Karen's Story

We are a blended family of seven. Both my husband and I share custody of our five children from previous marriages. More often than not, we have five independent, energetic, and lively kids running through the house. After a few years of this new marriage, things were going as smoothly as could be expected. The only child who seemed to be experiencing difficulty in adjusting to his new stepfamily was my middle son, Max.

Max was a witty, humorous child, a real spunky student that teachers could not help but enjoy having in their classroom. But as he grew older, he seemed to try harder and harder to be difficult. By the time Max was ten years old he began to burn things in our basement. Then when we discovered that he had begun stealing, we knew his behavior had moved beyond boyhood angst.

After a weekend at her mother's, Rachel, my husband's daughter, refused to come home with us. When we asked if she was upset with Dad or me she said no. But when I asked, "Is it the boys?" she said, "Yes, it's Max!" After more questions, Rachel disclosed that Max had gone into her room at night and touched her. Those were the most wrenching words I had ever heard, and my life has not been the same since.

Until I actually heard from Max's mouth that he had touched Rachel, I thought maybe she was just confused. Looking back now, I understand more of what Max was going through at that time in his life. I only wish that I or someone else had suspected something earlier. It has been just over a year since we learned of Max's sexual behavior problems and it has been a lifetime of learning. Coming forward, being honest, and accepting the truth has enabled my family to get the help we needed, especially for Rachel and Max.

Coming to the realization that Max had sexually abused his stepsister was an agonizing process. We clutched at the possibility that Rachel's mother, a survivor of child sexual abuse, might be putting these suggestions into our little girl's mind. But the more Rachel told us, the more we believed her. What started as doubt quickly turned to shock, then to grief and anger. I was feeling a constant stirring of emotions for my son whom I loved, and for my stepdaughter whom I loved as if she were my own. We never thought something like this could happen in our home without our suspecting a thing. I was immobilized.

It was Rachel's mother who reported Max to our local child protective services. After many conversations with police and lawyers, I realized that we all (especially Rachel) needed to hear the truth from Max. The next few days, which felt like years, were spent working with authorities to catch my son completely unsuspecting. We finally heard from Max that he had touched Rachel.

For our family, acknowledgment and acceptance is an ongoing process. During visits with Rachel we reassure her that we love her so much for telling the truth. It is something we need to say and something she needs to hear. Rachel knows that we think that what Max did was wrong, but she is beginning to understand that Max will always be my son, and I will always love him too.

It has been just over a year since we learned of Max's sexual behavior problems and it has been a lifetime of learning. We all now know and appreciate that open communication with everyone is the best way to keep our family safe. I never would have thought that telling our story would help break our isolation and further our healing. Coming forward, being honest, and accepting the truth has enabled my family to get the help we needed, especially Rachel and Max.