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Life After Sexual Assault: A Survivor’s Approach to Parenting

Written by Rachael Brooks, Author and Survivor Speaker

Sometimes I think about my rapist’s mother. What type of a woman she was. How she parented. Or if she parented. Maybe she decided to give her son up for adoption. Maybe she passed away when her son was a baby. Maybe she abandoned him. Maybe she was the best mother in the world. Maybe they had a wonderful relationship. However, I will never know if there is truth to any of these thoughts. They will forever swirl around in my head, coming and going as they please. And while I don’t torture myself with the what-ifs, I can’t help but think that something must have gone awry, because how could her son have become a violent rapist if nothing went wrong?

Which leads me to think about myself as a mother to my two young boys and how I want to raise them to be the polar opposite of my rapist. But, there is no handbook. There are no rules. I can only do what I know, what I think is right, and hope for the best.

I never wanted to approach parenting with the mindset of, “How do I not raise a rapist?” but here we are. Modern day society doesn’t paint a pretty picture of men. They are often the mass shooters, the rapists, the robbers, the abusers, the accused. How do I compete with that? How do I break the cycle? What if I can’t compete with that? What if I don’t break the cycle? What if my boys are doomed to fall into the societal stereotypes? Well, I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything I possibly can to ensure this doesn’t happen.

My two boys are my life’s purpose. They light up my life, but parenting is hard. It is hands down my toughest adventure yet. The second-guessing, the unknown, what works, what doesn’t, wondering what they will be like when they grow up. It’s scary. I know my kids won’t stay ages four and one forever. They will outgrow our happy and safe bubble and encounter real-world issues. My hope is that they will be ready to handle and cope with whatever situations they face. So, how do I get them there?

When it comes to parenting, there are the basics. Teach your kids the differences between right and wrong. Enforce the “Golden Rule” of doing unto others as you would want done unto yourself. Patience. Kindness. The list goes on. But, in my attempts to raise my boys into young men who will break societal norms, I have a few additional concepts I would like for them to know and understand.

The first of which is open communication, in all forms. I want my boys to continue to feel like they can talk to my husband and me about anything and everything. Nothing is off limits, and we’ve figured out that the key to letting them know this is how we respond. Right now, our four-year-old tells us everything from when he burps to how many worms he found on the playground at preschool. Obviously, it will get more complicated. If one of our kids comes to us with something they made a poor decision about, while our initial reaction may be to blow up, we will first acknowledge that they came to us in the first place. We will tell them we love them. There will be consequences, yes, but we will work through it. Feeling like they will always have someone to talk to will hopefully let them know that they are never alone in this world.

In my efforts toward raising decent humans, I want to instill in my boys that silence is never an option. Speak up for everything you believe in. Go against the grain. Be the yes in a sea of nos. As a rape survivor, this notion has a heavy impact on me. I think about the men who saved Chanel Miller’s life. They were not silent. They did not turn a blind eye. They went up against a monster, not knowing the end result or how dangerous he actually was. It’s those men I want my boys to emulate. So, over the next several years, as my boys become young men, this will be one of the many examples I will use to drive this point home.

Last, but certainly not least, are the concepts of respect and inclusivity. I feel like these two go hand in hand. I am very much a “you do you” type of person. Love is love, regardless of who it is with. All body types are beautiful. The color of your skin plays no role in the type of person you are. There is no definition of “normal." What is normal anyway? Keeping an open mind to people’s differences makes us all better individuals. All of these beliefs are important to pass on to my kids. While we don’t have to agree with other’s opinions, we do need to respect them. While others are different from us, we still need to include them. When we approach situations with this mindset, the world is a happier place.

Now, one can easily argue that all of these things are much easier said than done and that is the honest truth. Nature versus nurture comes into play. While we can nurture our kids and raise them the best we know how, nature can step in at any time and get the best of us. I was raised with good morals, knowing right from wrong, to be kind, to be smart, to make good decisions. Yet, I still came face to face with a monster. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. Bad things will happen that we cannot control. It’s inevitable. But it’s how we handle and cope with those situations. It’s about providing our kids with the best set of tools for them to use when faced with adversity.

Despite the pain and long-lasting aftermath of the rape, I survived. I used my toolkit to get myself out of my attack alive. I truly believe I was given a second chance at life, and it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do with it. Life has taken some unexpected twists and turns, and I fully believe it’s because of this second chance. As a former tax accountant, I left my job in 2018 and wrote a book about my rape and story of survival. Never in a million years did I think I had a book in me. However, Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again, made its debut at the end of 2019. I am grateful to have lived to share my story and try to help the millions of other survivors overcome their trauma.

I have always dreamt of becoming a mother, and there have been periods of my life when I didn’t think I would. It’s that second chance working its magic again. I’ve been asked several times what I will tell my kids about the rape. That thought terrifies me. It terrifies me because their innocent beautiful minds will not be so innocent anymore. It terrifies me that they will be afraid. It terrifies me that they will look at me differently. So, I’ve thought long and hard about my answer, and what I will tell them if and when the question arises, is the truth. I will tell them that a very bad man hurt mom, but she survived and fought for herself and grew stronger because of it. I will tell them that I am working to make the world a safer place. I will tell them I am so happy to be their mom and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sometimes I think about my rapist’s mother, and I am proud of her. While I despise her son with every ounce of my existence, she was still a mother. I’d like to think she did the best she could because at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.


To connect with Rachael, find her at @rbrookswriter on Twitter and Instagram, and here on Facebook.

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