When my daughter was an infant I showed her a lot of love, but when she was 4, our lives changed in a terrible way, and I began to feel that hugging and kissing my daughter was wrong.
Child protective services took my daughter from me when she was 4 and returned her 9 months later because I had been sexually inappropriate with other children in my home. One day when my nieces and nephew, two of my cousins, and my boyfriend’s kids were over playing truth and dare, I encouraged two of the kids to hump each other, and then I dared another two kids to do it.
At the time, I had no idea that what I was doing was wrong. I grew up in the foster care system, where I was physically and emotionally abused my whole childhood. I was also sexually abused from a very young age. Forcing anyone to be sexual against his or her will was the last thing I wanted to do, because I knew how much that hurt. But being sexual also seemed like something everyone did, even kids. I thought that kids want to see what being sexual feels like but are scared to say it.
But the children knew more than I did, and they told their parents. Their parents called child protective services and reported me, and that’s how I lost my daughter.
Less Than Human
When my daughter was in care, all I wanted was to bring her home. In the beginning, I was all hands-on, giving her hugs and kisses. But so many experiences made me feel like I couldn’t trust myself anymore and I began to pull away.
Once during a visit at the agency, I went to take my daughter to the restroom and the caseworker told me she had to watch me. I felt less than human.
My own family didn’t trust me either. Even though I had been sexually abused by family members as a child, I was singled out as the one with the problem. I heard my brother tell his wife and children that I was a child molester. When I interacted with their children, I felt them watching me.
It reminded me of a time when I was 8 and a friend and her little sister, who was 3, came over to visit my sister and me. I sat the little girl on my lap but my sister told our friend not to let me because I would “touch” her sister. I felt like I was nasty and dirty. Although I knew I wasn’t going to “touch” her, I wondered if maybe I was in denial and there really was something wrong with me.
Now I felt the same confusion again. I knew I never had any intention of molesting anyone. But I feared that if I got too close, even to my own daughter, something bad might come out of me.
A Wall Between Us
So to protect us both, when my daughter came home, I created a wall between us.
When my daughter hugged me, I would hug her quickly without holding on too tight. When she laid her head on my lap, I would make up an excuse to get up and move away.
When my daughter took a bath, she would ask me to wash her or put lotion on her because that’s what I did for her baby brother. I would tell her, “No, you do it. You’re a big girl.” All these things happened more times than I care to remember.
I would always worry, “Am I loving my daughter too much or in the wrong way?”
‘You Must Have Done Something’
Over the years, I treated my daughter in other ways that made her feel unloved as well.
As a child, my older siblings physically abused my younger sister and me, and no one protected us. I didn’t want the same thing to happen in my family. So whenever my younger children would complain about their sister, I would yell at her, saying, “Why are they crying? You must have done something. They are not going to cry for nothing.”
The memories of my brother and sister abusing me came back frequently. It was hard for me to see that what was going on with my children was just normal sibling bickering.
My daughter would try to plead her case, but I didn’t believe her. My older siblings had been domineering and sneaky. I thought she was the same way. This, too, put an enormous hole between my daughter and me.
Sharing My Fears
My daughter was about 10 or 11 when I found a therapist I could trust. After my daughter was taken, I had felt so judged and misunderstood that it was hard for me to look at how I might have hurt the children in my home. The evaluating psychiatrist even looked me in the face and called me “sick.” After that, I just shut down. I did all my services because I desperately wanted my daughter home. But I was really just going through the motions.
But my new therapist never made me feel judged. We talked about so many painful topics from my childhood before we talked about my actions. The therapist helped me to not blame myself for being raped, beaten, tortured, molested, and burned. She helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault.
Building up that trust helped me to open up about what I had done to my nieces, nephew, cousins and my boyfriend’s children. For the first time, I was able to really talk about what happened that day when we played Truth or Dare and accept responsibility.
Over time, I shared other fears of mine, including my fears of hurting my daughter. I shared that over the course of one year I had told my daughter that I loved her only maybe three times and that I hadn’t hugged her at all. After I said that, I didn’t need the therapist to say anything. Just hearing myself say those words let me know it wasn’t right.
My therapist told me that every loving and healthy parent shows her children affection. She told me that she tells her children that she loves them and hugs them all the time. Our discussions helped me understand that it is and always was OK to hug, hold, cuddle and bond with my daughter.
Was It Too Late?
After those conversations, I wanted to feel close to my daughter again. But I had gone so long without doing it I thought maybe it was too late.
Still, I decided I had to try. Whenever I saw my daughter, I would go over and give her a hug or a kiss. My daughter would freeze up like a statue and say, “I am not affectionate.”
I felt awkward, too, like I was hugging my daughter just because my therapist did it with her children. Plus, a part of me still felt afraid that if I got too close to my daughter I would start acting more like a friend or a sister and not enough like an adult.
But I also knew that my daughter needed affection and that I had to make things right.
I Began to Listen
Then one night my daughter was acting more distant than usual. I asked her what was wrong. She said she wanted to see her cousin, who she is close to.
I thought she was feeling lonely in her own home, which made me sad, so I asked her why she didn’t seem to want to spend time with her siblings. She said they weren’t close and that I didn’t believe her during conflicts with them. She explained all this to me with tears in her eyes.
It was hard for me to hear her pain but I needed to hear it.
Over time, my daughter opened up to me more. She told me that when I yelled at her without first hearing her side of the story, she felt like I didn’t trust her. My therapist also helped me see that I was confusing my daughter, because when I would run to the store my daughter was in charge, but she didn’t feel in charge.
Again, I started to change.
When I went out, I told my daughter to keep track of how her siblings misbehaved. She would give me the list when I came home and I would handle the consequences myself. My daughter liked this because I was finally listening to her, being fair and appreciating her help.
I Love Her Immensely
I also kept showing my daughter affection. Even though she said, “I am not affectionate,” I just kept hugging her and telling her I loved her. It felt good to see that my daughter didn’t avoid me. A few times I noticed her smile even while she was protesting.
It has been almost five years since I started this healing that we so desperately needed. I still feel a deep sadness that my own fears made me rob my daughter of her childhood. My younger children have always hugged and kissed me. My eldest daughter is now 16 and she has only recently started laying her head on my shoulder and giving me a kiss.
Still, I feel blessed to have been able to let go of those irrational beliefs that had me and my daughter jailed before she went off to college. If she had gone off before I made those changes, the damage might have been irreversible.
I have also explained to my daughter in bits and pieces about my broken childhood so she can better understand why it was so hard for me to show her affection, or to trust her with her siblings.
I escaped a violent relationship when I was pregnant with my daughter so I could be here for her. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I let my twisted childhood make me feel like I was wrong to love my daughter immensely. Today I am making sure she knows it.