I am a survivor of sexual assault and a certified assault counselor who has worked with thousands of survivors. The single most important thing you can do if you find out your child has experienced sexual assault is to protect—and believe— them. Not believing them is the first form of harm in their recovery.
Child must come first
This undoubtedly is an extremely terrible thing for your child to experience and as much as you want to get revenge on the person who caused them harm—you must put that attention on your child and what they are experiencing. It is less about justice—while still important and shouldn’t be ignored—and more about your child’s recovery. Make sure your child is surrounded by adults who are emotionally there for them. There will be many people who don’t believe them. They need adults around them that can reassure them that they are believed and say to them: “whatever the outcome is, I am always with you.” Get your child help from a certified counselor. Listen to them. Talk to them. Don’t get caught up your own anger. Get yourself help. Find a licensed counselor that you can turn to for support so you can better help your child.
Your actions as an adult are extremely important to your child’s recovery. Negative or inappropriate responses by family members to a survivor of sexual assault can have profound effects on the child’s ability to recover. Things such as pressure to press charges when he/she/they are embarrassed and want to keep it quite, pressure to remain silent to others or deny that it happened when they feel ready to share, disbelief or distrust in the action itself, etc. can lead to shattering of family relationships and more incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research by Dr. Sarah E. Ullman published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.
There are many resources out there for victims and their families— use them. Make sure you take the time to care for yourself so you can be there for your child. Don’t pressure them to “get over it,” and don’t give them a time limit — every victim is different and recovers at their own rate in their own time. Keep hope. Remember your child can recover with the right support.
The other day my daughter’s stuffed animal got “hurt” and she brought it to me to comfort. I did what I always do and cuddled it, rubbed its head, told it everything would be ok, and gave it back to my daughter. Why would I do this with a stuffed animal? Isn’t it just a stuffed toy, a transitional object?
The truth is to my child it is so much more than that. This stuffed toy gives my child comfort, it is an extension of her. By showing that I also love and care for this object that means so much to her, I am showing her that she can trust me with what is important to her. It is a parents way of showing their child they can trust us with their vulnerability. They don’t need to worry about us disregarding the things that are important to them. We love the things that are important to them, because we love them.
Showing our children that we care for their favorite stuffed animal, blanket, car, whatever it is that they carry around with them for comfort and security is a way of getting down on their level to show our love. Children don’t always understand and look at things the same way as we do, by showing we love the things that give them comfort we are in turn showing our utmost respect and care.
What was your object of comfort as a child?
Letter from concerned client: I decided to leave my hometown and move to accomplish my career goals, and now I really miss my family. My parents are getting old and they don’t understand why I decided to leave and not stay with them. My mom has always told me to ‘live simple’ and despite not agreeing with my decision to move she still supports me. It makes me feel even more guilty, like I am letting them down.
Mabel: I understand your desire to make your parents proud. You said your mom wanted you to ‘live simple’ but still supports you in your goal, however hard it may be to attain that goal. It is a little like how I wanted my kids to enjoy playing music but instead, their interests are art and tennis. Even though art and tennis are not my desires, at the end of the day seeing my children enjoying and working towards their own goals makes me profoundly happy. For them, learning to master these things frustrates them a lot of the time but that is part of life and reaching a goal. You decided to move because it is important to you in the reaching of your goals, and it isn’t always easy. The process of living in a new place and working can be very frustrating. Your mother has a desire for you to live a simple and happy life because that is what she knows of happiness. Most of us mothers have our own desires, however, supporting our children in their own dream is a lesson in parenting. A lesson that it’s not about us but about the child. It is about learning how to love someone, and how to see the world beyond us. It is an important lesson for all us parents. My dream is for my children to soar in whatever they choose to do, even if I have little understanding of it. If guilt is something that weighs them down, like most mothers, I would love to take that weight off their shoulders so they can fly more freely. I am not sure if this is how your mother feels, but my hypothesis is that most mothers share these similar sentiments.
Summer is here. The kids are out of school. The other parents are talking about the programs they have their kids signed up for, the reading lists they are going to follow, and all the ways they are going to add structure back into their kids lives. It might feel like the pressure is on as a parent, but what is the hurry?
Your kids will only be kids for so long. Soon enough they will have pressure-filled summers with little or no break. They will feel the stress of trying to be successful in life. They will feel overworked, overstimulated, overbooked…eventually. We don’t have to make them feel this pressure as little kids. Instead, let them be little.
Let them be bored.
Being bored for a kid is a time to let their imagination grow. It is a time to relax. It gives kids time to be kids. They can climb the tree in the backyard, or build a fort in the living room. They can stay up late to watch a movie (which to them will seem super fun, when to us it feels necessary). Boredom teaches our kids how to entertain themselves. If they always have structure, always have a place to be, then they won’t know what to do with that “off” time.
It gives you time to have more family experiences. You can randomly decide to check out the farm down the street, or a playground further away because you will have the time to do these things. You can decide to spend the day having a water balloon war, or read a book in the backyard. You can go on a picnic.
Remember the days when our parents could say “go outside and don’t come back until dinner.” We might not be able to do exactly that, but we can teach our kids to fend for themselves. To come up with their own ideas. Downtime can help children to learn who they are and what they really love to do. When they have the choice to do whatever they want for a day—what will they choose?
It also takes the pressure off you. You don’t need to plan the whole day, or week or month. You can take a breather. School time is structured and full of activities and obligations, summer doesn’t have to be. Summer can be free time. Teach your kids to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy being a kid.
The other day I overheard someone asking a mom “Do you have just one child?” and it stopped me in my tracks — “JUST?” as if one child is not enough. As if your legitimacy as a mother is measured in how many children you have. That is just absurd.
This post is for you moms— all of you. Whether you have one child or ten, whether you carried your children in your womb or you adopted them, whether you are a step-mom, whatever your status is you are still a mom. You are still in the business of raising child, you still understand the worry, the struggle, the loneliness, the unconditional love, the passion, the devotion, the satisfaction, and pure joy you get from seeing your children happy.
No measure of motherhood
There is no measure that determines “how mom you are.” Having a child is a huge life change, it turns life as you have previously known it upside down. Whether you have chosen to stop at one or are unable for other reasons, you do you. You need to do what is best for your family, for yourself, for your sanity, and forget what the social pressure around you is saying. You need to take care of you, and you don’t need to explain your reasoning to anyone.
As mother’s day approaches and puts into perspective just how hard our moms work, and how much we should honor and respect them, hold your head high — feel proud no matter what being a mom looks like to you. You deserve a pat on the back. You are the cook, teacher, maid, nurse, therapist, coach, and leader your kids need. They would not be who they are today without you. Relish in that accomplishment for a while. Take a deep breath, treat yourself to a massage, and count your blessings. Being a mom is hard work and it is also so incredibly beautiful.