If you are suffering from abuse then you’re probably worried about your children. It’s hard to defend yourself. It may be taking all your mental and physical courage to just keep going. Whether or not you choose to leave the abusive relationship, you will no doubt be terrified by the impact that this could have on your children.
Do your children know that you are being abused?
No matter how hard you try to keep it from them there’s a high chance that your children will know that something’s wrong. If they know what’s happening to you there will be an impact on them. They may be scared for your safety and feel guilty that they can’t help you.
More challenging is if your children blame you for the abuse that you are suffering. Because children try to make sense of what’s happening in the world around them, they might try to rationalise why you are suffering from abuse. That means they may try to work out a reason for what’s happening.
Are your children unaware of the abuse?
If your children don’t know you are being abused it can make it harder to leave a relationship. Added to the fear of what could happen when you leave, you have to worry about how your children will see the separation. It’s important to communicate openly about how you feel and what’s happening. You may need to seek support to ensure you can navigate these challenging conversations without causing additional distress to them and to you.
Your children may still love your partner, and it’s important that they understand that this is ok. The most vital thing is to ensure your children are open about their feelings and share them with you.
If you are concerned about whether your children are able to share their feelings with you, it’s worth making sure that they have another trusted adult that they can talk to. This could be another family member or close friend. As well as allowing them to share, this will help them to build trusted relationships with adults outside the immediate family.
When you’re ready to leave it’s important to draw on all the support that’s available to help both you and your children. There may be programmes available to help your children deal with the separation itself. You can find out more by contacting Women’s Refuge on 0800 REFUGE or Child Matters on 07 838 3370.
Are your children being abused?
Every parent’s worst nightmare is that their child is being hurt or abused. You may hope that this isn’t the case but it’s important to recognise the risk. Statistically research has shown that in 75% of homes where mothers are being abused there is also child abuse occurring.
There are many potential signs and symptoms that can show that a child is suffering from abuse. There are also many experts available to help you to interpret the signs and provide the support that your child needs. These include the Ministry for Vulnerable Children; a school social worker; or a community child advocate.
Your child may tell you that they are being hurt or abused or someone else may tell you that they suspect this. Perhaps they have frequent unexplained injuries or they try to explain away bruising but the story doesn’t add up.
Sometimes more general behaviour is an indicator of abuse – but it’s important to be cautious as this can also indicate other problems. Reluctance to go home, being afraid of specific adults. These behaviours can combine with more general problems like withdrawal, sadness, bedwetting, self-blame, self-harm, problems at school and more.
Are your children being sexually abused?
You don’t have to be from a specific type of background or a certain type of home for your children to be at risk of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse occurs across society. What is important for you is to teach your children about keeping safe and let them know that they can talk to you about anything.
Children may not talk about the abuse or show any signs of it at all. Some children are expert at hiding what’s happening and how it’s affecting them. It’s more likely that a relationship subtly evolves until it becomes abusive and wrong. It may start innocently and that can be part a big part of the reason that children can self-blame for being abused.
If your child tells you that they are being abused it’s important to listen. You may question what they are telling you or completely disbelieve it, but you must remember that as children they rarely lie about these experiences. Listen without blame or criticism. Your role is to get them the help that they need.
Dealing with abuse
As an adult, abuse can be incredibly hard to deal with. For children and young adults abuse can severely affect and harm them. It’s important to help your children to process and understand what has happened, and that they are not to blame.
Start by dealing with any abuse or violence as soon as you can. The first step is listening to your children and reassuring them that you believe them. Don’t try and deal with this alone. Call either the Police or the Ministry for Vulnerable Children (0508 326 459) immediately if you think your child is not safe.
If you believe your child has been physically or sexually abused then seek medical assistance. It’s important to document and treat any physical symptoms of abuse: asking for professional help can ensure you get the best support going forward.
Seek psychological support for your child. Whether they have witnessed your abuse or suffered their own, finding the right help is an important first step in managing the long-reaching psychological impact of being abused. The right support can help you to provide your children with ways to cope with what they have experienced.
You are not alone
Whatever your children have experienced or witnessed, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to deal with this alone. Recognising the problem is an important first step. If you need support for yourself then call Women’s Refuge. Or for focused support for your children you can contact Child Matters (www.childmatters.org.nz or phone 07 838 3370).