TW: Descriptions of emotional/psychological abuse and sexual harassment.
In this moving interview, Starts With Youth sat down with Trisha, Hailey's mom, to speak more about the parent perspective of childhood trauma, its impact on the mother-daughter relationship, and moving forward after abuse.
To read Hailey's interview, click this link.
SWY: If you don’t mind sharing – Can you please describe from your perspective, the abuse that occurred while Hailey was growing up? Did it have an impact on your own mother-daughter relationship with Hailey?
T: The abuse growing up, starting at a young age, I did not see any. In my mindset, he seemed to try and fill a void in the sense that him and I were cohabitating together after Hailey’s biological father and I separated. Sometimes, he overstepped. The sexual harassment came on later; I don’t remember it during kindergarten or any of that time. As she got older, the comments that were bothersome began. Some of the things he said just seemed off. A little red flag went off.
Why was he so concerned about her getting her period when she was 11? Little comments like that. Little comments when her friends would come over. He would always go on about their looks. Same in public, if he saw a woman who had a bigger body, he always made comments about their looks. He always made fun of her friends, which I think made Hailey very self-conscious about herself. And I know it affected me. I had always been self-conscious about my own weight, so when he made comments about anyone in general, whether it was a little girl or a 40-year old woman, it registered inside.
He wanted her to feel uncomfortable. I don’t know if it was control or keeping her insecure maybe. He kind of could figure out where your pressure points were. Mine was my weight, and he always knew that. He would find what a person was insecure about, specifically a female, and would hammer on that. It was always about a woman’s sexuality or her looks. And then he would bring that up with Hailey. Just inappropriate conversations at random times about sex. I think in the back of my mind, I made excuses for the things he would say or do, but looking back now, he was the adult, he had a responsibility.
That was on my shoulders for making excuses. I think one, I hate confrontation. Don’t like fighting at all, I avoid it at all costs. It was the second relationship where I was living with someone that I thought I would marry one day, so I really wanted it to work. I already had a failed marriage, so of course, you have that in the back of your mind. My own insecurities; I think I just made so many excuses for the little things that I didn’t notice until much later that these little things had turned into bigger things.
He always wanted Hailey to hug him. And I know she was always kind of squeamish, and I thought that she’s just not a huggy type. Hailey was always very goal-oriented, study, study, study. She didn’t have boyfriends, and she wouldn’t date, and he would try to make it sound like she was the opposite of all that. Later on, I’d come to find out that he was telling people that Hailey was provocative, she’s a slut, she’s doing this and that. Hailey is the exact opposite of what he was making her out to be.
The inappropriateness of trying to talk to Hailey really increased. I'd say Grade 10 and 11, just things that someone, in this day and age, should know better not to. It was just weird. Again, I always made excuses. In my mind, I was like get her through school. When she got into Queen’s, I was so excited. I thought, “Okay, get her away from him chirping her all this time about things.” But Hailey got a boyfriend, and I guess it was around March of her last year of high school, and he just, there were all these little things before and now they became major things. It was almost like he was jealous of her spending time with another boy. It was really weird. I can’t explain it; he didn’t like her going out with him or her spending time with him. He just became very controlling. I found out later that he had someone follow Hailey and her boyfriend. He became very nasty to Hailey, more insults.
Probably the last year of high school, this “Princess bitch” became her new nickname according to him. Any time he saw a t-shirt, baseball cap, anything that had princess bitch on it, he would buy it or put it in her room. She wasn’t a princess by any means, and if she was bitchy to him, he probably did something to deserve it. He knew it bothered her, so he did it twice as much. As soon as he found this Achilles heel, he did it more and more.
Eventually, Hailey went to school, and she didn’t come back until Thanksgiving, and she brought two girlfriends who lived too far to travel home with her. We had a great time. It seemed like everything was going to be okay. We took them back on the Monday to Queen’s, and then on the Tuesday, I went down to visit my parents, and they said, “Ohmygod, he was just here.” And then they said he had said all these things about Hailey, that basically an orgy was going on at our house. That these kids were running around naked. And I’m thinking, “What? What are you talking about?” I just didn’t know where this was coming from. It was so far from the truth. It was just a huge, huge lie.
So, I confronted him about it. He denied saying half the things that he said to my parents, but he did tell me that it was either him or Hailey. He was making me choose between him and my daughter. I said you know what, I’m done. When I told him I’m tired of this, the amount of people that came to me after the fact telling me all these lies that he had been saying about Hailey for years. I was so shocked how he had been bad-mouthing her. This girl had her work ethic, she didn’t date, she didn’t do all these things that he was alleging.
I just don’t understand him. To this day, I feel like I was with a stranger. There was nothing major when she was young, but as she matured into a woman, he just kept going after her. She never deserved it, never did anything remotely to deserve any of this.
Again, I do own that I let the little things go until it got too big, and that’s totally on me. I should’ve nipped it in the bud way back when, and I didn’t. I didn’t know. The sexual harassment, the name-calling, lies, etc. The emotional and mental abuse was horrible. He just killed her self-esteem. For the rest of her life, she will second guess everything she does. She’ll never think she’s good enough. I just think he squashed part of her that she will never get back, because of the abuse.
Yes, he’s at fault, but I’m at fault too for not doing what I should’ve done 15 years ago. Hailey, who I feel is broken because of it. There’s a lot of guilt, a lot of regrets. At the same time, I don’t think he owns anything that he’s done. That’s the worst part of it, he takes zero ownership of anything. He still thinks that it was my doing. He doesn’t get that to tell a mother to choose between a partner and a child, you just don’t do that.
SWY: By taking part in this interview, you are being incredibly vulnerable, courageous, and supportive, and doing something that many parents won’t do. What drove you to speak up? What do you think is the importance in parents contributing to the conversation about childhood abuse and trauma?
T: I’m at that stage in my life where I don’t care what other people think, but until they’re in my shoes, they don’t know what I’ve been through or what my family has been through. This is something that eats at me every day with Hailey. If I had nipped it in the bud, maybe Hailey wouldn’t be in the situation where she is and maybe our relationship would’ve been okay, we could’ve got counselling, he could’ve got help. I just don’t want someone else to say I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve so many years later and see the damage that’s done. No one is a perfect mom. I’ve made mistakes, and Hailey knows I love her unconditionally. I don’t think Hailey has ever questioned how much I love her, and I think that’s the most important thing a mom can do for any kid. Both my kids know that I’ll do anything for them. There will be parents out there who will say she was being lazy, she should’ve done this, she knew better. When Hailey was twelve, why didn’t she? And yeah, you’re right, I should’ve done all these things, but in the moment, you don’t think like that. If people want to judge me, that’s fine.
"I just don’t want someone else to say I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve so many years later and see the damage that’s done."
SWY: How do you think your family’s experiences with abuse has impacted you?
T: Good and bad. Good in the sense that I hope it will help somebody else. Good that Hailey has this amount of strength and courage that I just can’t believe she has. The things she does, like with her book, she’s always busy and I just don’t know where she finds the time. She’s just tackling everything on, which I’m so glad for, and she’s not taking any crap.
But I think she also does it because she feels she has something to prove, and I’m afraid she’s going to burn herself out. The only person she needs to prove anything to is herself. She is worthy. She’s good enough, she’s worthy of everything, and I don’t know if she’ll ever see that because of what’s gone on. I have no doubt that she’s going to do fabulous in life, and she’ll probably be very successful at her job. I know she’ll be a great mom. I hope she’ll find somebody who can love her unconditionally. But I think she’s always going to have that thing kind of in the back of her mind; not good enough, not worthy of something.
We’ve come to see people who stuck by us through the breakup. I lost a couple girlfriends, which I was really shocked about. People say they don’t pick sides, but they obviously did and that hurt me. But then I got closer with my family, in general. My kids and my parents too. There’s good and bad. Bad, I now live in an apartment as opposed to a house; trying to find a job, that kind of stuff. That’s minor in comparison to what Hailey’s endured for the last decade. I’m just happy that Hailey is succeeding in the things that she’s doing, and I hope that she finally gets to a place where she can just relax and not have to feel like she has to keep going.
SWY: What was it like for you, as a mother, to come to terms with your daughter’s experiences with emotional abuse and sexual harassment?
T: You feel the guilt and you blame yourself, but at the same time, I don’t want to say I feel guilty to make myself feel better in the sense that I’m trying to lessen my guilt. No, I’m feeling guilty that she’s still dealing with this. This isn’t something like breaking her favourite picture, no, this is something that she’s going to have to experience for the rest of her life. The hardest part of it is knowing that this whole abuse changed everything about her. Maybe there’s some positive to it, like she’s a very strong, determined woman. But it's negative in the sense that she’s going to be dealing with insecurities and stuff because of it.
As her mom, it’s about what I can do now to fix it. I can’t turn back the clock. I’m still kind of lost; what can I actually do to make it better. I don’t know if there is anything. There’s that guilt that’s always hanging over your head, but you don’t want to focus on the guilt, you want to focus on that she’s going to do great in life; this has made her a better person, she can handle anything now.
"As her mom, it’s about what I can do now to fix it."