a mother holds her daughter's hand


Facing My Abuse Has Helped Me Become A Better Parent To My Kids — And To Myself

Nov 24, 2021

Warning: This piece discusses themes of family violence.

Nearly two years ago, I sat in a dimly lit pub across from my abuser, preparing to have what was inarguably the most difficult conversation of my life.

On the outside, I was a calm and composed 38-year-old. On the inside was an awkward, gangly teenager, trembling in fear. That girl — whose report cards illustrated a habit of talking too much from the very beginning of her schooling — could hardly form the words that needed to come out.

I drew several deep breaths, channeling the woman and mother I knew was in there, the way my therapist taught me, and finally spoke words to a truth neither of us had ever acknowledged. Something so hidden that not a soul aside from either of us, not even my partner of 16 years, had known until recently.

The legacy of sexual violence often goes unchecked — for years in my case — but my body knew the full story and the time to tell it had come, as my own daughter approached the age I was when it began.

While there was relief in finally removing a burden from my shoulders that I carried alone for nearly two-thirds of my life, there was an equal amount of grief in recognizing the relationships I’d fiercely fought to preserve by keeping the truth to myself. The future I’d dreamed of, for both myself and my children, had irrevocably changed. Ultimately, I had to decide what kind of legacy I wanted to leave my kids. 

Sabrina Boileau wishes she could bubble wrap her daughter to protect her, but she doesn't want her past experiences to cloud how she raises her. 

The Complexity Of Speaking Out

In the past few years, I've discovered how tragically common stories like mine are.

According to data from Statistics Canada collected in 2016, just under 55,000 cases of police-reported violent crime in Canada were youth aged 17 and under. Among those victims, approximately 30 per cent were perpetrated by a family member, with a parent accounting for 59 per cent of those crimes.

"I implicitly understood that telling the truth would mean destroying what I loved most dearly, even as an adult who maintained the illusion of a strongly knit family."

In reality, these numbers are likely much higher. In 2019, the General Social Survey, which collects self‑reported information from victims aged 15 and older regardless of whether cases were reported to police, found 93 per cent of people who experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse said they never reported it to police or any other agency. Victims of all types of childhood maltreatment have been linked to higher instances of violent victimization as adults, with women who were abused as children experiencing a rate four times higher than those who were not abused.

There are many reasons victims, especially children, may not speak up. In my case, I was tacitly groomed to feel a sense of loyalty and responsibility to my abuser and the rest of my family. The years leading up to when the abuse started were largely happy ones, and I implicitly understood that telling the truth would mean destroying what I loved most dearly, even as an adult who maintained the illusion of a strongly knit family.

Breaking The Cycle

My daughter was in preschool when I first realized my silence could directly pave the way for what happened to me to happen to her. Over the next several years, I started experiencing panic attacks whenever the possibility occurred to me. I resisted, my brain frantically trying to come up with ways of confronting it without actually having to go through the process of opening my secret up to others.

However, nearly three years ago, I learned about a history of abuse that affected other extended members of my family, and even though it didn’t involve my own abuser directly, the dam of complex emotions that had been building for years finally burst, and the deluge was overwhelming. It was no longer about just me. I finally saw this as a cycle I had to break for the sake of my own children. It was my job to protect them in a way I wasn’t by my caregivers.

Quentin Janes has been working on a different approach to keep his daughter safe — he's teaching her self-defense.

Doing The Work Of Healing For My Family And Myself

Healing from trauma I had no hand in creating is work that was unfairly tasked to me. Spending thousands of dollars to undergo the grueling emotional and mental process is a responsibility that still falls to me so I don’t pass on harmful patterns of behaviour that eventually become intergenerational trauma. Yet I also recognize my privilege in having access to these resources while so many don’t.

"In the two years since that impossible conversation, I’ve grown to realize that protecting my children is only part of the work."

In the two years since that impossible conversation, I’ve grown to realize that protecting my children is only part of the work. It has become just as much about understanding and reclaiming a body that never truly belonged to me, as well as providing the scared child inside it with a sense of safety and empowerment she was never given.

"Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort," writes Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score.

Even before my kids had the language to understand what consent was, I began to teach them about bodily autonomy in ways as simple as immediately stopping something playful they were no longer enjoying and giving them proper names for their body parts. It’s paved the way for more age-appropriate decisions as they’ve gotten older, such as how they wear their hair or dress. I want them to understand their bodies are theirs alone, something I was robbed of.

I am slowly learning to listen to messages from my body that I ignored for years and in the often painful process of trying to be the parent my kids need, I’m becoming the one I needed myself.

My partner and children deserve the most whole, healed version of me I can offer. And I finally understand that I deserve it too.

Article Author Tamara Schroeder
Tamara Schroeder

Tamara Schroeder is a freelance writer from Alberta who graduated from the journalism program at Mount Royal University so long ago, it was still a college at the time.

When she isn't listening to her nine- and 12-year old talk about Minecraft and Animal Crossing, you can usually find her running, enjoying the mountains or talking to her lively Twitter community about everything from ADHD and mental health to the time she got tipsy at a Fred Penner adult sing-along and spent $300 on a life-size concert poster.

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