Updated: Aug 10, 2020
You may have heard people say that when life whispers to you, listen. While we cannot control every aspect of our life, there are signals and signs that are being given to us along the way.
I have to be careful because I could easily go down a guilt-ridden path if I think about any whisper or sign I may have missed that might have told me something was wrong in my family. But I also want to honestly reflect and learn, maybe even remember something and gain some insights or knowledge that I can pass along to others.
Were there any whispers that I ignored? Signs that were there but I was too busy or oblivious to see?
Yes. I think so.
Remember when I wrote about how I felt a sense of relief when we found out? How, in that same moment that I felt the sharp pains of shock and trauma, I also felt washed over with relief. Relief because I now knew what was troubling my daughter. (See "Silver Linings and Lemonade" post)
I also felt relief because it shed light on some situations I had always found puzzling.
For example, when my daughter was in middle school, I had a friend over visiting and she had commented that she saw my daughter’s profile on Facebook. Huh? She was not 13 at the time (which I think was, and still is, the minimum age to set up an account). I felt confused because my daughter had always been the ‘rule follower’, the person who colored inside the lines, someone who was uncomfortable with lying and hiding. And I say this knowing that there are so many parents who feel this way about their children and what I’m saying may be taken as “Well, don’t we all think that way about our kids?”.
All I can say is, like many mothers, I had feelings and “insights” into the kind of person I saw her as. There were behaviors and personality traits that I had been witness to since she was a baby. And for me, as the mother of more than one child, I felt that I could often see which one of them was the adventurous one, which one was athletically gifted, which one was curious and questioned everything, and so forth. I think as a parent, or for those who have experience being around or working with children, you see these things in them at very early age. And for me, even as a young child, my daughter exhibited the qualities of carefulness, trustworthiness, sincerity, and self-discipline.
So some of the behaviors felt surprising and in all honesty, caught me off guard.
That was a whisper.
And I realize it’s a big leap to make a connection between unexpected behaviors and sexual abuse (especially when we are talking about tweens and teens). But, if I were to go back, I think I would handle that situation (and subsequent others) a little differently. There were other, future situations where her behavior really threw me for a loop. Without going into the details, there was an incident in high school that left me baffled. I remember asking myself at that time, “Who is she?” I recall even asking her, "Who are you?" I could not understand the situation we were in, nor her reaction to it. But at that time, as many parents may find themselves doing, I felt confused and somewhat helpless, and chalked it up to teenage rebellion (even though there was a nagging voice in my head that continued to question it all).
That was another whisper.
So how would I handle that situation now? Well, perhaps I’d change the way I reacted by instead saying something like, “This seems so out of character for you ... because you have always valued truth and honesty. Is there something you want to talk about? Are you ok? Is there something going on at school or with your friends? Has something happened even in our family? Whatever it is, I'm here for you.”
Of course, I know that last question seems so obvious now and that when looking back on any given situation the lens we have today offers so much more clarity. So what I will say to you is that if/when you do see someone you love acting in ways that seem out of character, listen to your gut. Listen to those whispers. Find a way to more deeply inquire, to ask if everything is ok. And perhaps even add questions about abuse or harm being done to your loved one. I mean, we ask about friends bullying them, don't we? We even ask if they might be doing drugs. Sex abuse and incest are not things any of us want to even entertain the idea of, but maybe if we start to actively consider that as a possibility of what our children our dealing with, then maybe, just maybe, we can root out incest and sexual abuse sooner.