Children Born of Assault: Is It a Mom's Duty to Tell Her Kids?

Curiousity is a trait I encourage in my children. As annoying as it can be for a mother of toddlers, asking questions is the way kids learn, and I've never shut down even the never-ending inquiries. I make sure to say "I don't know" every once in a while to show them it's okay not to know, and I offer them ways to find out information if we don't have it already stored in our memories. Teaching, in this way, is my favorite part of being a parent. I am fully aware that the questions will get harder as children get older, but I can't imagine facing the bombshell question one teenager dropped on Dear Abby when she learned she was a child of rape.

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A teenage girl had been looking through her mother's things when she found a notebook, very clearly marked PRIVATE. The daughter opened it anyway and discovered she was conceived as a result of rape. Yes, my jaw is still on the ground. Heavy.

Let's stop to note that the daughter reading her diary is an invasion of the mother's privacy, but there's not much point in harping on it because she can't unsee what she saw and if she has questions, she's got to be able to talk to her mother. She just learned that her mother was raped (a shock in itself) and that she was a result of that act (can you imagine?).

The daughter must've felt guilty, because instead of going straight to her mother, she wrote to Dear Abby. 

I'd always assumed Mom got pregnant at 16 because she made stupid decisions, but I was wrong. I could never imagine how my mom could get through a day without looking at me as a reminder of what happened to her.

Where do I go from here? Should I confront her about it? I have no one to talk to, so I hope you can give me some advice. -- CHILD OF RAPE

Dear Abby gives a short but loaded response, trying to make the girl feel better by saying her mother "had choices" and suggesting that she wanted the daughter to find it because she left the notebook out in the open. Those are some heavy assumptions. Who knows what kinds of choices this woman felt like she had or didn't have? Abortion being legal is not the be-all and end-all of the conversation. This woman was 16 at the time. Maybe she had no money. Maybe she wanted an abortion but her parents forbade it. It's possible she waited until it was too late. I have no idea. But the existence of the legal right to choose doesn't mean individuals can see or pursue all their "choices." I hope Dear Abby understands that. That's an angle Abby should have left to the girl's mother. Frankly, I can't imagine why her response wasn't "Please go speak to your mother immediately, and don't stop talking until you are both hugging fiercely."

Despite this terrible exchange between Abby and the daughter, it's the mom I want to sit down with for a heart-to-heart. She had to have anticipated this day was coming. I don't know if the daughter had some vague idea of who her father is, or none at all, but the mother must have known she was going to answer questions some day. I hope she is prepared, because as awful as this situation might feel to us readers with just a few hundred words of insight, it's also a situation ripe with teachable moments. 

This violation happened to the mother, and it's her choice how much or how little she wants to share with her daughter. The details are for her to process, and I hope she's had time to do that. But all the time in the world can't always make sense of a heinous act such as rape, and the mother can also tell her daughter that fact. She can tell her about consent, and how important it is to have your voice and your boundaries honored. She can also teach her daughter that some of the worst things that happen to us can have positive consequences with time and healing. 

I truly hope the daughter approaches her mother about this painful topic, and I hope the mother is prepared enough or insists on pushing through to open the dialogue. Because one thing remains constant from the time our kids are toddlers to teenagers: They need us to create a safe place to ask questions. We don't have to handle it perfectly, we don't have to have all the answers, we don't have to betray who we are to respond, but we need to let them feel confident that they can ask the questions. That's what parenting is all about.

 

Image via Iakov Filimonov/shutterstock

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