The Unspoken Truth About Mother-Daughter Trauma

If I wasn't enough for my mama to choose me, then how could I be enough for anyone else?

Her Voice

Editor's Note: If you're a sexual abuse or assault survivor, the following personal essay could be potentially triggering to you. If you find yourself in need of help or assistance, please contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I was 12 when I was molested by mom's boyfriend. I broke the age-old vow, what happens in our household, stays in our household, when I told my mentor what happened. My mom found out about it when a Child Protective Services worker came to our house to interview me in our living room.

On my way home to tell a complete stranger what happened, in the car alone with one of my uncles, he warned me that by telling the truth I'd be the reason why I'd get taken from my mom and she could go to jail.

As I sat on the same couch where pieces of my innocence were stolen and hearing the voices of family members in the next room, I listened to my Uncle's advice and chose to save my mom instead of telling my truth.

I'm 33 now. We never discussed what happened. None of us — her, him, nor my uncle. She stayed in the relationship with him while he continued to live with us. Feeling like I had to suppress anything I felt about being molested and having to hide it from everyone, I tried journaling my way through the shame and disappointment I felt.

In my mind lived questions about whether I did something to make him want to touch me — was I too comfortable at home, wearing something around the house that was too revealing; did I laugh too much at his jokes so he thought I was flirting; did I do anything that made him think I wanted him to do what he did? That has been a heavy load to carry.

A few years later, one evening during a heated argument of theirs, my mama told him that she believed he'd molested me but at that time she loved him more than she loved me. Without missing a beat and sticking true to our unspoken rule on how to address important conversations, we never discussed it. I already didn't know how to tell her I was still hurting from the hands of the man that had been in our lives since I was about seven years old. How could I tell her that her words were equally painful?

It was hard living in the same space as him and beginning to believe that I was less important, it was unbearable to hear her validate how I'd felt.

Without having real-life healthy relationships, living in that dysfunction was the foundation of deciding to dodge love. I was too young to know that her version of love was really codependency. I was old enough to know, though, if that was love, then I didn't want it. With my adolescent wisdom, I believed that love would lead me to make illogical decisions that hurt innocent people.

Much too young to make these kind of decisions, I'd told myself that I'd never give my heart to a man and I'd never allow people to get too close to me (so much so, this is the first time that I'm actually exposing my entire truth to people that I've known for years — I've perfected the art of keeping people at a distance). My coping mechanism was to build a wall around my heart.

For me, if I wasn't enough for my mama to choose me, then how could I be enough for anyone else?

After sweeping my shame, confusion, and hurt under the rug while battling anxiety and trying to recover from vivid nightmares over the years, it took me becoming a mom to feel the desire to address my childhood traumas. Initially, it was too late, or so I thought, because my abuser and my mama were already deceased. For years I thought getting an apology from them was what I needed to move on. In reality, God and therapy are how I found closure.

Oftentimes, we're led to believe that closure and healing begins with a conversation with those that wound us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The closure we need comes from within. A couple of months ago I spoke with an aunt about my mom, asking her questions to gain a better understanding of my mom.

The more questions I asked, the more I realized that I don't need the answers to continue on my journey to heal. Just like there are answers that may help us, there are also answers that may hurt us. Giving myself permission to truly feel, acknowledge the pain I felt from him and her, trusting God, and fully diving into therapy, were pivotal in me being able to forgive them.

In therapy, I was challenged to change how I told my story to myself. Instead of it being laced with any traces of shame, embarrassment, or defeat, to find the empowering parts and speak them; speak highly of how I fought back and give less value to the abuse itself.

Even though I overheard her saying that she loved him more at the time of the molestation, it does not mean that she never loved me. In a vulnerable moment with her partner, she exposed herself to her weakness. It's not my job to carry that. While it hurt and altered how I've lived my life, it's because I allowed it.

For so long, I fought to not become her — sharing her idea of love, allowing my love for my husband to not compromise my decision-making skills as a mom, that I became overly protective of our son and uncomfortable with being loved. Sometimes even doubting that healthy love was even real.

I refuse to pass that along to our son.

Putting myself in my mom's shoes without us ever discussing her trauma, insecurities, and challenges helped me to begin to confront the expectations that I had of her. I was reminded that people are just that, they're people. I'm never going to fully understand the decisions she made — I'm not her, I never knew her, and I believe her decisions weren't meant for me to understand. I feel confident in saying that she never knew herself.

I don't believe my mom knew the fullness of the strength, power, and love that she possessed — enough of them that she didn't need the love from him that she wanted so badly that she welcomed having her judgment tainted by it. I find myself, now, often wondering how much it may have hurt her to choose her version of love over her intuition as a mother and as a woman.

As a mom now, I know that it had to have been a very difficult decision for her to make and then to live with daily with me in her presence. I have peace with the decisions she made — while I can't definitively say I would make the same decisions she made, who's to say that I still wouldn't stumble?

I believe the purpose in my pain was to add to the limited conversation of overcoming mother-daughter trauma within the African-American community.

One day I came across some game-changing scriptures — Acts 5:28-29. I was reminded that the generational pattern of nonexistent communication on important, life-altering situations and shame has led me to live in silence. In the scripture, Peter and the apostles were being commanded to stop preaching about Jesus and to stop speaking His name.

They responded by asking, "Do we listen to man or obey God?" That question hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me that our lives are not our lives, they ultimately belong to God along with assignments that we must fulfill.

While I do not believe God was part of the molestation, I do believe that He has called me to use it as a means to ending mother-daughter trauma. How dare I be covered by God's grace to heal from the significant pain that's been living in the depths of my soul majority of my life, then I have the audacity choose to stay silent because of what man may think about it? No ma'am!

I can't live comfortably knowing that I have something to offer another mom and daughter that may untie the knots of pain that have held them bound due to lack of perspective or poor communication. We don't do the work required to heal from situations merely just to be healed for ourselves. Perpetually, we become better so that others connected to us are inspired to do the same.

It's not easy telling others that I was molested. It is also not easy to tell people that my mom was in love with my abuser and she chose him. Hard decisions are the deciding factor between being selfish and being selfless. I choose the latter.

If you or anyone you know is being affected by sexual assualt or abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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