An Open Letter to my Daughter About Her Mother

Hi Sweet Girl,

My hands are clammy right now, and there’s a slight shake as they move across the keyboard.  I’ve got a pit in my stomach, and frankly, I feel like I could vomit.  I’m scared, I’m anxious, and I just want to get this right.  I’ve been thinking about writing this piece for over a year now.  Every time I think I find the courage, I end up talking myself out of it, worried about what others will think or say.  Over the past year, however, I’ve realized this has nothing to do with other people, and it has everything to do with me.  And in the future, you.  It’s become an itch I can’t scratch, and its time.  I don’t have an outline in my head for how this one will go, I’m just crossing my fingers tight that it will come out in a way that makes sense and has meaning. You and your brother are off playing at a friend’s house right now, your dad is at work, and I think I just needed the house completely silent and to myself to think this through.  No one needing me, no baby monitor buzzing, no one needing to be fed, and no toys clanging… just me.

No one knows I’m writing this. I’ve only ever talked about this to a few people in my life. While I should probably give a few people a gentle heads up, I’m scared I’ll get talked out of it. I don’t want permission from anyone. I need to do this for me. I need to own the experience, put it to rest, and move on.  I need to write down these raw and powerful feelings I have right now, because when you’re old enough to understand it all, I need to remember what’s reeling through my heart and through my head at this very moment.  I cant forget any more of it. I’ll eventually delete this post before you could ever find it, and I’ll share when I know we’re both ready, but today, I need to do this for me.

So, here we go.

Back in middle school I was terribly insecure and wanted nothing more in the world than to be popular and fit in. Not too uncommon, right? Sounds like just about every other middle-schooler. I went about trying to achieve that in just about every wrong way I possibly could though, and became friends with people who’s actions didn’t align with the person I wanted to be.  Ahh, middle school growing pains. My friends and I used to sneak out of the house at night all the time; one of our favorite poor choice activities.  We’d walk miles at 2:00 in the morning through neighborhoods just to meet up with boys.  Oh, how tempting and persuasive cute boys can be. Sweet girl, please don’t try sneaking out.  I can assure you I wrote the handbook and I’ll be two steps ahead. You have no idea how sick looking back at all this makes me feel now that I’m a mother myself.

One summer night a girl friend and I were up to our usual tricks and began our trek across town in the middle of the night to meet up with some guy friends.  After a few hours of TV and laughing in their basement, we began the walk back home.  As we winded our way through a neighborhood we were stopped by another friend’s older brother.  I didn’t know him well and rarely saw him, as he was a busy, attractive, 18 year old high school senior at the time. I just knew him as my friend’s older brother. He and his friend got out of the truck and began to make small talk with us, asking us why on Earth we were out so late and what our parents would think if they drove us home and told my parents what we were up to.  I wish I could recall with perfect clarity all the words that were exchanged next, but I can’t.  I’m not sure if it was a mechanism my brain has utilized to protect me, or if its normal memory wear of an event from 18 years ago. Maybe a little bit of both.

What I do remember, however, is being walked to a patch of yard in between two houses.  I remember the friend being a lookout in the street by their car.  I remember feeling helpless. I remember feeling scared.  I remember the white and blue pajama pants I had on. I remember how damp and cool the grass was. I remember thinking that with all these street lights someone surely has to be seeing this; with how close these two houses are, there are people a mere 20 feet away from me. I remember crying. And I vividly remember him saying how he wished girls his age could do what we were doing.  I was 12.

I don’t remember walking home.  I don’t even remember how my friend felt or reacted to all of this, as she was involved too.  I just remember me.  Thinking it was all my fault, and how I had already been letting my parents down so much that they could never find out.  Because it was my fault.  I didn’t scream.  I didn’t fight.  And in my 12 year brain, that meant I must’ve consented.

What happened next, honestly, was probably the most devastating.  The boy I was madly middle school in love with at the time found out.  While he “forgave me” for what I did, the damage was done.  As friends close to me found out and they shared their disgust and disapproval for what I did, the experience became cemented in my brain as something that was my mistake.  Something I should be ashamed of.  So I was.  The self-hate spiraled into an eating disorder I could use for control, and the experience held great significance in the beginning of my own sexuality.  I was already dirty, so who really cares anymore?

I held onto this self-loathing for many, many years to follow.  It hurts my heart thinking back on how long I held onto this. But then things changed my senior year of college.  I was stuck in the middle of loving two guys, and at the time I couldn’t decide who I was supposed to be with (spoiler alert: one of them was your father).  I felt so out of control, and it was at this time my eating disorder decided to rear its ugly head again.  After some not so gentle pushing by friends, I finally sought help and went to see a therapist.  Walking into his office was one of the most pivotal moments in my life.  After I got past the initial sessions thinking, “How could this old guy possibly understand anything I’m going through”, we got to work.  We kept digging and digging through past experiences, the people who have shaped those experiences, and my patterns of handling tough situations. We eventually stumbled upon my experience that summer night at 12 years old.  At first I was reluctant to share with full disclosure, because as embarrassed as I am to admit this now, I still felt so much shame at 22 years old.  I didn’t want him to judge me.  But I did it anyway. Oh, the breakthrough.  Things spilled out of me and were seen with such clarity like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Together we put the pieces of this puzzle back together, and for the first time, I was able to address everything from the other side.  As a 12 year old victim, that was taken advantage of by an 18 year old man, who wasn’t equipped with the maturity or cognitive ability to process things correctly at the time.

Since graduating and moving on from college, the experience kind of stayed at bay. I had made some peace with it, and finally got the courage to tell my parents.  It wasn’t until becoming a mother, becoming a mother to a beautiful and vibrant girl, that this all started to creep back up on me.  If I’m honest, sometimes it confuses me.  I can’t quite put a finger on how something that happened so long ago can still make my insides shake and my hands get sweaty, but it does.  Maybe by putting it all down, I can finally shake off this last lingering piece of it.

Sweet girl, there are some things I want you to know.  Things I need you to know.

I want you to know I will do everything in my power to create a body positive and sex positive relationship with you as you grow so that there is nothing that would ever be too much for you to share with me. I am always, always here to support you and champion for you.  There is no exception to that rule.

I need you to know that your sexuality is yours, and no one else’s.  There is no specific timeline, and no specific rules to follow.  I hope I can help educate you enough so that you will be empowered by your decisions.  As long as your decisions ensure your safety, are made with a clear mind, and are made because you feel it is what will make you happy and fulfilled, there is no shame in that, and I support you.  If our culture is anything like it is today, society may try and tell you differently, but sweet girl, please know that these choices are yours. 

I need you to know that consent means you have 100% agreement, that you’ve verbalized that very explicitly, and that you’re in a clear head and heart to do so. Anything less than that is not OK.

I want you to know that you can’t regret decisions if they were made by taking into account all the information you had available at the time. Looking back with new information and feeling guilt or shame gets you on a fast track to self-destruction.  We’re all human, and we have to learn somehow, right?

I want you to know that you are the only person who has permission to control how you feel about yourself.  You dictate your self-worth.  I remember so clearly one night an ex-boyfriend of mine in college told me that “he knew I was weak because I was battling an eating disorder”.  Oh sweet girl, let me tell you, I am anything but weak.  I dictate who I am too, and I know the word “weak” does not accurately describe any part of my being.

I need you to know that I love you with every fiber of who I am, and as I sit here next to you, watching you smiling up at me with wide-eyed innocence, I promise to do my very best to guide you in a way that encourages your confidence, self-love, self-awareness, and empowerment. You are wonderfully made, you are powerful, and you are fiercely loved.

I’m putting this all to rest now, and it’s liberating.  All I need is the courage to get these clammy hands to hit ‘Publish’. Thank you, sweet girl, for unknowingly waking a part of me that wasn’t fully asleep, and for continuing to teach me about myself whether you realize it or not.  For I too am wonderfully made, I am powerful, and I am fiercely loved.

All My Love,

Your Strong Momma.

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4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to my Daughter About Her Mother

  1. You are one strong Momma, and one strong woman. Your courage to share this with your daughter (not to mention with us) is inspiring to me as I have struggled with many of the same demons that you’ve conquered. At least most days I feel like I’ve at least got those demons on the ground with my foot on their necks. You’ve opened yourself up to a great unknown world of comments and criticism, so allow me to be the one with the pom poms screaming cheers from the sideline. Hopefully you can continue to keep being the authentic, vulnerable (yup, I intended that one), and strong-in-the-face-of-whatever-life-throws woman your past has formed you into today. Thank you for having the courage to press “publish.”

    1. Hi Katie!

      After sharing this post here and on Facebook you were my very first comment. In my moment of sheer panic after hitting Publish, I was met with your message. Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out and provide support like you did — women supporting and championing other women is such a powerful and undervalued thing. While I’m sad you have your own demons, I’m glad you were able to relate to me in some way. That’s one of the biggest reasons we write, right? Connections and letting others know we aren’t alone. I took a screenshot of your message so I can put it in my pocket for a day I need to be reminded of goodness out there. Thank you again for the comment – it means more than you know!

  2. Still sends chills down my spine reading this Erica. So powerful. The strength you have found is so inspiring. What a true testiment to what it means to be a powerful woman finding strength in her own story. And what an awesome gift that is for your little girl (and boy) to see. Nothing more powerful children to see, I think, than you sharing with your little ones (and all the adults out there who have little ones trapped inside by similar trauma) the story of how a giant entered your life and then how you overcame!

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