used and then ignored. I have not going to go and read the other article tonight as upset as I have already been today. Maybe another time. Thank you for standing up for yourself and for all sexual abuse vicitms.

  23. thank you for, once again, saying what I feel so much better than I could.

  24. Hi Tracie,
    I was unable to view the original post and comments, but did read the comment from the author, What what you wrote struck me deeply regardless. and there are about 6 responses to different things going through my head... so I hope I can make sense! About being groomed.. There are a million ways that kids are groomed to accept abuse. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter at ALL which way it is done, the fact is that the CHILD was abused and that the reaction of the child (or grown child) has to be taken as perfectly fine so that there is a trust born; otherwise the survivor will NOT get to the next stages of healing at all. Justifying the abuser in any way is so dangerous; in order to survive WE ourselves tried to justify the abuser. If that justification is validated, it can set the client/survivor YEARS back in the healing process. In regards to the comment from the author ~ one of the things that I have come to understand is that MANY people don't get that rage against abusers for a very long time due to the loyalty issues with the people that we believe (deeply) are responsible for our LIVES. (that they can choose if we live or die) and that gets in the way. Accepting them and even feeling love for them, is how I survived! It is very hard to break through that and that fact really needs to be understood and respected if the survivor is going to get any help at all. Anger came much later for me. I was in denial about the abuse for YEARS.

    About parenting, I also react to statements about abused ppl. becoming abusive esp. when my own mother was one of those that did and although I vowed all my life that I would NEVER be like her, I was so afraid that I would be just like her. Throw some deep shame and low self esteem into the mix, and although I was not like my mother as a parent, I was a mess for the first 12 years of parenting, obsessed with worrying about the way I was "doing it" combined with the belief that my past was my fault, so I HAD to BE better with my kids. (round and round it went till I feel apart and couldn't get out of bed in the mornings.Falling apart turned out to be the beginning for me)

    My kids have a very different life than I had, and as of this week two of them have gradated high school and they still LOVE me! LOL things are night and day with my kids and our relationships vs. the way that it was for me.
    Great post Tracie,
    Hugs, Darlene

  25. Tracie,

    You are amazing. You are an inspiration to me and to so many people out there. Thank you for speaking out about this, for shedding light on it. I know you are an INCREDIBLE mother. People can be so stupid and ignorant sometimes.

    I love you. #thatisall

  26. I've raised four incredibly well-adjusted, thriving, motivated children - who are now ages 14 through 23. They are exceptional in many ways, but they are not exceptional in the way I felt most special - which was by feeling shameful, different, and unworthy.

    If you know what's at stake, I think it's possible you can do a better job at parenting than those who are living in a fantasy world in which child abuse doesn't exist. You can keep your children safe and give them the tools you never had, becaue you know what you needed.

    The comments are ignorant. Don't believe them.

  27. Wow, Tracie! What a wonderful, awareness-raising and brave post...and conversation that's going on here in comments. Thank you so much for sharing, especially for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE.

    What a perfect post for the five-year anniversary edition of the carnival. On my website (the dot com site, not the blog) under "Advocacy," I have this quote: "The solution to sexual violence in America is not more laws, more guns, more police or more prisons. The solution to sexual violence is the acceptance of reality." Gavin DeBecker said that. I might also add that the solution is NOT that survivors stop having children. The solution is the healing of survivors and raising awareness of this massive abuse issue. And healing survivors are no longer in denial. We ARE raising the much-needed awareness.

    You are doing a great job Tracie. That's why I chose you to continue the blog carnival. I applaud you, as a mother, a survivor and THRIVER, and as an advocate. You go! *hugs*