Parenting after child sexual abuse
Being a parent is both challenging and rewarding.
If you have been impacted by trauma, either as a child or as an adult, then parenting may feel like even more of a challenge than it does for people who haven’t been impacted by trauma.
Parenting as a victim-survivor of child sexual abuse might mean that you have thoughts, questions or concerns that other people don’t have. You might be experiencing ongoing trauma responses because of the abuse.
It is completely normal for a history of trauma to affect you as a parent or caregiver. It is not your fault. There are options for help and support available for you.
What impact can child sexual abuse have on parents and caregivers?
Adults who have been impacted by child sexual abuse are very capable of being good, caring, loving parents themselves.
However, if you are parenting after child sexual abuse, it can be helpful to be aware of some of the feelings or behaviours that might arise. Even if you don’t think your past trauma is still affecting you, raising children can sometimes bring old memories to the surface.
Understanding how your trauma might affect you is an important part of providing a safe and loving space for your child and taking care of yourself.
Some of the feelings you might experience include:
- self doubt: am I good enough to be a parent?
- uncertainty: am I making the right parenting choices?
- anxiety or fear of doing the ‘wrong’ thing
- concern about your bond with your child
- feeling on high alert about your child’s safety
- loneliness, isolation, or detachment
- anger or resentment towards your child
- struggling with your sense of identity
You might also feel discomfort tending to your child’s physical needs, or you might feel a strong physical or emotional response when your child cries or shouts.
One common but challenging reaction is worrying that if you are a survivor you may abuse your own child. This can be a particular concern for male victim-survivors. This belief comes from the ‘cycle of sexual abuse’ theory that used to be popular but has now been completely discredited. Research evidence shows that being sexually abused does not cause someone to sexually offend. Living Well (www.livingwell.org.au) have published a summary of the best research on the victim to offender cycle.
All of the feelings and behaviours you may be experiencing as a victim-survivor of child sexual abuse are normal and they are not your fault. There are many options available to help you feel supported and be the best parent you can be.
Where to get more information?
There are useful resources written specifically for parents who are victim-survivors of complex trauma:
The Blue Knot Foundation (www.blueknot.org.au) has published a useful article about the challenges of parenting with a complex trauma history.
This is a helpful resource on www.complextrauma.org on parenting as a complex trauma survivor
RAINN (www.rainn.org), the largest anti-sexual violence organisation in the United States, has published a guide to parenting after child sexual abuse.
Reaching out for support can be an important way to help you work through the trauma you have experienced. Healing is possible and everyone does this in their own way and at their own pace. Despite your trauma, you also have your own resources and strengths that can also help you recover from the impacts of sexual violence.