Q.What do I say to my daughter and her husband and my other children, now that I know that she was sexually molested when she was a child by her adopted father, my ex-husband? We were divorced after 25 years because he was having an affair with a friend of mine.
My daughter has been under the care of doctors because her own daughter was molested. They brought these facts to the surface and I was told. I asked old neighbors if they knew of this then and many said yes, but didn't want to get involved. If they had just called 911! They could have saved my daughter all the pain she suffered.
My ex-husband is a deacon in his church. I talked to the minister and she simply told me she would try to talk to him but that she couldn't ask him to step down, that we are all sinners.
The woman who caused my divorce plans to marry this guy. Should she be told?
Please help me get peace of mind and tell me what I can say to my daughter besides, "I'm so sorry."
A.You've certainly had more than your share of life's pain. Guilt and shame, anger and anxiety, vengeance and a terrible need for vindication are the normal response to sexual abuse for both you and your child. So are all the "if onlys."
The pain will take years to fade but you must get rid of those "if onlys" as soon as you can. They aren't just unproductive; they're counterproductive.
Your own sense of guilt must be almost overwhelming as you wonder how you could have missed what was going on. You can't deal with this as long as you're blaming your neighbors.
Every mother of a sexually abused child feels shame as well as guilt. You may think no one else has been through such a sordid situation.
That, of course, is not true. According to the American Humane Association, there were 103,000 reported sexual abuse cases in the United States last year (and it is estimated that at least 200,000 were not reported). Of the reported cases, 62 percent were committed by a natural parent and 14 percent by stepparents, although only 10 percent of the children live in stepfamilies.
You and your daughter are obviously not alone, and this is what she needs to hear.
She also needs to be told that it wasn't her fault, and she needs to be told this again and again -- by you, by her husband, by her siblings. The affection that began so innocently, that made her feel so special and so loved, became a nightmare when it changed, but she was the victim, not the cause.
Keep telling her you're sorry for whatever part you played and be as supportive as you can. Be there for her silence and her soul-searching, always letting her decide what she will talk about and when and accept her anger and resentment as a natural part of her healing process. This won't be easy, when you have so much anger and resentment of your own.
And hold her tight. She may be a mother herself, but she's still your little girl.
You also need to talk about the situation in both individual and joint psychotherapy, with other members of the family joining when it's appropriate. All of you (including your granddaughter) need professional guidance -- particularly if you have other daughters. It is typical for each daughter to be abused in turn and for each to keep this awful secret to herself.
You and your daughter also will profit by taking part in support groups made up of other victims. To find out if there is one in your area, call Parents Anonymous (800-421-0353), which deals with all forms of child abuse, or Parents United (408-280-5055), which deals only in sex abuse problems.
Without a safety valve, you won't be able to contain your unhappiness and pretty soon everyone will know. You might as well write your daughter's story on a billboard. She doesn't need this.
Your ex-husband's behavior should not be condoned, excused or necessarily ignored, however. He's just not your problem anymore.
Nor do you want to heckle him out of his post in the church. It would be uncharitable to take away this support, which he may need desperately. It's enough that his minister knows his weakness. No matter how merciful she feels, or how much he denies the incidents, she will be keeping a wary eye on her young flock.
If anyone is going to deal with him, it should be your daughter's husband, and then only in the presence of their lawyer.
The lawyer can keep the discussion on a dignified level and can conduct a little bit of family plea bargaining, in which he'll ask your ex-husband to sign a paper admitting his crime in exchange for one your daughter will sign, promising not to sue for emotional damages unless he is ever charged with molesting another child. Whether written promises are actually exchanged or not, he will be put on formal notice that he may be charged in civil court. This is not to be vindictive, but to protect the children in your town. It also may make him come to terms with his illness, so that he can seek help.
Whether they should also talk with his future wife has to be a personal judgment, but surely she should be told if she has a younger daughter or a granddaughter who will be in their household, even irregularly. Sexual molesting is a pattern that is often repeated in a family and has many causes -- low self-esteem, a crisis, marital problems and even religion, when the Biblical teachings get twisted.
Consider yourself lucky to be out of that scene and concentrate instead on your daughter and your granddaughter. The cycle has to stop. You can help by sharing your wisdom, not your anger: Vengeance is not the road to peace.