parenting is difficult. You must support
and any siblings
that are in the home. All your family
members continue to need your love and care. Your other children are impacted by their sibling's sexual abuse and also need your support. They may have been abused as well but have not yet disclosed. Allow opportunities to present themselves for open communication
about the abuse. However, do not push the process. In order to provide responsible supervision and protect your children, you will need to understand child sexual development. You will need to know what child sexual behaviors
are red flags.
At the same time that your children need your love and support, you are coping
with your own reactions to your child's sexual abuse and experiencing painful thoughts and feelings
. You must put your reactions on the back burner, so to speak, and place your child's best interests on the front burner. You must deal effectively with your thoughts and feelings so that you can best parent your child. Your nonjudgmental availability and presence, your wisdom in response, your gentleness and caring can provide the foundation for the healing process.
The initial post-disclosure time period is the most critical. If your child perceives that you do not believe
her, are not able to support
her, or are angry or disturbed
at the disclosure
, it is highly possible that she will recant
. In other words, she will withdraw the disclosure. Depending on the identity
of the perpetrator
, your child may be at risk
of further abuse. The consequences of recanting are potentially disastrous to the victim.
Many victims recant after experiencing initial family reactions to the disclosure. Victims already feel guilty
. They do not want to be responsible for your pain, for the offender's consequences, or for the family break-up. Fear of the consequences
of telling about the abuse has previously kept them silent. Children do not want to feel responsible for those consequences. If you as a mother, however, are able to appear calm, comforting, and steady, and do not look like your world just dropped out from under your feet, your child will be better able to heal and go on with her life.
Remember that your child can sense your emotions. You do not have to speak, but your child can "read" you. This is the time to stay in control of your emotions. If you are angry - say what you need to say somewhere where your child can not overhear. If you need to discuss problems
and possible decisions
, do this away from your children.
The goal for your child is for her to feel safe, loved, protected
, believed, reassured, and supported
. This comes from you as the mother. You are the most important person in her support network.
If the sexual abuse was perpetrated by a family member, victims often have difficult feelings towards their mothers
. Calder, Peake, and Rose (2001) outline some of the negative feelings that child sexual abuse victims may have. Children may:
- Feel a combination of anger, love, hatred, resentment, and a desire to protect their mothers.
- Blame their mothers for the abuse.
- Be angry because they believe their mothers knew about the abuse and did not protect them.
- Be angry because they believe their mothers should have known about the abuse and then protected them.
- Feel betrayed by their mothers.
- Be afraid that if their mothers find out about the abuse, they will be upset and hurt or angry. Often victims want to protect their mothers from the pain of finding out.
- Feel neglected because their mothers did not notice the abuse or their hurt.
- Feel abandoned and alone.
- Feel rejected if they tell the mother and she does not believe them.
- Feel angry if they tell the mother and she does not believe them.
- Feel disappointed that the mother was unable to be all-knowing and pick up the clues that were left.
- Lack trust in the mother's parenting ability - you did not protect before and you may may be unable to now.
- Feel angry at the mother because the perpetrator is receiving consequences.
If the perpetrator is a family member, particularly if in the father role, he may have told the child that the mother knew and that she thought it was okay or that she did not care or wanted him to do it. Mothers have no knowledge of what their children have been told by perpetrators or what the child's perceptions are of the mother's role in the abuse. When your child is angry at you, it is important to remember that she was victimized by an adult who betrayed her trust. That harm is irreparable. However, your relationship with your child can become healthy again, but it will require your commitment and effort.
It is very important that mothers accept the child's feelings, whatever they are, and not be defensive. Listen, empathize, love, and be present. Mindfulness and coping skills will help you stay calm in this difficult process. You may want to defend yourself or say angry words back at your child. Remember: your child is the victim of a crime that will potentially affect her for the rest of her life. Your support is one of the best predictors that she will survive this event and experience reduced consequences. It is at this point that you most need support. Gather a support system and use it on a daily basis.
Following the disclosure and report of your child's sexual abuse, your parenting skills may be judged by professionals dealing with your child's case. This occurs at a time when you have painful thoughts and feelings to cope with. However, you will need to be as healthy as possible for two reasons: 1) so that you can better parent your child and 2) so that you are positively evaluated by professionals who are concerned about your child's well-being. If you fall apart, you will not appear capable of parenting. This may appear unfair given the circumstances; however, this is the expectation.
Calder, Peake, and Rose (2001) discuss some of the factors that professionals may use to determine whether mothers have the ability to parent their children. These can actually be helpful guidelines for you as you consider what your child needs from you right now. Rather than judging that you are being judged, you can view these as suggestions.
- Put your child's needs first.
- Provide stable parenting for your child.
- Use parenting skills that include good boundaries and household routines.
- Empathize with your child.
- Supervise and protect your child.
- Support your child's education and other developmental needs.
- Talk about the abuse with your child and answer questions she may have.
- Consistently manage your child's behavior, providing logical consequences for negative choices and acting-out behaviors.
They also describe qualities that predict your capability to be an effective parent and these include some of the following:
- You are independent.
- You have a strong personality and are able to communicate well.
- You are willing to listen to others and to express yourself.
- You have positive self-esteem.
- You are confident and appear competent.
- If you were abused as a child, you can discuss this in a way that shows you have resolved and recovered from your own abuse.
- You are in good health and have healthy life habits.
- You sleep well, eat well, and cope well.
- You manage your emotions well.
- You do not participate in negative addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, multiple sex partners).
You will be considered less able to parent if you demonstrate the following:
The problem with the list of competencies is that mothers are going through a grief process at the time they are being evaluated for safe parenting. They are experiencing strong emotions related to the a child's sexual abuse, yet they are supposed to appear well able to communicate, eat well, sleep well, cope well, manage their emotions, and have positive self-esteem and self-confidence.
Mothers are secondary victims to sexual abuse. They are not perpetrators. They have experienced a trauma . Stress results in predictable changes to the brain, body, and immune system. Mothers will need to use healthy coping skills and make lifestyle changes to counteract stress. Counseling and a strong support group will help them get through the difficult post-disclosure process.