My step father was abusive. I witnessed a lot of it, experienced some of it, and learned of his sexual abusive past through their fights. I never felt comfortable around him. They divorced when I was 9. My mom recently remarried him. She said he changed, and that we need to forgive him. My concern is for my son. When I explained why he can’t be alone with my child, and my concerns, she tells me I’m wrong to not forgive and forget. I tell her I’m trying to protect my son. Am I wrong?
You are absolutely right to protect your son. Trust your motherly instincts on this. I have a friend who felt uncomfortable about one of her relatives. So she talked to her husband about the situation and they agreed to never leave their children alone with this person. They didn’t make a big deal out of it. They didn’t embarrass the suspect individual; they just carefully set some boundaries and kept them. The suspect individual was later charged and served time for sexual abuse of a child. You can do the same thing my friend did. Be kind and courteous to your mom and step-father, but never, ever leave your child alone with either of them. Don’t leave your son alone with your mother, because she might not respect your boundaries and might leave your son with the step-father.
Whether or not your step-father has repented is between him and God, and to some degree your mom (since she has chosen to remarry him.) The Atonement of Christ is powerful, and through it Christ can help sex offenders and other types of abusers. Be aware, however, that it is also possible that he has not changed. Sometimes abused women unconsciously put themselves into abusive situations. It is possible that your mom is deceived and is unconsciously putting herself back into to an abusive situation in order to “try and get it right this time.” Don’t be drawn into this trap. Trust your own instincts. The Holy Ghost will tell you what to do.
You mentioned that your mom wants you to forgive. You can do that while still protecting your son. In my opinion, if your step-father is truly repentant, he will respect your boundaries without question. It’s like an alcoholic who wants to stay sober and does so in part by never going to bars. Someone with a history of sexual abuse should never allow themselves to be alone with children.
Your mom’s plea for you to forgive is based on a misinterpretation of the scriptures. It is true that the Lord has said:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
However, what does forgiveness mean? In an Ensign article, “Healing the Spiritual Wounds of Sexual Abuse“, therapist Ann Pruitt explains it this way:
“Forgiveness does not imply that an individual has “forgotten” all memories of the abuse, that he or she condones the behavior or absolves the perpetrator of responsibility, or that he or she must become reconciled with the perpetrator, particularly if there is the possibility of further abuse. What forgiveness does imply is that an individual has relinquished feelings of hate or bitterness toward another, has placed the matter in the Lord’s hands, and has enabled Him to operate more fully in his or her life. In forgiving, an individual frees himself from the perpetrator and is therefore better able to progress.” (emphasis added)
In D&C 64:11 the Lord gives us His definition of forgiveness:
11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
Note that the Lord does not say that you have to put yourself or your son in a place of danger simply to “prove” you have forgiven. Some survivors of abuse, choose to have no contact with their abusers. If you aren’t comfortable, you don’t need to spend any time with your step-father at all. You can do that and still be forgiving. If you explain these things to your mother and she still persists, remember that she may be not be thinking in a rational, clear manner, but through the false lens of abuse. While she may be still caught in the cycle of abuse, you don’t have to be.
Stand firm for your son, Adrianne. It takes courage and strength to break the cycle of abuse in a family, but you can do it. When you do, your son and your future grandchildren will be blessed.