After finding out about your child's sexual abuse
, you will have many decisions to make. These include: how to support
your child, how or when to confront the offender
, who to tell about the abuse, when to tell, where to go, what to do, and more. These are large, comprehensive, and life-altering choices that will affect you and your family.
- Empowerment. You must know that you are competent and capable of making decisions in your life. You are empowered. You are not a victim. You can be proactive in decision-making. You can be assertive in communication.
- Problem-solving strategies. It is helpful to have strategies to follow when analyzing the problem. Developing a decision tree can help you arrive at the best approach to problem solution.
- Choices. Making choices requires an awareness of what you are able to control and what you are free to change. Your ability to make a choice assumes you have the ability and the freedom to do so. Important to the choice process: Identification of the problem, awareness of the results you want, and self-knowledge of beliefs, values, and goals.
Fortunately, most mothers do this well. They contact law enforcement or social services, manage their way through the investigation, support their child, and tell who needs to be told. It is a stress-filled time. Sometimes decisions are very, very difficult, and you may be confused and ambivalent. You may want to ask people in your support group to give you feedback. You may want to bounce thoughts, plans, and ideas off of trusted counselors, family members, and friends.
The decisions that are the most difficult are those that involve your child, her well-being, emotional health, and protection. If the abuser is a family member or a family friend, other decisions will generate strong emotions, confusion, and ambivalence. If the abuser is your partner or husband, you will have to make decisions about separation or divorce, moving or staying, finances, employment, counseling, and a myriad of other lifestyle and life-altering decisions.
In order to make a decision, you have to identify the problem and know what results you are looking for in your decision. You have to know that you have the ability and the power to make a decision and solve a problem. If you know that you do, then after analyzing the problem and thinking it through to the best of your ability, you make a decision. You may not be as sure as you would like to be that it is the best decision. You may want more information. In that case, you may have to sit with the discomfort of not knowing, and go ahead and decide.
Fear can have a paralyzing effect on you. Be aware of what your fears are. You may want to use your journal to help you through the difficult decisions. In order to make effective decisions, you have to know yourself, know what is important to you, know what your values are.
To make good decisions you need:
- Alternatives - You need several alternatives. There is never only one solution to a problem. Ask other people to help you generate additional alternatives.
- Consequences for each alternative - Use your creative imagination to think what consequences may occur for each decision you may make. Look for the unintended consequences - the side effects of consequences that are easier to predict. You can never know for sure what the consequences will be. Make your best guess.
- A way to rank the consequences - You will need some kind of criteria to judge which consequence is more acceptable. This requires that you know what you want.
Generate as many "if _____, then _____" scenarios as you can. Learn to think in terms of consequences. Every action has a reaction. Try to think as holistically as you can. Your family is a system. What affects one thing will affect other things.You are a system. What affects your emotions will affect your mind, body, spirit, relationships, sleep, work, and so on.
When you are making decisions, you can only select from the alternatives that you have. The outcome of your decision is then out of your hands. You do not control what happens next. Practicing acceptance of the outcome, whatever it is, and using your coping skills will maintain your stability during this time of change.
If you are making decisions, and it was your husband or partner who abused your child, Wiklund (1995) offers some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you tell yourself that your choices are limited?
- Do you really have choices?
- What hard choices have you already had to make?
- Do you see yourself as responsible for the abuse that your partner perpetrated?
- Is this sense of responsibility affecting your ability to make a choice?
- Do you view him as wholly responsible for his choice to abuse your child?
- Is this affecting your choice?
- Are you actively making a choice, or are you being passive?
- Have other people told you that there is a problem that you do not view as a problem?
- Are there decisions that you make automatically without thinking? What are they and how are they different?