Someone once famously said, ‘Childhood is the most beautiful of all life’s seasons.’ As adults, we often dip into our childhood memories to relive moments like the sight of a favorite chocolate, the smell of a much-loved dish, or the tune of a beloved song. Tragically, this is not always the case, especially for those who’ve had their innocence stolen as children under influence of toxic parenting. For them, this cherished phase of life has been a battle for safety and self-respect, flawed child development, and strained parent child relationship. When those memories transform into nightmares, childhood is the last thing survivors of child sexual abuse want to think of. The negative influence of fear, trauma, shame, and violation deeply affects the psychology of the child. The damage inevitably follows them well into adulthood and significantly influences parent child relationship.
According to the Indian National Crime Record Bureau, in 2018 alone approximately 109 children were sexually abused every day. The data revealed a 22% jump in the number of reported cases from the previous year.
To highlight how prevalent this horrifying tragedy has become, to the extent of affecting the parent child relationship with their kids, we speak to three women, who share their experience of sexual abuse as children. By breaking their silence, they send a clear message to parents, children, and caregivers: the vicious cycle of abuse has to stop, and we need to create a parent child relationship with the awareness to identify and fight back abuse at home. We need to make sure that no one tampers the psychology of the child.
Breaking the silence:
While talking to them, it is soon established that each case is unique as the parent child relationship in every single victim’s scenario was seen with a different perspective. The early-on ugly experiences have affected their own parenting styles in a massive way is what we could conclude after a heart-to-heart chat. One of them also revealed that it was a consequence of bad parenting. So, we tried to find out if it was parental negligence or the impact of toxic parenting influenced by our very own unaccommodating society. The experiences of the survivors we’re narrating here can be heartbreaking for the readers. Parent child relationship is also affected by toxic parenting.
Jayshree, former wedding specialist and mother of a 6-year-old boy
Jayshree was born in a close-knit, traditional Iyengar family, where the clusters of houses with unfettered access to all and sundry were common. Children growing up there belonged to everyone in the family. When we live in an extended family, parent child relationship would be formal. As much as she enjoyed the love and affection from her wider family, the abuse she suffered crippled her childhood and teenage years.
The negative influence of the incidents continues to leave its impression on her motherhood. Often, the victims of child abuse know their abusers. These predators live in the close family circles of the child, thereby making it impossible for the victims to complain about the abusers or not comply with their demands. Jayshree’s experience reveals how the formal parent child relationship itself at times renders the victims powerless.
I was so naive to recognize what was happening
He was my father’s brother, and I called him ‘Chithappa’(Uncle). Everyone admired him and religiously followed his every word and advice. At the time, I was a naive eight-year-old girl and was completely oblivious to the fact that this man would put his hands over my shoulder and stealthily touch my breast. When I look back, I wonder what kind of depraved pleasure he got from touching the chest of a little girl.
A year or so later, the abuse escalated when he began to touch my privates, that’s when I realized that something was terribly wrong. Even though I was unaware of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, I noticed a maniacal glint in his eyes every time I recoiled from his advances. As child abusers often do, which is to threaten and cajole their victims, he tried to convince me that it was a ‘virtuous deed’ and simultaneously warned that if I spoke about it he would hurt my parents. In a manner of speaking, what acted in my ‘favor’ was the image that he had built for himself. He did these things secretly, and was not about to risk damaging his duplicitous façade.’
The day my innocence was stolen
Although my memory of his many misdemeanors is somewhat hazy, this one day will remain permanently etched in my mind. What happened on that fateful day changed everything and scarred me for life. On the pretext of taking me out shopping (at least that’s what he told my parents), he took me to a house he shared with a college girl. In turn, she tried to convince me that whatever he was doing would help me in the future. Thinking about that conversation even now sends a chill down my spine.
Soon, they began to make out, right there in my presence. I was shivering, nauseated, and disgusted but too scared to react. My voice was stuck in my throat and I shrank into a corner until they finished. With an evil grin, he brought me back home.
Little did he know what was in store for him—the things he said and did to coerce me had made me decisive. For the first time, I opened my heart out to an older cousin. Because for some unfathomable reason or due to the flawed parent child relationship we had, I simply could not get myself to speak to my parents. My cousin told me to fight back the next time this uncle tried to touch me, and give him a dose of his own medicine by threatening to tell everyone.
Surprisingly it worked and he was set straight by one tight slap. Later, while the rest of the family noticed how my behavior towards him had completely changed, no one really cared to find out the underlying cause for it. Instead, I was labeled the brash, irreverent, and ill-behaved one. Soon we shifted to Mumbai and my interactions with him ended.
My parents loved me immensely but…
You know, fate has a strange way of playing with our lives. What he did to me at the tender age of 9, continued to have a profoundly negative influence even when I turned 19 and beyond. I became this misandrist and was never comfortable in any relationships. Feelings of inadequacy plagued me. I believed that the moment I reveal ‘my past’ I would lose my friends and people would avoid me.
I just could not bring myself to talk to my parents about it until I was in my 20s, not because of their bad parenting. In hindsight, had I confided in my parents about the abuse when it first occurred, none of this would have happened. Back then, our parent child relationship was always formal. That said, my parenting advice is simple: encourage your kids to talk to you first if someone threatens them or touches them in a bad way.
Today, I realize that if someone judges me because of ‘my past’, that person should be out of my life forever.– Jayshree
I overprotect my son because of what happened to me. I can’t trust anyone, not even members of my immediate family. Maybe over the years, my fear would fade because I don’t want it to affect our parent child relationship. For now, I keep my son under my watchful eye. The saddest part is that a child is being abused as we speak.
Jayshree believes that she should have told her parents right in the beginning. However, her parent child relationship was different; she grew up in very different times.
* (name changed on request), preschool teacher, mother of a 17-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl
The Indian patriarchal family structure conditions girls from a very young age to never question, raise their voices, get angry, or behave badly. Often, being petulant and constantly questioning everything are privileges only male members of the family enjoy. This orthodox structure is severely flawed and affects the parent child relationship, child development and the psychology of the child. It is one of the major reasons for cases of child sexual abuse going unreported and flawing the child development for good. Mansi’s experience is an example of how this toxic parenting and social structure fosters and conceals the acts of the child molester within families. It is also a glaring example of how known abusers are emboldened to repeat their acts when they go unchecked and not called out.
The family unit is usually a safe and happy place for a child. Sadly, in my case it was a space for toxic parenting, gender discrimination, suppressing voices and sexual abuse. I literally grew up as my grandmother’s daughter, because my parents were too busy looking after my brother. I am glad that it did not affect my equation with him. On the contrary, he is my best friend, who actually took a stand against my parents, when they wanted to brush my abuse under the carpet.
Vacations were nightmares
I used to spend summer vacations at my maternal aunt’s home. My working aunt and school-going cousin were never home and so were of little help. Besides, what could a girl, who is the victim of toxic parenting and who was being molested by her own father, do to protect me? Strangely, my aunt’s loathing for her husband was conspicuous, although why she remained in the marriage was incomprehensible to me. He was manipulative, deceptive, and evil. I was in the 4th grade when he started touching me in ways that made me uncomfortable. He would call me to the bedroom on the pretext of bringing water or a towel so that he could touch me and force me to feel him. It repulsed me to the core. While this happened, I couldn’t utter a word to anyone because I was terrified and lacked the confidence to speak out.
I never saw my mother or aunt stand up to their husbands, which only reinforced my mistaken notion that girls should not speak up for themselves. The abuse went on for years despite my mentioning it to my grandmother, albeit subtly. I couldn’t be explicit with her because howsoever she loved me, my flawed parent child relationship made me underconfident. Since he helped the family financially, grandma and the other members of the household were scared of infuriating him. However, when on one visit when my brother asked why this man would call me so often to the bedroom, he was banned from future vacation visits. Eventually, my ordeal ended when this despicable man relocated abroad.
When toxic parent child relationship catalyze abuse
My parents unfortunately weren’t my confidants. On the other hand, their style was a classic case of toxic parenting that deters the psychology of the child. In my opinion, a healthy parent child relationship in our family was for the boys. I was right because when years later they found out about the abuse, they advised me to let bygones be bygones. Moreover, they urged that I maintain cordial family relations, and never speak about this again. Parent child relationship is a must in every family.
Like a serpent, the memories would slither out of a corner of my mind and leave me numb. That man went on to abuse many more girls and women, including his own daughter. I often feel that had I been confident and if my parents were supportive, this would never have happened to all those other girls. Today, he is no more to hurt me or any other girl but he left irreversible damage in my soul.
Deep within, the scars that he has left behind are still fresh. I am an anxious and overprotective mother because I do not want my kids to go through what I experienced. In the process, I often wonder if I subjected them to bad parenting, and scarred our parent child relationship as well.
Parents should build confidence in kids, so that they don’t hesitate to talk to you about anything.– Mansi
While talking to me, Mansi said that once her son (now 17) asked her why she would get so worked up about sending him out anywhere. That’s when she realized that she has not healed completely—there is always a lurking fear of the worst. Victims of child sexual abuse carry deep scars, and the wound remains raw for years which in turn affects their parent child relationship.
Vinitha, early childhood educator, mother of an 11-years-old boy and a 6-years-old girl
Often the onus to not provoke sexual urges of males depends on the females in the family. The immediate fallout of this flawed thinking is that the victim is branded as “unclean” if she is sexually violated by a man. This practice has been used as a toxic parenting mechanism to control and prevent victims from sharing their experiences. According to Vinitha, the trauma of sexual abuse leads to low self-esteem and distrust and has a negative influence on child development. Discovering that sexual abuse in children has been the generational pattern in her family, spurred her to embark on a journey of raising awareness about the issue.
When I was young, abuse was common; it was all around. I hail from an affluent family where domestic staff took care of everything and had unrestricted access to our home. Growing up witnessing exhibitionism from them, I believed that exposing one’s intimate parts as normal. making me a victim of toxic parenting.
Men are like that, so you should take care
As kids, we were told that men are incapable of controlling their sexual fantasies. Hence, it was the woman’s job not to invite their unwanted attention; Wives dressed up and took care of themselves to ensure that their husbands don’t stray; It would be shameful if society came to know that a man ‘wronged’ a woman because that would make her unclean. Growing up, my family instilled this twisted logic in my sisters and me. As a result, when the abuse occurred, I thought that I am filthy and was scared and ashamed to speak up. But when I did, the unbelievable happened and I realized how toxic parenting could damage me.
A car ride that changed my life
It was Christmas day and we were on the way to my grandparents’ house for a family reunion. In those days, family trips meant jam-packed cars with the kids stacked on the adults’ lap. My uncle volunteered to have me on his lap. No one in the car paid heed to my wriggling and protests. I was relieved when we reached the house, but the worst was yet to come. On the way back, I was once again placed on his lap and this time he put his hands inside my panties. Terrified of what happened, I screamed and that grabbed everyone’s attention, finally.
My word against his
In my own way, I told them that he touched my private parts, but he made it out to be an attempt to find a picture that I had stolen—I had taken a picture of Mother Mary from the house and kept it inside my dress.
Everyone scolded me for falsely accusing him to cover my ‘robbery’. I was around seven-years-old and he was a reputed medical professional. They chose to believe him and my father beat me black and blue. None of the adults stopped to question why he put his hands inside a little girl’s panties. Or did they simply choose to ignore it? Parent child relationship becomes a joke when parents are seen to be taking sides with the abusers.
That was it. I never spoke up for myself again and endured his abuse for years thereafter. Who could I possibly tell when even my own mother thought that I was lying? Our parent child relationship deteriorated to a point that I had to be my sisters’ parent. Sometimes when I tried to act as a shield by complying with him to protect my little sisters. Unfortunately, that too did not help because he still succeeded in abusing them as well. I recall instances when his wife, (my aunt) barged into the room, saw what was happening, and walked away.
Recuperating took years
I lost my self-esteem for years. It affected my relationships because the thought that I was ‘dirty’ had been ingrained in me. That’s when I started following Oprah Winfrey. When she shared her experiences, I felt like she was talking to me.
All this while, my uncle became bolder because he was never caught. Years later, he raped a woman and she lodged a complaint. I stood by her as a witness, but somehow everyone coerced her into withdrawing the complaint. Everyone asked me to forgive him because our religion said so. I ask: Which God would ask a victim to forgive her rapist? In the end, the argument that ‘Our reputation would be tarnished’, was used to suppress the case.
If you are concerned about your reputation, you should check your conduct.Vinitha
When the past haunts the present
The impact that this experience has had on my psyche is horrendous. To my horror, I also learned that this systematic abuse has been a norm for generations in my family. My mother is a victim too, but my sisters and I decided to break the cycle. Finally, we decided not to tolerate the abuse and cut off all ties with the extended family.
Many years later, I succumbed to anxiety and depression. I realized how far it affected me when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. When I realized that the damage was worse than I expected, I sought help. It changed my life like never before. I could raise my kids with more confidence. My daughter is a fierce tigress and reacts intensely if she doesn’t like anything. I made sure I instilled the right values. Parent child relationship is like a strong bond everyone should have in life.
You might be well-intentioned but if a child does not like how you behave with him or her, stay away.– Vinitha
Vinitha did the right thing by seeking help. It helped her in healing the scars despite the lack of family support. In turn, she has assisted several families to fight child sexual abuse and taught them how to cope with the trauma that follows. None of this would have been possible if she hadn’t taken the right decision. With help, she was able to improve parent child relationship with her children. Prioritizing mental health can strengthen your parenting skills. Parent child relationship is very important.
Are our kids safe?
As informed parents, we have to build a positive parent child relationship and train our children to recognize abuse. Create a safe space for them to voice their concerns and encourage them to confide in you. Raise confident and fearless children with positive parenting skills.
Follow these practices unfailingly
- Talk to your children
- Educate them about good touch and bad touch
- Follow the five finger rule
- Don’t force them to hug or kiss friends or relatives
- Avoid situations where you have to leave them alone with anyone
- If you suspect something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to consult a psychologist if necessary.
- Most importantly don’t hesitate to report abuse because maybe you can save another girl with a phone call.
- Have a strong Parent child Relationship
However, in the process of protecting our kids, try not to stifle them with excessive restrictions, rules, and your own fears and insecurities. Instead, let them bloom and grow, confident in the knowledge that you are by their side, no matter what. Build parent child relationship based on confidence, love, and transparency.
Article by : Rakhi Jayashankar and Sharanya Munsi
Featured Model (images 5,7,9) : Arti Shukla