The Mother

*This post is from a sexual abuse survivor; it may be triggering for some readers.

This is my Red Tent truth, my Red Tent story. This is and was “The Mother” in my life. The person who birthed me, whose publicly portrayed image I adored, but whose private reality would horrorify any humane person. I try not to think about her too often because she has decided to abandon me completely.  Not because I was rude or disrespectful or because I broke some reasonable code of family conduct.  Not because I “did” something unseemly or uncouth to her or to the family. But because I did something that no one in several generations before me seemed to be able to successfully do.

I found the courage to speak up about family sexual abuse, psychological assault, and chronic neglect. The few in previous generations who attempted to even speak of these things were shunned and shamed into secrecy and silenced for the rest of their lives. But me, I’m living out loud, happily, freely, and publicly. I didn’t become a recluse. I didn’t go into hiding. I broke every toxic Code of Family Conduct there was.

I didn’t post anything online or tell a bunch of people in our local or national community. Instead, I had a quiet, calm, respectful conversation with my mother and my two older sisters. It was at that moment that they seemed to decide that I would no longer exist. I would no longer be the family “golden child” and hero. Instead, I would become the family scapegoat, the person who all of the problems of the family are blamed on instead of the family looking at themselves and the key problem itself.

My memory would be metaphorically erased from the DNA of the collective family experience. I would no longer be mentioned or invited to family events or celebrations. If I was spoken of by my mother or my sisters, it would be for their smear campaigns; to assassinate my character, tear down my credibility, and create rumor mills and gossip chains. For speaking up about abuse, collective gaslighting, isolation, and psychological abuse would be my “punishment”  from my mother and two older sisters. Like a web a spider weaves that touches anyone in its path.

This became my mother’s work – she disowned me for telling the truth.

I was first raped by my father at age four until adulthood when I finally left that city. As a child, I was made to keep secrets daily. My mother knew it, allowed it, shushed and silenced me.

When I cried in the morning because of being raped at night, she would tell me to be quiet, get dressed for school, put my uniform on, and go wait for our driver to pick me up because “We don’t talk about these things.” She would beat me if I cried, but at the same time, there was no space for joy either because she would reprimand me or smack me if I smiled, laughed, or found something innocently funny as children often do. I was to be invisible and so is my pain to most of society because there is no space for people with mothers like mine.

The Mother archetype that everyone seems to idolize, uphold, and adore in our culture of the loving, nurturing, cooking, baking mother – we were not all so fortunate to have – and as a society, we need to do a better job of understanding these kinds of mothers so their daughters and sons don’t feel further isolated and dejected. People like me, who had abusive mothers who permitted the sexual violence and emotional torture of abusive fathers to their daughters on a daily basis. I was raised by a pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Men who preyed on me by night and women who allowed it by day.  Where is a safe space for girls like me? For daughters like me? Where is there space to say these things out loud? Nowhere? Perhaps here, in the Red Tent.

This was my life for nearly thirty years, less frequently as an adult, but it still happened. I was expected to keep honoring my father and mother as biblically instructed to; I was expected to keep showing up to family events, playing the role of good daughter.

Today I stand amazed by God’s grace for the gentle, loving spirit I have genuinely retained for others, for myself, and my own beautiful children. I guess out of the pack of wolves emerged a woman who kept her heart and soul intact by God’s grace. 

This Red Tent woman has requested to remain anonymous. We applaud her courage to risk sharing this part of her story with our community. It is our privilege to honor and protect her identity.