How do I answer these questions? (warning: graphic/abuse) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 11-27-2009, 03:51 AM - Thread Starter
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(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!!!
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#2 of 9 Old 11-27-2009, 12:02 PM
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Wow...tough questions.

I would think that these questions would be best addressed in a therapeutic setting. And that goes for both you and your daughter. I know that has been the best way for me to figure out how to answer my son's questions about my past history of sexual abuse/violence. I was a bit surprised at how much it helped because after 4 years of intensive therapy, I thought I was "done" talking with a counselor. However, when my son got to be around your daughters age, he started asking many similar questions that I simply wasn't able to answer. I think meeting with a therapist regarding this issue was one of the best parenting moves I have ever made.

Also, a good play therapist would be so beneficial for your daughter, especially since she was a witness to much of the abuse. They will usually meet with you on occasion to find out what kinds of questions/worries your daughter has which allows them to address those specifically in therapy.

Even if you have "been there done that" with therapy in the past, it seems like this might be a good time to revisit some of those issues to help resolve your daughters concerns/questions.

Many hugs to both you and your daughter -


Dissertating wife of Mr. Amazing Man, mother to Boo Bear ( ) Captain Knuckle (13), and The Professor (5). Expecting Penelope Rose 5/10/2010 via planned c/s.
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#3 of 9 Old 11-27-2009, 06:23 PM
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As kids reach new levels of development, they reprocess events... I forget what all the age groupings are, but there are about 4... roughly toddlerhood, childhood, teenage & into adulthood... as their ability to understand the situation expands, they go through it & gain a deeper understanding of the event.

I left my ex 2 1/2 years ago, after he assaulted our son, who was 5 at the time. He now occasionally has questions much like your daughters... "Can someone get killed if they get punched in the head too much?" or "Daddy didn't take good care of us, did he?" Sometimes he tries to convince me that his dad would be nice now, because the police told him hitting is bad, and stuff like that.

I try to give short, simple, factual answers. "Yes, someone can die from being punched in the head, but even once is too much, no one deserves to be hit." or "No, he didn't." When he tries to convince me his dad would be nice, it's the hardest to deal with. I tell him his dad has a big problem that he needs help for before he can be part of their lives.

Some things I just plain don't have an answer for, and I just tell him "I don't know, some of the things your dad did/does doesn't make any sense to me" I sometimes tell him it's something he'd have to ask his dad (he knows both that he can e-mail his dad, and that his dad won't respond if he does, so it feels unfair to present it as an option that might get him an answer) I think it's almost comforting to him that his dad's behaviour is unexplainable. If his dad was being completely unreasonable, and there was nothing he could do to change how things happened, then it wasn't his fault. Don't be afraid to tell her you don't understand how or why some things happened.
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#4 of 9 Old 11-27-2009, 11:38 PM
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I'm sorry for all that you and your daughter went through, and so glad that you are both in a good place now!

In my experience, talking with a therapist can be so helpful -- someone who specializes in trauma would be ideal for both of you.

And if you're not sure if she is in a place where you want to put her into therapy, having someone for *you* to go to, of whom you can ask the hard questions, could help guide your answers.

That said, I think everyone can benefit from therapy -- I have done so many rounds, and each time I have come to the place where I felt "better," and then a few years later, when my life is in a different place, I find myself needing help navigating my own childhood traumas, and head back to therapy to work things out from a new angle.

A huge kudos to you for being able to talk with your daughter. My dd has two friends, age 10, twins, who are able to speak about some horrible abuse they experienced growing up and why they are no longer living with their parents. Their phraseology is "They did abuse and neglect to us." They are nonchalant about it, in part because their aunt and uncle have helped them navigate their history.
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#5 of 9 Old 11-28-2009, 12:57 AM
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I have a couple kiddos from graphic abuse backgrounds and I wanted to chime in and offer some response suggestions.

1. "Daddy (or whatever he's called) has a really hard time making safe choices doesn't he"

2. "I'm glad we are strong enough to know that hurting is wrong, always get help if someone hurts you or someone you love"

This is tough, I've had to deal with it several times with my various kiddos. I'm sure these are conversations you never dreamed you'd have with your child and I know how difficult it can be. Keep empowering each other mama, you can do this

I'll think of more, my kids haven't brought it up in a long time, but I'm sure I'll remember conversations from years past as I mull it around a bit.

Good luck mama

GOOD moms let their kids lick the beaters. GREAT moms turn off the mixer first!
Humanist Woman Wife , & Friend Plus Mama to 6 (3 mos, 2, 9, 13, 17, 20)
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#6 of 9 Old 11-28-2009, 01:28 AM
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Personally, it sounds like you are doing an excellent job of handling her questions.
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#7 of 9 Old 11-28-2009, 02:24 AM
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Holy parallel life situations... no suggestions really, just a lot of understanding. DD will be 8 on Sunday, and hasn't seen her dad since she was 3. She's also processing it all over again, and I answer questions honestly. I also refuse to sugar coat things- for the same reasons. So far the hardest thing she's thrown at me was, 'Why didn't you leave sooner to keep him from hurting me?' But, we're getting through it. It also comes up a great deal when DH is cuddling one of the little ones (we have a 16 month old and a 2 month old) as she wants to know if her dad ever did those things with her. I do have some pictures of them together, and I show her those if she wants to see them. Most of the time though, she's content to remember that she has a ton of people around her now who love her and will always keep her safe.
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#8 of 9 Old 12-22-2009, 06:19 PM
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I have a similar background. I don't believe in sugar coating things or not answering honestly. But I also don't think ANYONE has carte blanche to my entire personal history. When my kid has asked similar questions about how bad it was when he wasn't around sometimes the absolute honest, non-sugar-coated answer is: Those are not things I'm ready to talk about with you yet.
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#9 of 9 Old 12-22-2009, 06:31 PM
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Like others have said a play therapist with experience in trauma would be most helpful to you both.

The above link is for the national association of play therapists and you can search for a therapist. Also most states have an association as well with a directory. Hope that is helpful.

~ Dune Lover
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