Parental feelings once abuse has been reported
When abuse is reported, parents sometimes feel as if they are on a roller coaster of emotions. This is normal. The report can affect your life in many ways, and it takes time to adjust. The following are some of the common thoughts and feelings parents have.
- Denial. Your first reaction may be to not believe or accept the possibility that it really happened. Or your may believe it happened, but that no real harm was done. Parents often experience denial because it is too overwhelming to accept that the abuse occurred and that there will be after-effects. For some people, it takes time to overcome denial and face the realities of abuse.
- Anger. At times, you may feel angry at yourself for not protecting the child. You may feel angry at the perpetrator for what he did. You may even feel angry at the child. Be honest about your feelings and share them with a trusted person or group.
- Helplessness. You probably do not know what to expect and feel that things are out of your control. Some parents may fear that their children will be taken away. Try to stay aware of how cases proceed through the system in which you are involved.
- Lack of assertiveness. You may feel invisible and think there is nothing you can do to help the situation get better. We will help you learn what you can do to change the situation and take appropriate action.
- Shock, numbness, repulsion. You may have memories of being abused as a child, which may lead to shock, numbness and repulsion for the new situation you find yourself in. If so, you may need to seek therapy for yourself to recover from the abuse.
- Guilt, self-blame. You may feel it is all your fault. But the offender is responsible for the abuse, not you. The best thing you can do now is support your child and learn all you can about how to make things better.
- Hurt and betrayal. It is normal to feel hurt from the loss of your child’s innocence. You may have lost a spouse or partner if that person was the offender. You may even have lost friends. It is imperative to take time to grieve these losses.
- Sexual inadequacy. Some women believe the offender turned to the child because their relations with him were not adequate. It is important to learn the dynamics of abuse in order to realize that sexual relations with an adult partner do not affect a person’s likelihood to abuse or not abuse children.
- Concern about money. You may be worried about finances because of lost income. A Family Advocate or Department of Social Services (DSS) social Worker will work with you to help you get on your feet.
- Fear of violence. In homes where violence is common, you may fear the offender will try to harm you or your children. If so, call Heartly House’s 24-hour hotline at 301-662-8800, TTY 301-662-1565
- Fear of drug or alcohol abuse. You may be afraid that you or the offender will abuse drugs or alcohol because of the stress, or that one of you may have a relapse to an old addiction. If you need help, talk to your DSS worker, therapist, or family advocate.
How do I behave toward my child?
Provide safety, love and support. Let them know that it is okay to cry or be mad. Make sure your child understands it is not his or her fault. Don’t coach or pressure your child to talk about things.
Some things you can say that will help your child:
- I believe you.
- I know it’s not your fault.
- I’m glad I know about it.
- I’m sorry this happened to you.
- I’ll take care of you.
- I’m not sure what will happen next.
- Nothing about YOU made this happen. It has happened to other children, too.
- You don’t need to take care of me.
- I am upset, but not with you.
- I’m angry at the person who did this.
- I’m sad. You may see me cry, That’s all right. I will be able to take care of you. I’m not made at you.
- I don’t know why he did it. He has a problem.You can still love someone, but hate what they did to you.
Some things you do:
- Return to a normal routine as soon as possible.
- See that your child receives therapy as soon as possible. Trying to sweep the problem under the rug usually causes more problems that will not go away.
- Find help for yourself. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Contact the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) for assistance.
- Teach your child the rules of personal safety. Tell them what to do if someone tries to touch them in an uncomfortable manner.
- Be careful not to question your child about the abuse. If you do, you can jeopardize the case in court against your child’s abuser. Specially trained professionals at the CAC will interview your child to obtain the necessary information without harming the case or further traumatizing him/her. If your child wants to talk about it, listen supportively, but do not probe.
- Keep your child away from the person suspected of the abuse. This is to protect you, that person and your child.
- Avoid discussing the case with other victims or their families.
- Never coach or advise your child on how to act or what to say to professionals or investigators. This could seriously damage the case.
- Avoid the suspect.
- Your child may need an extra sense of physical security. Stay close and assure your child you will keep him/her safe.
- Remember to give attention to your other children.