There's been a question rolling around my head for the last couple of weeks. Once my mother realized that her husband was sexually abusing both of her daughters, at what point did she decide to double down in his defense? When did she decide that it wasn't his fault and, thusly, she needed to find ways to blame us for the abuse?

Was it a conscience decision? Was it some kind of base, animal instinct?

On my 24th birthday, she told me - word for word - that she knew that if she'd gone to the court-ordered therapy, complied with the social workers, that she'd get her children back.

And she also told me, on my 24th birthday, that she knew that would lead her to lose her husband. She outright stated that she knew she had to make a choice. That choice, as history shows, was to pick her husband over her children. She admitted as much, in direct words.

But this was years after the fact. I now wonder about the mental gymnastics she was performing at the time. Was there ever any fight in her about who to choose? Did she feel, in any way, that she SHOULD have chosen us, and had to work to abandon that idea?

Or was it a snap reaction, an immediate fury directed at her daughters? Did she genuinely feel that we were to blame, right off the bat? Was there ever any doubt in her about who the villain was? Did she struggle, or was the fault so embedded in her children that she didn't even think to question her own motives, let alone those of her husband's?

What was the thought process? How did she get from "my husband is making sex toys out my children" to ""and I have to find a way to pin it on my children"? What sorts of things did she have to tell herself in order to BELIEVE that her husband wasn't at fault for his actions? What was the belief structure that made her so certain that her husband was the victim and WE, as children, were the villains?

These are questions that will never be answered, not to satisfaction. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of abuse is that the questions will forever linger. They haunt the far-reaching corners of the mind like a ghost in a long forgotten attic. We can eventually stop searching for the answers, but the question will always remain.

In her mind, who was truly the villain?

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Do you think your mother was sexually abused as a child? And is an example of the way that abuse perpetuates across generations?
She was horrifically abused as a child. As a result, it's entirely possible that she never questioned her actions, she simply repeated what was done to her. Like, it may have come completely natural to her to blame her children.

For years, I tried to give her credit for that, until it occurred to me that she had so many opportunities shoved into her hands as an adult to get help, but she refused it every time. Not only refused it, but dug her heels ever deeper into my stepfather's corner.

Definitely a perfect example of generational abuse and passed down cycles.
Yeah, who knows what her rationale was, but it will have been one of the deeply fucked up options on the table with that history.
Hard to say.
Maybe it is that she endured nothing else as a child and therefore she thinks that all of that is pretty normal. "A father's way to show love to his children" - and you both rejected that "love".
Perhaps her own sickness - you said, she's sick with schizophrenia -, how much it was in bloom back then, also twisted her own sense of what is right and what is wrong. Untreated psychotics and people with schizophrenia can sometimes really live in their own worlds where you need to jump in order to fall down to earth and other things.
Another thing I would raise in that context is: Not unprobably her own upbringing must have had something draconian as a basic motif in its complex structure, 'cause I'm thinking of her seeing you two, you and your sister, as "unthankful" for the "love" that her husband gave you. This might work as a little piece in the puzzle too why she decided for that guy instead of her children, which normally would be the way things run.
Other thing that also brings me to the draconian theory is: If you're so brainwashed from something that you commit things which normally would be total alien to other people, totally unhuman, then this speaks for what had been done to you that you have become such a strong believer of something. Literally: Surrender and do as you told, that's the way how you survive. But the price might be your sanity because your subconscious and your little bit part of nature within the human being know and see how harmful that treatment is.
Or, it could simply be like: Maybe she didn't ever want to have children at all. Maybe it was a thing she felt "forced upon her", but she saw no real way how to get out of this. And all that stuff with contraception still didn't exist, wasn't allowed or common or was still branded as something evil that one shouldn't do (or a way of "rejecting a man's love", I speak that out as sick as it is, but such things and thoughts exist).
When thinking about the "giving up" on you two, also that is possible 'cause I could imagine, if you don't have such a firm emotional link to your children, then you also don't care how they're doing or getting them back.
My mom never knew just how much of a bastard (figuratively and literally) my dad really was. The reason? She was working multiple jobs while trying to raise 3 kids. Dad was either unemployed or "between jobs. She simply wasn't home when he said nasty things...or smacked us around. No sexual abuse, but no kid should get punched for playing the basement.

About that, my brother and I were playing downstairs, and one of the Tonka trucks we were playing with hit the wall, punching a hole in it. Why you'd use cheap 1/8-inch thick paneling in a child's playroom, I don't know. One night, the inevitable happened--the bumper of my toy Jeep went through the wall. Next morning, I was suddenly awakened by screaming, being thrown on the floor, and then a *lot* of pain in my back. Yep, the bastard had hit me as hard as he possibly could. I screamed, my mom came running in, and when I told her that he'd hit me, he lied right to her. 5 years old, and I now feared my dad.

That wasn't the last time either--my brothers and I were subject to all sorts of physical and mental abuse. My mom had no idea that he'd hit us until after he'd left in 2015. Why didn't we tell her? Simple--he'd just lie about it, and because he wasn't working..we'd have to deal with him on a daily basis. As much as it sucked, what could we do?

Over the years, he'd gaslighted us into thinking that it was "normal." Unfortunately, that's what happens.

To pick up from su_carbs's feedback -

Getting gaslighted is bad, enough to make me immediately hostile to anyone I hear attempting it, doubly so if they understand the concept for what it is and make the attempt anyway.

Watching someone gaslight themselves yields pity before fury, but gets me just as worked up.

In one hand, you have the consequences of confronting and dealing with the truth. In the other, you have the consequences of convincing yourself that it's not so bad, really.

How the latter turns out better than the former I cannot particularly say, except that addiction must surely be involved.
Pardon my French, but gaslighting in general is pretty fucked up. It's bad enough that the perp chooses to warp someone's reality, but trying to undo the damage is damn near impossible. For years, my dad had me thinking that my mother was some sort of unbalanced monster. I get that she's a pain in the ass sometimes. But a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that when she gets scared or upset, she goes into "control mode," and it didn't help that he'd do stupid shit to bait her into it. He would purposely do things to set her off, and then cry that he was the victim. It's taken a long time for me to see what it really was--bullshit.

At least I can take some solace in that he's managed to gaslight *himself.* How? He's spread quite a few lies over the years about how my brothers and I are losers, how he was some ace public relations writer, and how he had "binders of women" (I can't help not throwing a dig at Trump in there too!) attracted to him...and how his sons are "OK" with what he's done and that we support him.

Again, it's all bullshit, but I'm not going to convince him otherwise. It's amusing as hell to hear that he'll start with that crap, only to have people call him out on it. He made his bed, he can lie in it.