Scars and Secrets: Memories of Child Abuse


They kept so many secrets in foster care. So many. My son has three tiny round scars on his top left shoulder. They have spread apart and faded as he has grown and his shoulders have broadened. Those scars are not his fault. They are from the metal end of a belt buckle. He was beaten with it in his biological home by “everyone,” he says. His biological mother, his biological father, and many other men that passed through the house.

When his skin browns deeper in the summer sun, they stare at me in accusation. I wasn’t there to protect him. In the winter months they are easier to overlook. Easier to lose sight of, at least for me. Carl never forgets.

Other memories he has of his biological parents are fun. His biological father let him steer the car while driving drunk. Bio-dad had Carl “help” when he worked on cars. He bought Carl little toy Hot Wheels for a collection.  Once, when their biological father was drunk and left a $100 bill under Mary’s pillow for the toothfairy.

But Carl was left alone a lot. When his biological parents were drunk or high, they often left 5-year-old Carl to care for his younger sister, Mary. They would find their own food  in the cabinets while their mother slept and the older kids went to school. Soon after Bio-Dad left, a string of men were in and out of the house. When Bio-Mom wasn’t high and sleeping, locked in her room, she was drinking and partying with anyone and everyone.

These are stories that I have heard from our children and their older biological siblings. Obviously, I wasn’t there, but I believe my kids. I believe their siblings. I know these things happened. Yet, I also know that their Bio-Dad loves these children and his feelings for them are real. Once we started contact with their biological father, things changed a bit.

Our littles both got cards and pictures from Bio-Dad for Christmas. Mary got a birthday card. He promised to send Carl a birthday card as well, only if I told him when Carl’s birthday was. We have decided to let the kids respond if they want to.I continue to send updates and photos.

Carl looked at Bio-Dad’s Christmas card, tossed it aside, and continued playing a card game with Luke. Later on he put it under the coffee table and hasn’t looked at it since then. Mary kept both of her cards in a memory box and seemed really happy to have gotten them.

But their views are very different. Carl remembers being beaten. He remembers more because he is older. Mary was younger. Most of what she remembers came from the many boyfriends mom had after bio-dad. The difficult part with having siblings adopted from the same traumatic background, is that they hold different memories.

Mary has begun insisting that their Bio-Dad never hurt them, it was only their bio-mom. She has begun to build up this fantasy around him (similar to what I did when I was younger.) Both children got into an argument about their bio-dad the other day. Mary insisted he never hurt her, so whatever Carl did must have gotten him hit. His face crumbled as she implied that the abuse was somehow his fault. I corrected her immediately and ended the conversation.

I spoke to them each separately about how different the things they might remember are. Everyone sees things from their own viewpoint. I stressed to Mary that she must never, ever, ever invalidate her brother’s feelings.

With Carl I explained that his memories were his and all of his feelings were OK. He and Mary might feel differently, but she will not be allowed to invalidate his experience. No one should ever be abused physically. It was never Carl’s fault. Bio-dad probably just had no idea what to do as a parent.

Later at dinner that night, Mary started counting all of the “moms” she had. She came up with 4 or 5. Carl scoffed at her and said, “Well I only have one mom!” His feelings may change on the subject but for now he refuses to contact Bio-Dad. That’s OK.

Beyond that, it is up to them if they decide to write to their Bio-Dad. So far, neither one has. I’ve put a moratorium on discussing their bio-home together until we get to the therapist’s office. Until that time they can talk to Mom or Dad alone about their first parents. Good and bad memories are OK. Mixed feelings are OK. Love and anger are OK, even at the same time.

I will continue to casually mention that sending a letter or picture would be nice, but the contact is up to them. So far I haven’t gotten any takers, but I am determined to leave that door open and respect my children’s wishes. Only time will tell what happens next.


Mary happy with Daddy Luke

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.



14 thoughts on “Scars and Secrets: Memories of Child Abuse

  1. Amazing perspective. I never thought of the possibility that siblings could have different views of the same situations. But it makes real sense. And when they see it from opposite sides of the same room, they are going to see opposite stories.

    Then the issue of one sibling invalidating the other’s feelings becomes all too clear.

    Thanks for the forewarning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maline Lima Carroll says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. My only worry as an adoptee is oversharing your kid’s stories in a public forum. I feel like their story is for them to tell and sharing too much of such intimate thoughts and feelings changes the narrative. Kids already have to deal with the millions of questions, they should not have to deal with us parents (i’m an adoptive parent) oversharing part of who they are. The story is theirs to tell, always.


    • J says:

      I agree. Even if they said they were happy for it to be shared, are they really old enough to fully understand that decision? I don’t question your heart being in the right place but it did make me uncomfortable for them


      • Thank you for reading. I struggled with how much to share in this post. For a lot of reasons I made the choice to be more explicit than usual. I think it was a knee jerk reaction to some local media around forcing all kids to visit with bios. Kids in care never have choices. I want mine to choose their contact. I’ve gotten some messages about “stealing” my kids.
        Looking back, I’m not sure I’d go this deep again. My emotions are one thing. Theirs are another. Thank you for your viewpoint.


  3. This story sounds so similar to our story. Small steps and all that.

    Seeing the comment above about sharing stories of our children. I agree that it is their story, for them to tell, and I respect that. But I too now have a narrative to tell. I am living with the trauma and the experiences of day to day life. I fully respect my children, and wouldn’t want to compromise them at all, but my feeling and experiences are valid too. I do not ( I hope) judge or criticise them. I also strongly believe that some issues that adoptive parents feel extremely isolated with, and sharing our stories helps bring to front of the decision makers the issues adopters and adoptees face.

    Have you seen this blog – they are looking for adoptees


    • Thanks for reading, Mathew. It’s a fine line. I try to protect their identity and the most egregious aspects of their trauma. But I think understanding where they are coming from helps us to understand their fear-based responses. I’m glad we aren’t alone, but it felt that way in the beginning. I have seen a lot of older child adoptions fall through when the parents just didn’t fully grasp the trauma aspect.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is heartbreaking. Seriously, I’m in awe of how strong you & your husband have be to help your kids navigate these waters. I worry that I’d sink under the weight of what they’d been through. There are times when not knowing the truth of my son’s first ten months picks at me, but I wonder if the knowing is worse.


    • Thank you. The knowing makes it easier to understand trauma-based reactions. That’s why I shared more in this post than I usually do. I’ve been hearing a bit lately about DCF “stealing” kids or that bio parents should always have visitation. Every situation is different and I think it’s time my kids had a say in what happens.
      Your son is clearly flourishing with a wonderful family and a great mom. You’d never sink. We all try to do whatever our kids need.


  5. Pingback: If I Die Before I Wake | Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care

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