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Sexual Abuse – What to Know and What to Do

Sexual Abuse – What to Know and What to Do

I am a mother of six, educator, mentor to Au Pairs and Host Families with Go Au Pair and adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Did you know that all states require caregivers to report suspected child sexual abuse. Caregivers, babysitters, nannies and even teachers are the first line of defense to protect our children. Careful screening of those in contact with our kids is step one. Education is step two to address this age-old problem, not just for adults who care for kids but the kids themselves. Lives are literally on the line.

Nobody wants to tell their kids that someone they know might try to touch them in a way that is inappropriate. It’s terrifying. More importantly, kids need to know they can talk to parents, caregivers and trusted adults, about whatever is going on in their lives. Kids need to understand that no adult has any good reason to see, touch or show any private parts unless it is a parent or pediatrician checking out a problem area.

What should adults say to kids?

Talk honestly with young children but do not scare them with graphic language or details.

Make sure kids know their body is private and sacred. No person has the right to touch or make another person feel uncomfortable. Kids should know it is okay to say no to an adult and seek out a safe adult and safe place if they ever feel uncomfortable with an adult, even if it’s someone they know.

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Keep honest and open lines of communication with your kids, or kids in your care, so they know they can talk to you about any topic without judgment.

What should adults watch for in other adults?

Adults who show too much interest in kids or who always seem to be interacting with kids may warrant attention, particularly if that adult is ever alone with children.

If kids need to be left alone with an adult, take steps to ensure a door is left open or have the adult work with more than one student or be within hearing or vision of another adult. (Rule of Three)

If an adult seeks the “help” of children with the exclusion of other adults, this may be a red flag. Abusers often build trust in their victim before ever doing anything abusive. This does not mean we should watch out for every adult our kids trust, just be aware.

What should adults watch for in kids?

Kids who are at risk for abuse may not stand out from their peers, but abusers can spot them. Potential victims are children who may want or enjoy individual attention, have family problems or issues at home, or are in a “special” trust-relationship with any adult (such as teacher, parent, caregiver).

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Behavioral characteristics:

Abused children will almost always show behavioral signs that an astute adult can pick up. Always be aware of any change in normal behavior, like a drop in grades, lack of interest in normally fun activities, lack of interaction at home and school, and particularly any hesitation, fear or refusal to go or stay with someone who would normally be a trusted adult.

This should warrant a conversation about what is going on and an opening up of the lines of communication. Always be willing to listen to your child when they tell you they don’t want to stay with someone. As a child of abuse myself, I can clearly remember asking to go on errands and not be left alone with my abuser, a step-parent and trusted adult in my life.

Physical characteristics:

There may be actual physical signs of sexual abuse, such as lost or soiled underwear, unexplained bleeding and unexplained or repeated urinary tract or yeast infections, particularly in a pre-teen child. Any signs of these should be further investigated. A trip to the pediatrician, who can also be a trusted adult, may help clear up what is going on.

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What if you suspect abuse?

Action is step three.

Never ignore your gut feeling or worse, ignore something you see or hear that is inappropriate contact between an adult and a child. If sexual abuse is suspected, you may be required by law to report it to the police or child welfare authorities.

Any person who is in the position of caregiver to a child suspected of being abused is required to report it, by law in all 50 states. You might begin with a discussion with the child to determine if he or she will disclose any abuse or not. Children will often deny the abuse for many different reasons, but if enough suspicion is there, it’s best to have the child checked by your pediatrician, who will be able to determine to at least some degree if there has been sexual abuse.

What if a child discloses abuse?

Call the police and make sure the child is safe. If a child discloses abuse, he or she should receive counseling and support for the short and long term, ensuring the child can recover both physically and emotionally from this devastating childhood trauma. There is no reason to avoid calling the police, even if the child does not want to press charges.

The police will conduct an investigation to determine if charges will be brought, but there is no good reason to keep suspected abuse to yourself. When confronted, many abusers may say it only happened once or will never happen again, but statistics have proven this to be mostly untrue.

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An abused child needs to be loved and supported, no matter what he or she says about the abuse or the abuser, as there may be a myriad of emotional issues to face down the road, including healthy relationships and sexual enjoyment.

Parents of abused children may need to attend support groups or counseling to deal with their own emotional reactions and to discover ways to provide the help their child will need. Seek the help of your family doctor, pediatrician, local church or therapist to guide you and your family to positive healing and the ability to move forward.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via pixabay.com

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Published on September 21, 2018

11 Smart Pieces of Advice to Help You Thrive as a Single Mother

11 Smart Pieces of Advice to Help You Thrive as a Single Mother

Becoming a mother is one of the most difficult challenges a woman can take on in her life. Whether this happens the “natural” way, with the help of science, or through adoption, being in charge of nurturing another human being is a herculean task to take on.

Typically, when we think about parenthood, we imagine two parents sharing the responsibility and having each other to lean on. However, according to the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 are being raised by a single mother.[1] This is a significant portion of the population that often gets overlooked.

If you are one of these mothers raising your children on your own, you are undoubtedly aware of the additional challenges that motherhood has placed upon you, including the constant struggle to find sufficient time, energy, money, and support.

For single mothers who find themselves bogged down by their daily responsibilities and struggle to stay afloat, don’t be fooled by the belief that you have to do all. It is possible to thrive and live as a single mother if you take advantage of all available resources and adjust your priorities based on your situation.

1. Find your community and ask for help

As the sole caretaker of your kids, going through the successes and struggles of parenthood can feel isolating and lonely. You have probably developed a strong sense of independence because you’ve had to go at it alone.

Being self-reliant is necessary in many situations that you have to face, but do not fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need support from others. If you have family nearby, strengthen your relationship with them by visiting and talking more often. Find time to catch up with old friends or co-workers, and don’t assume they don’t want to hang out if they are not parents themselves.

Would you prefer finding mom friends[2] who have more in common with you? Use resources like apps, Facebook groups, and community events to meet local moms in your area.

After you have established a support group that you can depend on, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is NOT a sign of weakness or incompetency to admit you can’t do it all, and others are probably more willing to lend a hand than you think.

If you feel uncomfortable burdening others, suggest trading favors such as taking turns babysitting. Because after all, helping is each other is what community is all about.

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2. Make peace with the past

Before you can move forward, you must make peace with your past and not let it define you or rule your life. Whether your journey to single motherhood was through divorce, death, or never having a relationship the father, it is crucial that you leave behind the feelings of abandonment or betrayal you may be struggling with.

You cannot change the past and the hurt you had to endure, but you can use the strength that you gained from overcoming those obstacles to work towards making the best life for yourself and your child. Learn from the past but live in the present and look towards the future.

3. Make plans and set goals

The daily repetition of trying to balance work and home life can make you feel like you are on operating on autopilot. However, it is imperative to set goals for yourself and to keep working towards self-improvement.

In your personal life, you can set a fitness goal (train for a 5k), a reading goal (read 20 books in a year), or a travel goal (take a trip to Europe). At your job, you can set career goals such as gain leadership experience, get a promotion, or earn a degree or certificate.

Spend time creating a realistic plan to on how you can go about achieving these goals. Not only will working towards these goals make you a more well-rounded and successful person, they will bring more purpose and fulfillment to your life.

4. Look for role models

A great way to jump start your plans for the future is to find a role model or mentor who is further along in their life or career experience. This person can be a great resource when you need guidance on what types of goals to set for yourself and how to achieve them.

It’s also important to have people to turn to for encouragement during difficult seasons of life. Someone who has been through it before can provide the most genuine reassurance that tough times will get better and that staying positive is best approach.

5. Rethink your priorities

Single parents have twice as many responsibilities to take care of, so priorities and expectations must be adjusted accordingly.

Know that you are not superwoman and striving for a perfectly clean home, no dirty laundry, and home-cooked meals for your kids every day is not a reasonable expectation. It’s okay to take shortcuts sometimes, like serving your kids cereal for dinner or waiting until the next day to wash the dishes.

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Don’t compare yourself to anyone else and let go of the guilt that you feel for being the only parent that your kids can count on. Give yourself a break and don’t sweat the small stuff.

6. Make time for me time

Even though it can be difficult to find, making time for yourself is critical to maintaining your sanity and well-being. Without a built-in partner to take over, finding time to be away from the kids must be done intentionally and planned in advance.

If you are sharing custody, use the time away from your kids not only doing productive things but also making sure you are taking care of yourself. Sleep, exercise, and balanced diet are not things that can get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Also make time for fun activities, such as hobbies and creative outlets.

Even though being a mother is the most important job you have, don’t let it be the only thing that defines you. Time for yourself is more difficult to find if you are the sole caretaker of your kids.

Use the resources that you have to devote time to self-care, and you and your kids will thank you for it in the long run.

7. Stay organized

With so many things to juggle, great organizational skills are an absolute must in order to keep everything moving smoothly. Use apps such as Mint for your finances, Mealime for meal planning, and Cozi as a family organizer for everything from appointments and shopping lists to after school activities.

Maintain constant contact if you are sharing custody so that it is clearly communicated who will be responsible for what when it comes to your kids. Follow consistent routines in the morning and nighttime so that your kids also know what to expect on a daily basis.

8. Be flexible (Don’t be a control freak)

Although it is important to be prepared and stay organized, things don’t always go according to plan.

When kids get sick and have to stay home or babysitters cancel at the last minute, allow for flexibility by having a contingency plan for childcare and with your employer.

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For example, make a list of people you can call when you need last minute childcare, or talk to your boss in advance about working from home when emergencies come up.

Most of all, don’t let unexpected changes stress you out and ruin your day.

9. Learn to say no (Don’t feel guilty)

Single mothers have limitations in time, energy and resources that families with two parents wouldn’t be able to understand. Because of these circumstances, it’s important you let go of feelings of guilt and stop trying to do everything and be everywhere.

You don’t have to say yes to every single birthday party your child is invited to. Your kids don’t have to be involved in sports and extracurricular activities every night of the week.

Limit the things you do to only the ones that are the most enjoyable and meaningful for you and your family. Doing more things does not make you a better mother; simply a more tired one.

10. Live within your means

When you have to raise your family on a single income, budgeting and spending within your means becomes more important than ever.

If you have outstanding debt that is accruing interest, make it a priority to pay those off as soon as possible. Outlining a budget is the best way to visualize how much money is being spent every month on various things and what is left over.

Find ways to save money on the necessities by looking for sales at the grocery store, buying some things secondhand, planning out meals.

After the necessary bills are paid, determine how much can be spent on luxury items such as eating out, vacations, and going to the movies.

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Don’t let finances be a source of anxiety for you and your family. Keep your bank account in good shape while teaching your kids how to spend money responsibly at the same time.

11. Spend quality time with your kids

The time you spend with your kids is so precious and much more limited as a single mother. Make the time that you spend with your kids count.

Rather than sitting in front of the TV, take them on fun and budget-friendly outings to the park, the playground, or a museum. Use meal times as the perfect excuse to ask them about what they are learning in school and the friends they spend time with.

When your kids ask you to play with them, look at it as a privilege and an opportunity to bond with them, rather than a distraction or waste of time. Be present when you are with them, with no work or multitasking on your mind. Your relationship with your kids will absolutely reap the benefits.

Final thoughts

Being a single mother is not an easy job. That’s why it’s important to use all the resources available to you in order to make this job a little bit easier.

Using technology, an organization system and a supportive community are just a few examples of things you should utilize to your benefit. It’s also important to shift your mindset and be more practical when it comes to things like priorities and finances.

Most of all, don’t forget about your own self care. Only when you take care of yourself can you best take care of the people you love.

Single mothers are some of the most hard-working people out there, and you deserve to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

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