“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”
~William Makepeace Thackeray
Some people have accused me of having a high expectation of mothers. Of course I do. It is a huge blow to a child to have their trust broken by their mother. By nature, the mother is supposed to be a protector. The mother is the parent who should instinctually guard her child from all harm, even at the cost of her own life. The very first relationship a child has, is with its mother. The mother is the one person a child should be able to trust over any other human being.
Some people try and excuse mothers, who don’t protect their children. Sandra Blume, author of Secret Survivors, says they are victims too. She says the mother’s own experience with childhood abuse, causes her failure to protect her child. 1
Countless women, who were abused and sexually assaulted in childhood, go on to protect their children from abusers. Selfishness causes a mother to fail to protect her child, not abuse.
It is intellectually unfair to use the “history of abuse” theory to excuse the mother, but not apply the same excuse to the perpetrator, who was also emotionally handicapped and most likely a victim of child abuse.
The mother, who chooses not to see, or who openly allows sexual abuse to continue, is just as guilty as the father who chooses to sexually abuse his daughter.
Sandra Blume says this about weak and man-dependant women, “This type of mother might seem responsible for giving her children a role model of self-hate and weakness. But she is not responsible: if we hold her responsible, we blame the victim for her victimization.” 2
Blume is forgetting one thing. A child is never at fault, but an adult is always responsible, and when her child is being harmed, a mother needs to stop being a victim.
Barbara Hazel (mentioned in part three of this series) said she was fragile, a previous victim, and needed a man… but Barbara performed oral sex on her own daughter. Society would not forgive a father for this act, nor should society forgive a mother.
Sandra Blume distinctly distinguishes between mothers she calls victims (mothers who willfully did not protect their child), and the perpetrator himself. Blume says, “Paralysis is the opposite of action.” 3
On the contrary; impotency allows action to continue. The two are not opposites; they feed off each other. The man sees that the wife will do nothing, so he continues to abuse the child because he knows he is safe. The woman’s refusal to act, instantly generates further abuse.
Over the past ten years, I have spent many hours corresponding with other abuse survivors, and the number of responses I have received about mothers, who willingly did not protect their child, has been overwhelming.
Most victims and survivors were very thankful that I brought up the subject of mothers, because for the first time, they realized the root of their anger and resentment for their own mother. Some people I connected with, have tried desperately to push the pain down inside. They thanked me for speaking up because they had been too afraid to think about their true feelings. Suddenly, no longer afraid to face their mother’s role in the abuse, the experiences of these women, and sometimes men, has brought tears to my eyes. There is so much pain out there.
“Maggie” * wrote that her mother caught her father in the act and the mother’s response was to grab Maggie, shake her, and scream “How could you do this to us!?” The father silently watched.
Another survivor said, “When I told my mother she sent me off to live with relatives.” Apparently, it was easier to remove the child and keep the abuser around. Child out of sight, incest out of mind.
“Lucy” was told by her mother not to “tell stories.” When Lucy tried telling another relative, she was backhanded into a wall.
Another mother was angered at having to stop watching her favorite television game show in order to treat the wounds on her daughter, inflicted by the perpetrator.
One woman told her mother what her grandfather was doing to her and she was told, “Just keep away from him.” The man lived in the same house.
Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse describes the sexual abuse of a female child that began at age eight. When the victim was twelve, the girl decided to tell her mother, who was busy hanging laundry outside. The daughter pleaded, “Mommy, Daddy puts his penis between my legs at night and I don’t like it.” Her mother continued hanging clothes and responded, “You’re in my way. Go in the house and see if your father is awake yet.” 4
This mother displays the best example of how strong the human denial system is. She did not miss a beat. Her mind rejected the information, even before it became knowledge. The message was perfectly clear to the girl, ‘if we don’t speak of the incest, it isn’t happening.’
“Secondary Wounding Response” is a term that refers to a mother’s lack of protection. This can be as damaging as, or even more painful, than the original trauma. The suffering felt over a mother’s failure to protect her child is often overlooked by professionals, and many therapists are women who project the non-protective mother as a victim, not the co-abuser she was. This erroneous information can engender even deeper subconscious anger in an adult survivor and this has the potential to be very damaging to their health.
Abandonment by the mother in incest cases runs deeper than researchers, mental health experts, child care professionals, and even the victims themselves realize.
There are two umbilical cords attached at birth, the physical tissue that the doctor cuts and the emotional bond that remains attached to the mother. It was easier for me to accept that my father sexually abused me, than to contemplate that my mother did not protect me. It took years of intensive therapy to undue the damage she did to me.
It is an injustice for anyone to make survivors feel guilty for being angry at their mother. An abuse survivor should never harm their mother, be vindictive, or assert malice towards her… but anyone who was not protected by their mother, has every right to feel the way they do about her.
The adult survivor can eventually work through those feelings in therapy, but the child inside has a right to her anger.
* Names in quotation marks denote a pseudonym
1. Secret Survivors, E. Sue Blume, paperback, Page 170
2. Secret Survivors, E. Sue Blume, paperback, page 170
3. Secret Survivors, E. Sue Blume, paperback, page 172-174
4. Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Jody Messler Davies and Mary Gail Frawley, Page 87