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How Being Molested as a Child Has Shaped the Way I Parent

By Meghan Gesswein |

In real time, it probably lasted for less than a minute. I was nine years old, and in third grade. As I did every day, I was walking to school with a friend. I remember it was sunny and warm and I was wearing my favorite green shorts. School was, at most, half a mile from my house, via the neighborhood green belt. The entire walk to school, before we got to school property, was within view of my house, except for about a 50 foot stretch. There were usually parents and other children around, but at that moment the planets aligned and somehow, it was just my friend and me.

The school was almost in sight when he came into view. At first we noticed him because he was wearing a bright orange jogging outfit. As he got closer, we realized that his penis was out and he was touching it. At nine years old, we had no idea what he was doing, except that we knew it was wrong. And weird. I vaguely remember giggling at the uncomfortable situation. He walked toward us and we silently tried to figure out what to do. We were too close to have many options, so we simply tried to skirt around him as he passed.

Our plan didn’t work, and as he walked by he reached out and grabbed me, rather forcefully, between my legs. I can honestly say that it was the very last thing that my naive 9 year old mind had expected to happen. I don’t remember if we screamed or even made any commotion at all. I do know that we started running to school, and he started running in the opposite direction. The details of the rest of the day are fuzzy. I remember talking to my teacher and explaining what had happened. I remember meeting with police detectives and looking at pages and pages of scary photographs of men.

Too many photographs. The adult in me shudders at the thought of the, what must have been, hundred or so men that were on the police records as possible child molesters. I didn’t recognize any of them and, as far as I know, they never caught the guy. I never wore those green shorts again and, according to my mother, I refused to eat hot dogs for a while after that.

My story is benign in relation to what other people have gone through. It was a one time incident that was over in the blink of an eye. I was lucky and hadn’t suffered any physical harm. The emotional and psychological toll was a bit different, though. I don’t remember any specific anxiety issues, although there must have been some because I do remember being given a glass of warm milk and honey at night before bed for a while (a week? two weeks? a month?) afterward in an attempt to relax me and get me to sleep. For years I would cross the street if an older man was walking towards me on the sidewalk. In college I threw myself wholeheartedly into sexual assault education and prevention programs and spent a little over a year as a Rape Crisis Advocate for the local Rape Crisis Center.

I started to feel like I had a handle on the situation.

And then I became a parent. And as my kids get older, I find myself thinking back to that day and setting boundaries for them based on my experience. While I could certainly trust my seven year old to play at the playground without getting into trouble, he’s not generally allowed to go out of my line of sight. And if he does, I’m a nervous wreck the entire time. I’m not worried that he’s going to talk to strangers or voluntarily get into a car with someone, I’m worried that a normal looking sexual predator is on the other side of the trees waiting for the perfect, quick, opportunity.

When we’re at the ball park, I watch men, suspicious in my own mind but no one else’s, with extra care. Are they there because they have a relative playing, they simply love baseball, or are they there for a sinister purpose? Yesterday, while downtown with two of my boys, an older gentleman was walking towards us. We were in a little courtyard, the busy main street was behind us. I didn’t think too much about it until he abruptly stopped and turned around. And then he  looked down and started fiddling with his pants. I slowed down a bit and started running through possibilities in my head. If he turns around with his penis out, what am I going to do? Do I scream? Grab my kids and run in the other direction? Kick him as hard as I can in the groin and then continue to kick him as hard as I can until police arrive and restrain me?

My mind was moving at a thousand miles a minute while my 4 year old skipped along beside me. And then the old man turned around and…had apparently simply been fixing his belt. I let out a sigh of relief, smiled at him as he passed, and continued on my way. It was a moment that would have gone completely unnoticed by 99% of the population, but it left me thinking about how my brain works, even 24 years later.

I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable letting my kids walk or bike to school on their own, or head to the park after school to play baseball with their friends. I approach certain situations differently than other mothers I know, simply because I view those situations through a different filter. I’m quick to tell my kids no when they want a little more room on their “leash,” even if it’s probably a perfectly safe situation. Sometimes I think my mom friends think I’m completely insane. I know that they’re worried about the same things I am, but having been through a horrible situation first hand, I come at these things with a different point of view.

And while I feel bad for keeping my kids on a short leash, the old saying “better safe than sorry” is something that I have taken to heart. They’re certainly allowed to be kids and have fun, but at the same time, the overly suspicious and nervous side of me needs, and deserves, to be acknowledged. I have my reasons, and without denying my kids a happy childhood by locking them in the house and never letting them outside, I’m going to do what I can to keep them safe.

But hopefully I won’t make a spectacle of myself in a public setting one day.

*An update to this post can be found here*

Read more from Meghan on MeghanGWine and From Demo to Dream.

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About Meghan Gesswein

meghangesswein

Meghan Gesswein

Meghan Gesswein is a stay at home mom to three boys. Most of the time. Meghan is extremely active online, and writes for the ever growing mom blog, Meghan GWine. She was a regular contributor to the Parenting channels on Babble.

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24 thoughts on “How Being Molested as a Child Has Shaped the Way I Parent

  1. Manic Mommy says:

    I don’t think you’re the 1%. I eye any lone male in a family environment very suspiciously.

    My husband recently met the boys and me after school at The Boston Children’s Museum. Because he was an unaccompanied adult, he had leave his license and wear what we jokingly called a “pedophile badge”. And we were both happy to have him do it. You can’t be too careful. Sad but true.

  2. irishsamom (Tricia) says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Meghan. I am so sad that this happened to you, but don’t think in any way that you’re unusual to be more aware and sensitive to strangers being around your children. You are probably smarter than most, due to this tramatic experience. I had a close encounter as a child, which fortunately had a good outcome, but it has definitely completely colored how I parent and has contributed to many trust issues in my relationships and with strangers – I am definitely on the defensive when I’m in a situation where there might be danger (or in my case, perceived danger). My kids are old enough now, to think that I am overprotective, but although I haven’t shared my experience with them yet, I have very frank, open conversations about being safe and the fact that people can seem to be good and friendly, but it’s not always their intention. I think they think I”m nuts. My daughter wants to walk to her bus stop alone in the mornings and hates that I stand at the end of the street and have her text me when she gets on the bus, she doesn’t really understand it, considering that all her friends have been going to the bus alone for three years now. So, I guess I will share with her what happened to me some day soon, so that she understands my need to know where they are at all times and don’t give them allt he freedoms that their friends have.

    Until they are old enough to understand themselves, I will always be safe, rather than sorry. I might be a little paranoid at times, but my job is to protect them first and I’d rather that they disliked me a little for being protective, than had to go through something like you did. I’m sure this article will help many people. Thank you for writing it. And hugs. x

  3. Pgoodness says:

    Thanks for writing this. And yes, better safe than sorry any day. xo

  4. Auntie M says:

    Far better to be safe than sorry! I was molested for an extended period of time as a child and that has made me super aware as an adult especially when any of my nieces or nephews are under my care. 2 summers ago, I was with my 10 yr old niece at a local lake an noticed a suspicious man: rightfully so. Even my presence did not stop him from exposing and touching himself. The difference: my mom turned my niece around and covered her with a blanket while I quickly whipped out my camera and snapped pictures of the perpetrator and then ran after him to his car while on the phone w/911 getting a car description and partial liscence plate. My niece and I were interviewed by police. We were assigned a wonderful court advocate to help us.My pictures appeared on all the news stations. He was caught within weeks and was prosecuted. We did a plea deal so my niece did not have to testify and see him again. The whole process ended up empowering her~and me, as I didn’t get to confront my molestor (a family member) until I was an adult; due to statute of limitations, he was never charged. But I am grateful for my awareness. I hope that my niece will take what happened and use it to empower her and make her wiser in the future, as you and I did.

  5. Destiny says:

    Being sexually assaulted has not only made me beyond suspicious of seemingly innocent people but also deathly afraid to ever have a little girl. When I found out I was pregnant I prayed full heartedly practically begging to have a boy. I couldnt handle knowing the harassment that would easily be put on her shoulders if she had to deal with being busty as I am. Inn still paranoid with my little boy but not near as much as if it had been a girl.

  6. Samira says:

    I was also molested more than once by the same man though I was too scared to come forward until two years later at which point he had an accident with a truck load of mercury and died of mercury poisoning. I was 12 now I am extra careful with my daughter and if she is even away from me for 5 minutes I’m nervous and that is even while I’m at work. You’re not alone and I’m glad you posted this story maybe it will help other moms see why it is not always safe to just let you’re children go and it may prevent something like this happening to others.

  7. Tara says:

    As a child I had never experienced anything like that. It wasn’t until I was 21 and married that I had experienced sexual abuse. My ex raped me. He had done it twice and at the time I thought “well, I’m his wife” which made it “ok” in my mind. But after the second time I had decided I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I had filed for divorce. It wasn’t until after the divorce was finalized that I had told anyone about it (my Mother being the first I had told). But I can understand where you are coming from! The man I’m supposed to trust most in my life (besides my father) hurt me it has made me a LOT more aware of men I don’t know! Now that I have my own daughter (4 yrs old) and another on the way I must admit I’m a bit “insane” about my leash too.

  8. Jessica says:

    I’d rather make the spectacle of myself than let me kids get hurt, so better safe than sorry every day! I completely agree, when something like that happens, no matter how young you are, it follows you the rest of your life. After 21 years my own experience (molested repeatedly over a period of 2 years by a close relative) is in my mind daily. Having kids brought what I thought I had tucked far in the back of my mind right back out front like a slap in the face. My kids are almost never out of my sight, with each other, their friends, or family. Even in our own home. If I have to be a little crazy as a mom thats fine, everything I can do to not let what happened to me EVER happen to my kids.

  9. Heather says:

    I don’t think you’re crazy, FYI. I love you.

  10. OldMom says:

    When I was 5 a man tried to get me to go with him and told me many of the vulgar things that he wanted to do. I didn’t know exactly what it all meant, but I knew it was wrong and I avoided being taken and nothing happened – except I spent the rest of the day looking at mug shots. I believe the reason that I reacted calmly and figured out how to get away from the man was because my Mother prepared me for this type of situation.

    Yes, watch your kids, but you should also empower them to handle any situation. Teach them how to protect themselves. You don’t need to be specific about WHY they might need to until they are older, but you aren’t always going to be there, not matter how much you helicopter. Besides being unhealthy for you, it’s unhealthy for your child. They may feel you don’t trust them and may even start to feel your paranoia, but with no real target for their fear it can make them scared of everything.

  11. Dolores says:

    As a child I also experienced sexual assault by an adult relative for an extended period of time. It affected me in every aspect of my life, to the point that I never planned on getting married or having a family of my own. It took a lot of time for me to get to where I am now–married for the second time, and a first time mother at the age of 41. I am suspicious of everyone–not just adult males–and if anyone ever harmed my child in such a terrible way, I would find a way to put that person in jail or in the ground.

  12. Kayleigh says:

    You’re not alone! This past summer while I was pregnant, I was with my mom and nephew, currently 9 years old, at the neighborhood pool and watch a single male alone in what most would consider the “family pool”. There are 2 in the neighborhood and the family one has a big slide and wading section and such for kids. I now have a daughter and having been through the experience of being sexually assaulted as a child by two different men, I’m ultra paranoid. It’s nice knowing I’m not alone in assuming that every person is secretly horrible inside and would commit such a horrible crime against an innocent child. I shy away from strangers in stores who I feel get too close to me while with my daughter for that reason as well as being a single mom. The world we live in is truly scary and sickening.

  13. Sharon Daugherty says:

    I appreciate your blog so much. It is good to review and see how empowered we become as older women after abuse as a child. I, too, was abused by a next door neighbor. He had a daughter my age, and insisted on giving me ‘swimming lessons’. Having come from a divorced home, I think I thought that any attention from a man was ok. (He knew his target.) As a young woman I learned from the Bible that I needed to be ‘born again’. This gave me a new clean start, a Father that loved me and a story of forgiveness that I could share for 40 years. As a mom, foster mom and grandma I have always been watchful of who was with my children, whether driving them, or befriending them. I know they have had a safer life because of it. Our experiences are good for those who come after us. Well worth the memory I endure for my lifetime, I think.

  14. Tiffany says:

    I was molested by a teenage male babysitter at the age of 6. He went to court but nothing came of it because my parents refused to make me testify in court in front of him. I am suspicous of almost every man I see around my 3 lil kids (4 yr old twin boys and a 2 and a half yr old girl). Im a single mom and my kids spend one day a wk with different family members while I work Saturdays. While at a very close relatives house my boys (who were barely 3 at the time) were molested by a teenage cousin. I happened over about 4 months before they were able to tell me. I went to the state where we live and they looked into and I was told there was not enough evidence to press charges. It kills me to see the changes my boys went through and continue to go through trying to heal. I barely let them out of my sight now and when I do I worry constantly.

  15. Kadian says:

    My heart does go out to those who have been victimized. There are precautions we should always take when having our loved ones out in this crazy world but you have to be careful on overdoing it. What I mean is my GF is constantly hovering over her niece and nephew even when they’re playing with kids their own age. She asks them inappropriate questions. When they’re playing she’ll pull them aside and ask, “is anyone touching you down there? are they looking at you funny?” Why would she do this to them, they’re 3 and 5, and now the oldest is so freaking paranoid about people touching or even looking at him. I try to explain to my GF that she’s hurting them more than helping them. It pains me to see these kids become groomed into thinking the worse in people before they even know them.

  16. yvette says:

    being molested by a cousin has made me worried for my daughter as she continues to grow. She’s now 6 and is so beautiful. Hazel eyes that change color and beautiful light brown hair with blond highlights. I was always told by every one how beautiful I was and although I was shy and quiet, it didn’t stop an older cousin for doing what he did.
    I worry so much about her, I don’t allow her to wear short shorts or revealing clothing. But I also am teaching her to be aware & that she can talk to me about anything. I keep a closer eye on her then most I’m sure but it has just made me more aware & alert. I am also teaching her about brains & beauty. I love that she’s beautiful but I am teaching her that even if someone complements her on her looks, it doesn’t mean she owes them something. Being smart exceeds being beautiful. Plus I want her to be beautiful in side & out.

  17. KBeach says:

    You are NOT alone. I’m sorry you had that experience. And, as I’ve never been sexually assaulted, I too, can relate to your worry. I’m very “paranoid”. Even with myself, but it actually makes my husband very happy. He’s in the mlitary and he thinks it’s not really a paranoia (because we are still able to function normally) but he says it’s more of being alert and aware of people and your surroundings. He reassures me that being that way, will thwart off bad things happening in the long run because you will see it before others. You’re not walking around with your head in the sand. So, just think of it like that! You’re a watchdog…… and you WILL bite. ANd on a funny note, you made me laugh out loud about the kicking him in the crotch until the police restrain you. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while and I also got a nice visual in my head. I guess cause I pictured myself doing the same thing. :)

  18. Amanda says:

    As a victim for 7 years by a close relative, I too am very cautious around men. Although I don’t have kids yet, I can imagine I will be very protective of them.

  19. Samantha says:

    when I was I think about 8 my father and I were at a carnival, as per usual my impatient dad was walking about 10 meters ahead in a busy crowed. two men walked past me on either side and one of the men reach down and grabbed my crutch and whipped his hand up my body, I instantly froze and turned around to see who had done this to me and the pig smiled as he walked away. I ran to my dad and made sure i stayed very cl

  20. Ashley says:

    Let me just begin by saying, I love you for posting this. I myself was sexually abused by my Dad for 9yrs before I left home & now am the Mother of 2 step-sons (3yrs & 4yrs), my own 10month old lil’ boy, & am due in late May w/a lil’ girl this time. I find this article very weight lifting, I tend to be very harsh on myself as a Mom because of my experiences & my desire to not let my experience or my PTSD to negatively effective any of my kids. I’m so happy that I’m not the only one! That sounds a bit naive’ but in being harsh on yourself you tend to think that you’re the only one in dealing w/a situation. I find that before I got together w/my fiancé I didn’t think of getting married or even being in a long-term relationship. & I BEGGED not to ever have kids, I thought that I would be the worst thing to happen to a child. After being w/my fiancé for 3yrs & taking on his kids and having kids of our own, I’ve thankfully proven myself wrong LOL It’s been a hard road at times, my PTSD isn’t exactly convient but I’ve learned to work thru those moments w/as little disruption as possible. But I too find myself very overprotective not just in the regards of odd situations w/men but in all aspects of my kids lives. I over worry that I won’t notice something wrong or that I will notice too late thus negatively effecting my kids. Now, don’t get me wrong my kids are allowed a certain amount of le-way (Considering their ages LOL) and I’m by no means implying that nothing can be allowed to negatively disrupt my kids BUT my Dad’s abuse effects me everyday. The way I react & perceive certain words/actions. ESPECIALLY as a parent. Not including the flashbacks. I don’t want THAT for my kids. I want them to LEARN but to relatively come thru life un-mutilated so to speak LOL & I worry that the traits I have in being over protective will be passed onto them, I want to create balance for them which is by no means any easy feat! I want them to learn & grow as people and to know how to handle themselves & other people in a healthy way. I guess that’s what all parents strive for their kids though now that I think of it =] Sorry to ramble but I really appreciate your article <3

  21. Amy Brown says:

    @Kadian- I believe the reason she is doing it is a good one. I, myself, was molested by a boy only two years older than me. I was 7. I had no idea what to do, especially since he was exactly that- my “age.” Age has nothing to do with it. I don’t know the boy’s background, and I don’t know why he thought that was appropriate, but there are perverts everywhere. And the worst are family members, because why shouldn’t we be able to trust them? And that’s where most of it comes from. So, you think the worst wouldn’t/couldn’t happen…. and it certainly can/does.

  22. Deanna says:

    I know I parent differently because of the sexual abuse that has touched our family. It makes me think more than twice about situations, it makes me engage our 3 year old in “starter” conversations. It makes me not be so blasé about who I entrust our children to. It makes me be more vigilant than I thought I’d be as a parent.

  23. J says:

    I’m so sorry for what happened to you. You’re brave for writing this. My dad abused me when I was a kid and now I’m wary of every male, whether I know them or not. I’m only 17 so don’t have any children, but I’m scared I will in the future, I don’t want any because I’m scared something would happen to them. My mum doesn’t even know what he did, what if I had kids in the future and they we’re molested or abused and didn’t tell me? I just couldn’t do it. Thanks for writing this, I can’t get over how brave you are, I wish I was the same.

  24. Lorette Lavine says:

    I read your recent post first and then read this one with the comments. You obviously are not alone and have provided a voice for all the other women who commented on your story and shared their own stories. I am now a grandmother whose own mother encountered a man who exposed himself to her as a young girl. It happened when my mother went on an errand for her own mother to the local “mom and pop” neighborhood store. My grandmother shared the story with me as a little girl and she encouraged me to stay away from strange men and tell her about anything that occurred on my way to and from school… I in turn protected my own children with a similar approach as yours. Thank you for sharing.

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