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."
I hope that in 10 years from now, she has a child that she sticks up for in any situation and believes the child. Doesn’t do what I did basically. If there’s an issue, nip it in the bud. Confrontation, that’s a part of life and you just have to deal with it. If anything, I hope she learns that that is what I should’ve done. I think she’ll be a great mom one day. She keeps asking me to raise her kids, I don’t know why. But that makes me feel good that I wasn’t a total mess up with her. Mixed bag feelings with that. Not saying I’m going to forget what happened, but it’s okay, and I’m focusing on what I can do moving forward.
SWY: What is some advice you would give to another parent whose child has experienced abuse? How can they be a good support for their child?
T: Believe them for one. No matter what, take the time to listen. Listen in the sense where you’re not interrupting them. You’re just listening. Listen to every little thing. Sometimes, Hailey won’t come out and say exactly what she means. You have to pick up on her cues. And act. And that’s what I didn’t do. I was a good listener, but I didn’t actively do something about the situation. If a parent is afraid of what other parents might think or do, you know what, I say forget that, we’re all human, we all make mistakes. We’re all doing the best we can.
There’s no book, as they say, to raise a child. I know, as far as parenting, my kids have always known how much I love them unconditionally. There’s just no comparison with how to parent one child to another. If you’re giving that child unconditional love, I think that’s all that matters in the end. Not to worry what other people think. It’s easier said than done, but you just have to get to that point I guess when you’re going, “Is this about you or about the child?” And if you’re worried about what other people are going to say, then you’re worrying about yourself, and that’s pretty selfish. You got to worry about the child. I know Hailey is not a child, she’s an adult, but when this happened, she was a child and I was the adult. If I screwed up, which I did, I have to own it. In the end, the main focus is the child, not the grown up. In any situation where there is abuse, it’s all about the child.
"In the end, the main focus is the child, not the grown up. In any situation where there is abuse, it’s all about the child."
SWY: If you could say one thing to a perpetrator of abuse, what would it be?
T: Every parent becomes a first-time parent when they’ve never had a child before, so that’s not an excuse. Many fabulous parents out there suffered horrible childhoods or horrible situations or pasts, and they’re still a good parent. There’s no excuse for hurting another human being. There’s zero excuse. There’s zero excuse for watching it happen and not doing something about it. What he did, there was no excuse for. He had no right to do what he did. He was an adult, and shame on him.
You would think it would almost be the opposite. Perpetrators would think, “I know what that poor child is going through, I went through the same thing, how dare someone do this to them.” You’d think it would be the opposite, but it’s not. They want someone else to feel what they went through. I don’t get it. It just baffles my mind, knowing what they went through, how they could do it to another person.
SWY: Throughout my conversations with Hailey, as well as within her book, on her blog, and on her Instagram, Hailey has continuously expressed her gratitude for having such a supportive and caring mom. How do you ensure that Hailey feels unconditionally supported on her journey towards healing and embracing authenticity in her life?
T: When I found out I had a daughter, I thought, “I just gave birth to my best friend.” There was this connection between Hailey and me. I remember my mom did something with myself and my brother where once or twice a year, she would sit on the bed and say, “Okay if there’s anything you want to tell me that’s been bothering you, you won’t get in trouble…” I remember my mom doing that, and I tried to do something even more so with my kids. Okay, did you go to the party, did you drink, I’m not going to be mad, but I just want the truth. I always said that as long as you tell me the truth, I’m not going to be mad, and I’m doing it because I care, not to be strict.
With both my children, I remember any time they did anything, they could always come to me, and I will have their back. Whether you’re at fault or not, I’m still going to have your back. That was really important to me, I always wanted my kids to know, I will be there no matter what. Even if you messed up, even if you’re in the wrong. I will be there to do whatever I can to fix the situation. I’m still going to love you just as much as I did yesterday. Just talk to me about anything. Some of the conversations they have with me, it shocks me how open they are. But at the end of the day, I love it.
"That was really important to me, I always wanted my kids to know, I will be there no matter what. Even if you messed up, even if you’re in the wrong. I will be there to do whatever I can to fix the situation. I’m still going to love you just as much as I did yesterday. Just talk to me about anything."
Parents do know what their kids do or don’t do. Been there, done that, wrote the book on that. Things happen, there’s no judgment. We’re all human; we mess up. People always say you can’t be friends with your kids, and I’d say yeah, the majority probably, but Hailey and I, we’ve been best friends for many, many years. She was always open to talk to me. She’s a very honest person, the most honest person I know. I’ve just been a very lucky mom to have two amazing kids that are great. I can’t say anything negative about their upbringing; they’re just amazing.
SWY: Is there anything you would like to say to Hailey?
T: The biggest thing is, she’s worthy of everything. She does not give herself enough credit. I wish she could see herself like everyone else sees her. Like my friends that see her, her aunts, her uncles, her grandparents. She’s such an amazing human being, but she just does not think she’s worthy. Some days it’s finding her true love, or happiness or success, but she’s always trying to go a bit further. I’m so afraid she’s just going to push herself too far, and it’s not so that she could be a millionaire some day or be a major athlete, she just wants to be a better person. She’s good enough; she’s worthy enough. She’s an amazing human being that I can’t believe is a part of my life, and I’m so blessed to have her in my life. I don’t deserve her, I really don’t.
SWY: What do you think we, as a community, can do better to prevent children from experiencing abuse and trauma?
T: I think there needs to be more mental health classes or programs in schools; they’re just lacking so much. I went to a very small high school, and there was nothing like that. As for mental health, I wish we had more of that and that they took it more seriously. I wish they would take emotional and mental abuse, and sexual harassment more seriously. I don’t think, in general, these things are being looked at. Physical scars will heal and fade over time, but these scars from what someone like Hailey has gone through, they stick.
There has to be more awareness about how much emotional turmoil these things cause and how they continue for many years. It’s not just that you go to therapy for six months to a year and you’ll be fine. Nope. One little thing can trigger it, and it’ll start up again. I was bulimic in my twenties, and it was a control thing. I know my triggers, and when I’m not in control, I still worry that the eating disorder will come back. It’s one of those things, and I think with the emotional abuse that kids have experienced, there’s going to be something later on. And maybe there’s something with these perpetrators, something that triggers them. I think there needs to be something, programs in place, ongoing, that are taken more seriously.
SWY: What did you think is something that every parent of a survivor of childhood abuse should know or do? Where does your own strength come from?
T: Talking about it. The sharing that we’re doing right now is so in-depth. I sometimes feel burdensome to tell another person all this. They’re going to try and help you, analyze you, etc. With what Hailey went through, maybe they would watch my next relationship and be like, “Oh, she’s giving the man too much control.” There has to be counselling for the parent of some sort. Now that you’ve acknowledged what happened, what do you do now? Okay, I’ve got all this out there, but how do I actually apply it to help others? What can they do? It’s a really tough question. It’s so different for everybody. Every parent’s biggest fear is that they’re going to be judged by their peers, other parents, or even their own parents. There’s always going to be opinions, but until that person is in your shoes at that moment, they can’t really say anything. All you can do is own up to what you did and try to go forward. I’m just trying to talk about it and be there for Hailey in the present.
"There’s always going to be opinions, but until that person is in your shoes at that moment, they can’t really say anything. All you can do is own up to what you did and try to go forward. I’m just trying to talk about it and be there for Hailey in the present."
SWY: Is there anything else you would like to say for our Starts With Youth readers?
T: Just how much Hailey means to me. She’s so important to me. My kids are my life. She deserves everything positive in her life. She’s this amazing human being, and I love her. I feel I won the lottery with her. I do not deserve her. And she’s enough for anybody. She doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone but herself, and I hope one day she gets to that point where she realizes that.
Dear Hailey: Trisha's Letter
Where do I start….I want this letter to be something you keep and share with your own child someday, whether it be a son or daughter, or even if you decide to just have fur babies lol.
I want you to read this and remind yourself every time you do just how amazing you are not because I think so but because you truly are viewed that way by so many, I’m just lucky to be able to see it every day!
The strength and tenacity you have to push yourself even when it seems the world is against you is something most people struggle with.
I don’t know what words I can express will remotely even come close to how much you mean to me and how sorry I am for what happened to you. I am your mother, the one who is supposed to protect you at all costs, and instead you were protecting me. It truly breaks my heart knowing what burdens you carried on your shoulders yet you pushed forward stronger and more determined than ever.
You were my rock when you needed a strong shoulder to rest your head on, you lifted me up when I was sinking and you were treading water, you made me laugh when you wanted to break down, you held me and showered me with unconditional love all the while you had been secretly dealing with your own pain. Not once were you not there when I needed you, yet looking back where was I when you needed me the most? Lost, scared, no those are excuses and I have no excuses.
So years from today, I hope you read this and see that one little girl with a heart of an angel decided she was going to make changes not just in her own life but in the lives of others to make people feel loved and more importantly, worthy of being loved! You have never followed the path most travelled or the lesser one, rather you continuously choose to make your own path, no matter how difficult. Remember that years from now or weeks from now, keep listening to your heart. It may seem unbearable at times, but it hasn’t been wrong yet.
I know I can tell you a million times how amazing you are. I have been so blessed to have you as my daughter, I truly won the lottery but everyone you touch is blessed in some way when they get the opportunity to be part of your life, either in just a small temporary way or perhaps for years, every minute with you is a blessing!
I didn’t want this letter to be about what went on the past decade, I can’t change it, and no apology is enough, no tears are enough.
But what is enough…is you!!! You deserve happiness, unconditional love, and respect. You are enough and don’t let anyone ever make you question that!!
Thank you for being you, and I’m so excited for you and the amazing things you continue to do and the people you touch!
I love you with all my heart, more than I can express in words.
I will never let you down again! I will only be there to lift you up, that I promise. Love you Hailey.