Like a lot of men and women, I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I know too well how experiencing this type of trauma as a child can alter your development and affect your relationships, and how hard it can be to navigate the world with a cracked foundation. But all is not lost. Believe it or not, being a survivor can help make you a better parent. Here’s how:
1. You have a second chance. When you become a parent, you’re given the opportunity to stop the cycle of abuse and right the wrongs of the past. You know what it’s like to feel alone and helpless, but you’ve fought hard to overcome the obstacles that prevented you from living a happy and fulfilling life. As you watch your child learn and grow, it is healing to live vicariously through their experience, and gratifying to know that you’re giving them a chance you didn’t have.
2. You feel empowered. When you allow the past to control the present, your oppressor wins. The bad things that happened to you as a child were not your fault; they were out of your control. There is no shame in getting help or sharing your story—only shame in silence. It is empowering to take a stand against childhood abuse, and what better reason to do so than the person who calls you mom or dad.
3. You are a force to be reckoned with. You know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep long after the bogeyman is gone, and you don’t want your little boy or girl to ever feel that type of pain, so you take your role as your child’s protectorate very seriously. At times, you’re surprised how the situations and people you once found intimidating don’t scare you anymore. You are your child’s greatest advocate, and you protect them with your life.
4. You have good communication. You talk to your son or daughter early on about physical boundaries and teach them to follow their intuition. You check in with them regularly about the people they come into contact with, and whether or not they feel comfortable and safe. You stress to your child that no matter what, they should always come to you if something doesn’t feel right—regardless of what anyone else says or does.
5. You’re a motherfucking bloodhound. Being a survivor of childhood trauma has made you well-acquainted with inner turmoil, so you’re pretty good at picking up on signs that others might be struggling too. You make a point to pay attention and be vigilant where your child is concerned, because you know firsthand that despite a parent’s best intentions, the signs of abuse are sometimes hard to see.
6. You raise a strong-ass kid. Face it—you’re a badass. Having confronted your demons has made you strong in the face of adversity. With you in their corner, your child internalizes the message that when life knocks you down, you get back up. Sure, everyone needs downtime; self-care is important, and your child learns that from you as well. But when you’re all patched up, it’s time to dust yourself off and get back in the ring.
7. You have perspective. Being a parent is a hard job, arguably one of the most challenging endeavors a person can take on. Sometimes it’s a breeze, while at other times you’re tempted to pull your hair out. Being a survivor means you’re able to see that the little things don’t seem so big in comparison to the dragons you’ve slain. You teach your child to keep a healthy perspective as well and to look for the good in each situation.
8. You lead with gratitude. When you know what true despair feels like, happiness can initially seem like an odd fit. It takes some time, and patience, to feel comfortable with this foreign emotion, and often even longer to feel as though you deserve to experience it. Once you arrive, you are easily verklempt by the goodness in your life. You marvel at your blessings; above all, you are grateful for a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child.
9. You choose to be better each day. Maybe someone hurt you when you were small, and you’ve been carrying that pain in your heart your whole life. Maybe that hurt will never completely go away. But you’re a survivor. You’ve done what you had to do to be here today, and it’s within your power to continue onward, taking one small step toward the best version of yourself every day.
Your past doesn’t define you as a person or as a parent. You are not the small child you were then, nor are you the person who broke your trust. In fact, you can be an outstanding individual and a terrific mother or father. Being a parent is simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding thing you’ll ever do, and for all of the things you do right by your son or daughter, so their love will heal you.