As Nicole’s mom, I am still amazed when I reflect on the impact of just one of our many mother-daughter conversations. In July of 1994, Nicole confided that my husband had been sexually abusing her.
It was the worst thing I could ever imagine happening to my daughter, to me, to our family. In fact, I could not comprehend how it happened. I was a stay-home mom with a home-based business. We did everything as a family and spent much of our time together. I trusted my husband and was certain of his love for us. It was so shocking and unbelievable!
Does this sound familiar to you, to your situation today? Has your life been tragically disrupted by the disclosure that your child has been sexually violated?
If so, you are experiencing a conflict of emotions. Just as I described, you are in shock, grieving the incredible loss of innocence, safety and security, and what you perceived as a happy, normal home life. Your head is spinning in an effort to sort it all out, to find truth, to restore hope.
Here are some key points that helped Nicole and I through those initial stages of change and healing. I pray they will be of help to you as well.
Believe Your Child
This is the first, most important step in your child’s road to recovery. Ironically, it’s the first step in your recovery too. It’s the most FAQ of my life as Nicole’s mother. “Why did you believe her?”
Why wouldn’t I? It takes courage for a child to share something so dirty, shameful, and degrading. The fact that Nicole was willing to tell me was a great honor. It demonstrated her trust in me; her belief that I could and would protect her.
Please believe your child. Reassure him/her that they did nothing wrong; that it wasn’t their fault, that they did not deserve to be treated this way. Respond in kindness, in calmness and compassion. LISTEN! Don’t pry more out of them than they are willing to share in that first disclosure. Don’t overwhelm them with questions. Thank them for doing the right thing. Let them know you will do all you can to stop it from happening again. Then, step out of your comfort zone to follow through on your word.
Trust Your Instincts
Another FAQ for moms of victims: “How could you not have known?” Unfortunately, when you’re living with a perpetrator, you are a victim as well. You have to begin to see yourself as such. Whether it’s codependency, sexual abuse/addiction, domestic violence, vulnerability, or low self-esteem, the abuser has been controlling and manipulating you. You have been weakened to a state of denial. At some point, you may have questioned the loss of your independence. You may have sensed something was just not right. Perhaps you even approached your spouse/perpetrator, only to be silenced and ridiculed, manipulated again.
“If it smells like a duck, quacks like a duck, it IS a duck!” It’s time, my friend, to trust your instincts. Your hindsight is 20/20. You clearly see now, what you were blinded to then. Your instincts are heightened in this time of change. Rely on your gut. Do not act out in anger or rage. Use this new level of discernment to guide you and your child to healthier decisions for your future.
Forgive yourself for not knowing, not seeing, for allowing yourself to be a victim of circumstances.
Your child needs you. She knows it. You know it.
Sometimes you will both question this. When you sense a pulling away, be sure to validate your child. Reassure them again and again that they did the right thing in telling you. Doing “the right thing” will look very wrong at times. Your child will need to hear that you love them, that you are available when they need to talk or when they want a hug.
It’s natural for us to want to try to overcompensate. We feel like we’ve let them down because we didn’t see what was happening. We even feel guilty. So, we try to make up for it by constantly asking if they’re okay. Maybe you feel a need to monitor their relationships, to protect them from harm. Doing too much can be as harmful as doing nothing. Find a proper balance between validating and suffocating. Your emotional boundaries have been violated; work together to develop healthy boundaries in all your relationships.
Journey Together…Journey Separately
While this is still fresh and new, you will have the need to know, “We are in this together.” That’s very important for both of you, but mostly for your child.
Soon, though, you must each seek your own path of healing. This is where being a mom is hardest. They will go through the very natural process of a maturing child, developing their own support system, becoming independent.
For the parent of a sexual abuse victim, it brings fear and apprehension. You’ve been betrayed. It’s difficult to trust. Your concerns for safety are heightened. You worry about how your child’s victimization will affect their future. You wonder if they will ever be fully healed. Yet, you have to let go and allow them to spread their wings, make mistakes, heal in their own timing.
Work on your own healing. The progress you make in rising about your circumstances and becoming a healthy, whole person will restore their hope. In turn, your son/daughter will be encouraged to embrace the journey of healing too.
Cynthia (Cindy) Stiverson is a speaker, writer, and artist. In 1998, she founded Woven: Women of Virtue Network, a spiritual formation and friendship ministry. She pastors the women at Newark Church of the Nazarene in Ohio. Cindy is the mother of speaker/author Nicole Bromley and she loves the men in her life: hubby Mark, grandbabes Jude and Isaac, and their daddy (Nicole’s husband) Matthew.