(If this belongs in another forum, please move it - this was my best guess!)
My first child came from a previous relationship, one that was very abusive (verbally, physically, and sexually - though she doesn't consciously know that part). We left when she was 4, and she is now 8. Though the first year's transition wasn't easy for her (spent a lot of time and patience working out negative "testing" behaviors), she is now very well-adjusted in the vast majority of ways. (No more hitting, name-calling, manipulation, etc - all things that she learned by watching my ex's behavior towards me.) She is acclimated to what a sane, calm, loving relationship is (DP & I), she's thrilled to be part of a functioning family unit, adores DP and accepted him readily and openly from the start, etc. So all of that to say that the first years of her life were pretty awful in some ways, but she's now happy, easygoing, expressively loving, empathetic, responsible, helpful, excited to be a big sister soon, and quite easy to get along with.
She's also quite intelligent, and very...determined? when she has questions and wants answers. A lot of times this is an awesome trait. It only causes problems when she wants answers about our past and her biological father (whom she hasn't had any exposure to in almost 3 years, and it's likely to remain that way for the rest of her underage years and probably life). FWIW, she doesn't ask to see him, and understands (in kid world) why he isn't available (abusive).
She will go for months without these issues up in detail (though talks freely about other family members on his side of the family, and occasionally mentions him in passing ways, to which I respond normally) and then every once in a while, starts asking questions like this:
- Remember when daddy left me home by myself and I went over to the neighbors? And they came in the house and searched for you?
(He was supposed to be watching her and apparently "didn't remember" ?!?!? and left her while she was sleeping to go out to lunch. She was 4. I was at work.)
- Was my daddy a murderer or a kidnapper?
(I was too surprised to answer this one directly, so just asked why she thought that, and she moved on to the next question.)
- What does c*nt mean? Why did my daddy call you that?
(I said it's a very mean word to call a female, but didn't answer the why part.)
- Does your eye still hurt from when daddy poured chemicals in it? I remember when he pushed you down and did that, I saw all of it.
(I answered no, that got better a long time ago.)
- It's hard to think about how he hurt you and how he kidnapped me and still love him.
- What else did he do to you that I didn't see? I don't want to know all of it, but I want to know some of it.
(I told her I didn't know exactly how to answer this - I said that there was definitely a lot more that she didn't see, but that what was important now was that he couldn't hurt her or me anymore, and that she and I were both surrounded by people that love us and wouldn't ever hurt us, and that matters more than anything bad that happened before.)
Again, these aren't questions that come up constantly, maybe a couple times a year something will bring it back up in her mind and she'll have a whole new layer of thought about it all and ask me things for a couple days. She's had counseling in the past, but I'm torn as to how to handle any and all of this now. She really is SO well-adjusted, happy, and easygoing, no acting out - not "perfect", just a normal 8yo that knows she's loved and finally secure. I don't know if now is really the appropriate time to send her back into counseling to rip the lid off some of these issues - but I don't want to ignore them either - so I'm really looking for age-appropriate advice.
Also, the following is something I documented tonight after a particularly difficult conversation (totally out of the blue, but she was *determined* to discuss these things, and she knows I will never refuse to talk with her).
|She asked me so many times why xh was mean to me and why he tried to hurt me so much and why he was always so angry with me. I told her that I didn't know exactly why, though I did have my own opinion, but I didn't know if I was right. She wanted to hear my opinion - I told her that as far as I could tell, it was about power and control, he didn't know how to love and care about people, he thought having power over them and controlling them was showing love. I also said that he was sick - not just in his body, but in his mind and his heart.
She also had her own theories on some things that were grossly incorrect in my opinion, but without professional direction, I'm not about to open her to a reality that's even harsher. For example, she wants so badly to believe that xh really cared about her, and was "mostly nice" to her, even though he was "so mean" to me all the time (her words). In addition to very clear abusive behavior towards her - which she sometimes mentions and other times doesn't - she doesn't realize that a great deal of his behavior towards her was done explicitly to negatively affect my relationship with her - took her places as a bribe to keep her from going to playgroups with me, consistently refused to "allow" me to go to with them, "offered" other outings on days when she and I were already getting ready to leave for fun plans that she had been looking forward to and then forced her to choose (and often cry), locked both car seats away from me so I couldn't take her somewhere planned, bought her things like big bags of candy so that he looked like the fun parent, because I wouldn't let her have unlimited candy - especially with cavities!! She said she remembered a photo of her in a Winnie the Pooh shirt with a diaper, and said she remembered me changing her diapers, but she doesn't remember if he ever did, and asked if he did - I said he did a couple of times (in reality, literally 2-3 times, ever) - she asked why he didn't care about her (frustrated, clearly trying to find additional evidence that he DID care about her) and I said again that I don't think he knew how to care about someone with his behavior.
If you're wondering why I don't just say "Of course he loved you and cared about you!" a) she knows this is a non-answer and b) there is the potential for more court stuff, and I'm not going to fill her head with false positives that might eventually put her in danger.
My personal preference is to simply not talk about these things at this point in her development - I don't *avoid* the subject, in a denial sense, I just don't know what's appropriate and what's safe, what's good for her to have confirmation of vs. what would be ideal for her to simply forget. She knows I will always talk with her about things that are important to her, knows I will *not* ever lie to her, but also knows that sometimes I can't or won't give her the same level or detail of answer that she may receive when she is 14, 18, 25, etc.
So if you've made it through all this, thank you!!! and thanks also for any suggestions or advice!!!