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What breaks my heart most about childhood sexual abuse, besides the abuse itself, is that very few mothers are willing to come to the aid of their child after discovering he/she has been sexually abused. After hearing countless testimonies of victims, it is obvious that this parental betrayal becomes more difficult of a wound to heal than the sexual abuse itself. We are the number one person, designed specifically by God, to nurture, care for, and protect our young. The rejection of a parent, especially the mother, is the largest stumbling block toward healing. I am in awe of the power of our position as mothers.
Moms/Dads, I know that your heart is breaking too. You have been victimized along with your child. The sanctity of your home has been violated. You’ve been robbed of something so priceless, so intimate that it can never be replaced or retrieved. However, you and your child can be healed. And, both of you can be used by God to bring hope and healing to others. It won’t be easy. It’s not the road anyone would choose. But, I can also say that ignoring it will not make it go away. Ignoring it will only allow it to eat a hole in your soul. Ignoring it will create a lifetime of emotional pain and unhealthy coping strategies for your child. Ignoring it will create a huge chasm of bitterness to destroy your relationship.
So, how do we move on from this trauma? Here are three areas that may help you regain your focus on life.
Cleansing the Temple
Picture your home as a crime scene: vandalized, personal belongings scattered and broken. The carpet is soiled. Maybe there is writing on the walls. It’s obvious that in order to reclaim this space as your own, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get busy. Cleaning up the mess, the debris. Painting, redecorating, getting a fresh new start.
This was one of the first decisions I made as Nicole’s mom. It was a powerful step forward for both of us. We painted every room and prayed through every room, cleansing it from the filth that had taken place there. New carpet in our bedrooms, even new furniture, were tangible ways of announcing, “We refuse to live in the ruins and remains of this crime. We are moving on!”
A new environment created space for cleansing our inner temple: our hearts, our minds. But our inner healing required us to look back and to look ahead.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Who wants to look back? Let’s just get on with it!”
But, if you’re very far along in this journey, you know that just trying to forget and move on does not work. It doesn’t go away that easily. Instead, you’re just delaying the process. Ten, twenty, thirty years later it will come back to bite you. Then you will be forced to look back and it won’t be as fresh in your mind and you’ll also have that many more years of self-inflicted pain and denial to process. Soooo…you get the point, right?
Review your journey, Mom. How did you get here? What was it about your specific situation that may have allowed this to happen? Don’t be afraid to ask the deep questions of the heart. Retrace your steps. For me, the steps took me back to my own childhood, discovering that I had been sexually abused. I was still a wounded child.
Make an honest assessment of your life. This not the blame game or a guilt trip. It’s a journey of self-discovery. What can I learn from my past? How can I change the outcome of my life story now that this has happened?
Learn from Hindsight. Where was God in this? Ask Him! He can handle your questions. He wants you to come to Him. He wants to heal you. Allow Him to. List steps that you can take toward healing, reclaiming your life, starting anew.
You have been cheated, lied to, deceived. But you can move on. You can heal. Your trust can be restored. In that first year, I clung to this promise in Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on our own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
I was fortunate that I knew and trusted God. It was a giant leap in my healing and in Nicole’s also. This was a time when the only one I trusted was God. But that turned out to be a good thing. It created my need to totally trust Him; and that allowed Him to fill my heart with the love I had always craved.
Keep God first. He sees your past, your present situation, and He knows your future. He loves you and forgives you. Receive all that He has to offer.
Chart a new path. What are your dreams? Your goals? What do you love to do? How do you want to spend the rest of your life? Don’t lose sight of who you are and what you want to become. Be adventurous. Hang on to hope.
Keep Growing and Keep Going! You’ve experienced an incredible loss. Realize that you will go through the stages of grief. Life as you knew it has died. Your bubble has been burst. Your heart broken. But you must learn from this and move on. Determine that this will grow you into a better person, not a bitter person.
Honestly? You should go buy yourself about a dozen journals! The best way to unload all of this baggage is to write, write, write, and keep writing. I know you’ll want to burn it. You’re worried that someone, somewhere, someday will read it. But, who knows? It may be just what someone else needs to know in order to embark on their journey of healing too.
Mom, if you are reading this and living with the guilt of not having believed your child or not having done the right thing: do it now. Pray for your child. Seek God’s timing and go to him/her. Tell your child you are sorry; that you believe her. Ask how you can help him/her to heal.
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.