by Christina Enevoldsen
It would be easier to tell people my parents are dead. Orphans get sympathy; I get judgment. When I tell people that I don’t have any contact with my mother or father, it’s usually the same response: Oh, well, OH! Some of them move on to safer topics but a few of them inquire in hushed tones, “Why not? What…happened?”
I respond with something vague like, “They aren’t very nice people” or the more detailed version that my dad sexually abused me and that both of my parents are defending their ex-son-in-law for raping my daughter.
How many people do you think respond with, “Good for you for standing up to such awful behavior and for protecting yourself and your daughter.”? Not many.
I’m still surprised by how many assume that my boundaries mean I’m bitter and unhappy. I might become bitter if I had to endure a relationship with them, but I’m very happy that I had the freedom to leave. I’m much better off without their destructive influence.
Well-meaning people feel compelled to try to fix whatever’s wrong with me—certainly something must be wrong with me if I don’t have a relationship with my parents. A few reluctantly approve of a temporary separation, as long as I work towards reconciliation. How can I work toward reconciling? What am I supposed to do—learn to be more resilient to abuse? Why is what is perceived as my hard-heartedness worse than the perpetual abuse from my parents? Why is bitterness more evil than raping a child or protecting a child rapist?
The truth is—I understand people’s concern. I might have had the same reaction to someone else while I was still under that system. It was wrong to even question that system. I was taught to respect my parents, to honor my father and mother by my parents, by my church and by society’s example.
The cultural expectation is eternal obligation toward our parents. The rule is that we know they aren’t perfect, but we treat them as though they can do no wrong. Parents get a free pass. Whatever they did, whatever they do, they are our parents.
For most of my life, I went along with that. After I remembered my childhood sexual abuse, I never confronted my father; I treated him as though nothing ever happened. When my dad verbally abused my daughter for her entire childhood and into her adulthood, I never spoke up. When I realized as an adult that my mother contemptuously treated me like the other woman while I was growing up, I didn’t complain.
I only stood up to my mother for one thing in my life. It was only after she asked my husband and me to compromise our values by insisting that we stay silent. I was finally growing enough to speak up. My mom’s response was a reminder that I’m not perfect. So only perfect people are qualified to set boundaries—to say no to harsh treatment, deception, manipulations, and betrayals? I wasn’t claiming perfection; my claim was I was in danger. My parents weren’t risking my physical life, but they were severely compromising my mental and emotional well-being.
Why do those two people—the ones who brought me into this world, the ones who should have the biggest interest in preserving my life—why should they get to take that life from me? Who gave them that right?
There are some people who claim God gave them that right. Their interpretation of the command to “Honor your father and mother” gives parents an untouchable position. Parents have all the rights and the child has none, including the right to resist certain types of treatment.
In my abuse-informed belief system, I agreed with that interpretation. I may not have defined it that way, but I practiced it that way. Now that I have some healing under my belt, I see things differently. I allow myself to question what I believe, to question the rules that I choose to live by, to question the people I want in my life.
By questioning, I see the intent behind that instruction. I see the intention is to preserve life. The roles of parents are ones of nurturers and protectors of the life they began. Their position is to guide us and teach us to take care of that life. People who fulfill that role should be honored. But my parents didn’t do those things.
“Honor your mother and father” still means something to me. I believe I still honor the spirit of that instruction. I’ve taken the good things my parents passed on to me and I protect, value, and honor those things and I’ve left the rest behind. I honor the gift of life my parents gave me. I honor it best by keeping it far away from them.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.