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About three years ago, shortly after the birth of my son, I opened up to my mother about the fact my stepdad had sexually abused me as a child. It was a very difficult thing to do, and a very difficult time - but my motivation was twofold. Firstly I wanted to protect my son - I didn't want my stepfather to come into contact with him. And secondly I knew that I wouldn't be as good a mother as I should be if I left this issue hanging over my head and preoccupying my thoughts. I hadn't really thought through what I wanted to get out of telling my mother, beyond wanting my stepfather out of my life. I didn't want revenge for the years of pain he had caused me, I didn't want him to go to jail, I didn't want him to lose his job over it - I just wanted him gone.
Three years on, I've achieved that, but only in part. I wouldn't say that I never think about my stepfather or the abuse, because I do. Of course I do. It has shaped me as a person - in good ways and bad. It has made me hyper aware of the boundaries between myself and my own son, and made me determined to never ever cross them - I want him to always feel he has complete control of his own body and to know that he can always, always say no. But I am definitely a happier person than I was three years ago. It is no longer a black cloud over my head. I no longer have nightmares. I no longer dread family occasions or feel sick in my stomach at the thought of having to see my stepdad.
The situation between my mother and stepdad is more complicated. I hadn't realised just how complicated until a recent conversation with her. They no longer live together - they separated a few months after I spoke to her - she has bought a flat with her savings and he rents one, about 50 miles away. But she is still almost entirely financially dependent on him. She has a chronic illness that leaves her in pain and with little energy, and while she occasionally makes small amounts of money through arts and crafts, she feels unable to hold down even a part time job, so she has no income other than what he provides her with. They are also in regular contact - she says that whatever happened with me and him, he is the person that knows her best and accepts her, so when she has days of feeling too ill to go out, he is the only person she feels she can call on to bring her shopping round, or help her with housework. They recently went away for a weekend together.
I feel enormously conflicted about all this. I know that I have no right to dictate to my mother how she should live her life. But I can't help feeling shocked that the man who caused me so much hurt and pain is still such a big part of her life. Since I told her, she has never put me in a position where I've had to see him or speak to him, but I feel uncomfortable knowing that he will still know so much about my life, that he will spend time in her house and see the photos of me and my family that are on her walls. I know that he reads my blog.
Her illness and financial situation undoubtedly complicate things - she admits herself that she is very low in confidence, that she feels she has little to offer, and finds it hard to contemplate making new friends or entering a new relationship. I try as much as I can to boost that confidence and remind her of all the wonderful things about her, how attractive and warm and talented and kind she is. But I still feel somehow betrayed. It took me ten years to find the courage to open up about what happened - and I feel that by keeping my stepfather in her life she is belittling what I told her, and what happened. She says that even if money wasn't an issue, she'd want to keep my stepfather in her life in some way.
The way that she describes it is that she is living her life in compartments - the stepfather compartment, and the grandson and daughter compartment - and never the twain shall meet. She doesn't want to jeopardise the relationship with me and my son, but nor can she live without my stepfather in her life. She is very aware that it's not a sustainable solution - it cannot go on like that forever, and at some point a choice will have to be made.
Our most recent conversation was very difficult. She says that she feels resentful that the abuse was 'nothing to do with her' and yet she seems to have been the one who is now suffering most as a result of it. She can't understand why I didn't tell her earlier - when I was a child - because then it would have been more clear cut and easier to deal with. She says that she gave me 'ample opportunities' to speak to her about it, because she knew that the relationship between me and my stepfather was strained, but when she asked me why at the time I didn't say anything. I don't think she realises how hard it was to tell her - and why that had to happen when I was ready to say it, rather than just when she was ready to hear it. I was left with the strong feeling that she resents me for telling her about the abuse at all, and wishes it had all been left unsaid. It has perhaps been made harder because - with the exception of this - we have always had a very good, strong and open relationship.
The other thing that I find very difficult is that even when they were together, before this came out in the open, they had a very unhappy relationship. He was drunken, manipulative and controlling - and she was constantly telling me that she was going to leave him. She says now that she half-wishes that I'd waited for her to leave him before I'd opened up about the abuse - but I had listened to her say that she was going to do that for a good five or six years without acting on it. She claims that now, in a strange way, their relationship is easier because she knows about what happened. She says it has 'cleared the air' now that now she knows the very worst thing there is to know about him, and that she has to remind herself of how unhappy she was when they lived together.
I am very confused. I feel uncomfortable, hurt and upset - but without really knowing if I have any right to. If I am not there caring for my mother, can I really object if he is? As I don't live near my mother, I cannot be her main carer. Nor can I offer her financial assistance. I love her dearly, but I find all this very hard to understand. Obviously you never know how you will react until you are put in a situation yourself, but if I found out that someone had hurt my son, I cannot imagine for a minute that I would want them to stay in my life. I would like to offer her some practical support - in terms of her emotional processing of the bombshell that I dropped on her. She admits that she no longer trusts her own judgement after letting this man in our life. And yet he's still there! She has spoken to a couple of friends about it, but not widely. I wonder if some external perspective would help her see things differently. I also wonder if there's anything I can do to provide support with regards to her illness. I understand that it must be incredibly isolating and lonely to feel the way she does without having a big network of support.
In the longer term - if her illness progresses or she just gets older and needs a live-in carer, and that person is my stepfather - I don't see how I can continue to have contact with her. I love my mother dearly, as does my son, and I would really like to avoid it getting to that stage if possible.
Where do I start?