A Step-Mother's Dilemma
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
What happens when your daughter discloses that her half-brother sexually abused her? I never in my wildest dreams imagined it could ever be a possibility. Does such a thing exist? Do siblings sexually abuse one another?
Those of you reading this unfortunately know it does exist! The pain is heart wrenching, the anguish is real. How do you navigate the torn loyalties, how do you support both?
For me, I went into rescue mode. This was a boy who I helped raise for over 10 years. If I didn’t protect him, my family would fall apart. My marriage would certainly be over. My initial thoughts when disclosure occurred was, “He must have been abused himself, these are not normal teenage behaviours.” My husband and I discussed this with my stepson, we were so empathetic and understanding, we assured him he had our unconditional love and support. This was vital so he felt comfortable to open up. Thankfully there was no prior abuse; however, that left me with a huge dilemma. What was the reasoning behind this awful behaviour that caused so much damage and destruction to our family? There was no simple answer.
The days, weeks and months went by. They felt like years. My heart yearned for the little boy I helped raise. Where did it all go wrong? In those moments of sadness and grief, my irrational thoughts and anger kicked in. “How could you feel this way, you cannot be sad or worried for him? You are not fit to be a mother, your daughter should be the most important person, how would she feel if she knew you were thinking this way? She would disown you; she should have your full loyalty. He is not even your son. You are despicable…” I suppressed my feelings of disgust, hurt and anger, swallowing them whole, each one feeling like a dagger. I would not let myself feel them or let them have a negative impact. He too was a child after all, a child I had helped raise. A child who I loved and was proud of. Although biologically not mine, I had invested so much in him, did everything any biological mother would.
I was in a constant battle with myself, so many conflicting feelings. I punished myself for being a loyal, loving, empathetic compassionate person. My shadow side wanted to destroy the compassion. I was in constant turmoil. I felt like I had so many different personas and was completely out of control on the inside, moving from one emotion to another in a matter of seconds. My head was constantly spinning. I wanted to scream all the time.
I tried to bury it all, I needed to stay focused and take my emotions out of the equation. I put on a mask. I was logical, calm, focused, stable and pragmatic. I had to be, if I wasn’t, who was going to sort this mess out and ensure the kids were ok? I had to ensure that my stepson’s mother and I worked closely together to ensure that my stepson felt supported and got the best possible help and intervention. That in itself was extremely challenging at times. I was seeing what was best for the family as a whole, her main concern was her son.
Although my daughter had a therapist, I became her therapist, I was her everything. I was the person she told every detail to. I was the one that lay at night consoling her. I was the one that had to explain every step of the process to her, why family members said and did certain things that she couldn’t understand. Why they ‘were taking his side’ in her mind.
The first few months, I held it all together pretty well, but you can only do that for so long before the volcano erupts and emotions resurface. Everything started to become all about my stepson and it felt like my daughter was being lost in the process. It felt like he had an army behind him to provide support but my daughter only had me. The more I saw her pain, the more distance it put between my stepson and I.
I felt I couldn’t be open and honest with my husband, or anyone for that matter. I was too ashamed about my thoughts and feelings. My daughter expressed her pain and anguish to me but would not mention a single thing to her father or anyone else. Others didn’t see the full extent of the damage that was done or understand how disclosure brings everything to the fore. The safety mechanisms she once had as survival tools had disappeared because everything was now out in the open.
What really helped me navigate the turmoil and ambivalence was journaling. I allowed myself to fully express those negative thoughts and feelings without feeling ashamed, judged or that I was a terrible person. I was justified to feel angry, enraged, disgusted, hurt, betrayed, disappointed, etc. Who wouldn’t, when their child has been hurt so much, and seeing someone they love suffer? It doesn’t matter who the person that harmed them was, the pain is very real. But when it is another sibling, that brings a whole new layer and set of complexities.
It was only through acknowledging my true feelings did the hurt and anger start to dissipate. I was able to breathe again because I had expressed them in a safe way without hurting anyone’s feelings. For those that feel ashamed of these emotions, please don’t, they are valid.
Through reflection and self-awareness, I was able to recognise that my emotions were related to the behaviours of my stepson and the damage they did. They were not a result of him as a person. I think it is very important to make the distinction between the person and their behaviour. For me, separating the behaviour from the person was freeing. It allowed me to grieve in peace for what my family had lost–the original family unit–and still show compassion, love and empathy towards my stepson. My daughter does not want a relationship with him, I don’t know if she ever will, but that is her decision. I have maintained some contact; we are not as close as we were, but we have found our ‘new normal’ that works for all concerned.
To anyone navigating this journey, my advice is be patient with yourself. We all hope and have certain expectations in the beginning but they can change quite often, due to a number of different factors. There is no right or wrong in relation to feelings and there is no rule book or guide in these situations. You can and will get through, you may just need to adjust your expectations.