Abuse was passed down to her by her mother-why should she forgive her?
I want to introduce you to my mother, she was born to extreme poverty in El Salvador. As a child, she often went to bed hungry as the family struggled to survive. As a child, she was molested more than once and nearly married off to a much older man when she was only thirteen years old. When she was fourteen years old, she left her mother’s home to work in the city and escape her life. It was there she met my father. She was a maid in my father’s house. She was sixteen years old when she gave birth to me. Even after she married my father, her position in the household didn’t change much, except she was no longer paid for her services. She received her first beating by him when I was only three weeks old. She ran away to safety but later returned and chose to stay.
Why does a woman choose to stay in an abusive relationship? Typically, she does so because she feels she does not have any other options.
Enduring the abuse was a better alternative than returning to a town without running water, electricity, and where her child may starve. She knew well what it was like to go to bed, afraid, and hungry, so she stayed. Around that time, violence in El Salvador was escalating, and a civil war erupted. His family was planning on leaving the country to seek a better life here in the United States, and she joined them on the journey. It was a significant sacrifice, leaving everything she had ever known behind. Still, she was determined to give her child a better life than the one she had growing up. I was eighteen months when we arrived. I was seven years old the year she finally left him. She worked up the courage to go with the help of a neighbor. He became my stepfather overnight.
A sad inheritance of ABUSE
We moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with my mother, stepfather, little brother, and my mother’s cousin. He began molesting me. After we escaped my father, she also became violent toward me, and I was afraid of her, so I kept silent.
For years I questioned where was my mother’s attention when she should have been taking care of me. I was angry at her and blamed her for being so distracted by her own life that she didn’t see what was happening to me.
Last year, I made the bold decision to write a book about healing from abuse Writing Unbraided Transform Your Pain to Power and Purpose, led me to have many tough conversations with my mother. Early on in my book writing process, I wanted to know more about her childhood and her life with my father. I also wanted additional context around my memories and the life I had growing up. I realize that I carried scars within me not only because of the abuse I experienced at the hands of the men who abused me sexually (I was also molested by a neighbor when I was only five years old).
What I learned during those conversations changed everything.
Learning about her suffering and trauma led me to forgive her.
As I pieced our intertwined histories together, I realized that she was only twenty-one years old when the first molestation happened. She was twenty-four when my uncle began molesting me.
She had gone from extreme poverty to giving birth when she was only a child in an abusive marriage, and a whole new country in the matter of just a few years.
I reflected on my own life and who I was between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four. I was naive, selfish, desperate for love, distracted by dating, and still so immature.
As you read, my mother made some major life-choices in hopes of giving me a better life than the one she had; it was the motivation behind her most impactful decisions. She wanted to provide me with a better experience, one in which I could have three meals a day and receive an education because she lacked those things growing up.
She wanted to do better, be better, and provide differently, but she had never seen it and didn’t know how to offer that.
While the life she gave me was indeed much better than the one she had growing up, it was still not a healthy or safe environment for me. Instead, our family life left me vulnerable and unprotected.
I resented her for years and justified my rebelliousness later in life based on what I had experienced.
I understand now that my mother did the best she could. She wasn’t perfect, and life was painful rough. She made many mistakes growing up, some we are still learning to overcome as a family.
Have we made mistakes as well? Sure. Not a single one of us is blameless.
As flawed as my mother is, I chose to extend grace to her, to be kind, and allow my children to have a grandmother.
I hold close to my heart all the good my mother gave me instead of clinging to her poor choices. It is because of her sacrifices that I am who I am today.
Maternal wounds are a recurring theme that continues to come up when I speak with groups of women about trauma, it’s effects, and breaking the cycle of abuse. Mothers, daughters, and entire families are struggling due to the painful wounds young girls experienced early in their lives.
Daughters are angry at mothers because, as children, they weren’t protected or believed.
Mothers are heartbroken because their daughters don’t speak to them.
Families are broken and hurting, still — decades later.
Unbraided, gave me a beautiful gift, true healing, forgiveness, and a family. I know it will do the same for you if you allow yourself to be open despite the pain you still feel and do the hard work that true healing requires.