Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mother's Survival Guide

Imagine a college sophomore, a young woman with Ugg boots, shiny ponytail, friends, and plans to study Wednesday night. Hearing that she plans to go to a frat party Saturday night might quickly bring to mind some of the dangers around sexual violence that college campuses hold for young women. You might imagine the incredible difficulty this young woman, violated on campus, would face going forward walking through her world.

Now imagine a mother pushing her daughter on a swing at the park. What might come to your mind this time might be laughing, singing, and a shoulder bag at her feet bulging with sippy cups, apple slices, and a change of clothes in case her daughter has a run-in with a mud puddle.

Image Credit
But, what rarely comes to mind in our collective consciousness, the popular images we hold, what we rarely discuss, is that this is the same woman separated by just a few years.  Focus on survivors of abuse and assault, usually centers on the major disruptions that follow the event or disclosure of the perpetration. We rarely connect that one in three females are survivors of sexual abuse, and that 81% of women become mothers. One guess, then, is that one in four mothers is a survivor.

We don't often discuss that this mother carries with her confusing worries, that her daughter could have a run-in far more damaging than with a mud puddle. How terrifying, how complicated it is to walk through the world as a parent - and as a survivor of sexual violence.

While media images of women overwhelmingly include the identity of motherhood, and might also include women as survivors of abuse and sexual violence, we seem to forget as a nation that women don't get to stop being survivors once they're picking out onesies and painting the nursery. Memories, guilt, fear, shame, confusion often come along to the delivery room and to parenthood beyond. What happens when the mother we imagine on the playground sees her daughter run off to the slide with a few of the neighbor kids? She might find herself in a panic that she's not following closely enough, that she shouldn't trust the kids...or their parents.  Or, that not following is natural - maybe no one watched where she was going at that age.

Let's imagine a mother sending her nine year old off on the bus to 4th grade. She's wondering if she maybe said "NO" too harshly when her daughter asked if she could go to the carnival with her friend, Amber. Doesn't Amber have an older brother who's always around? Or, maybe she didn't say "no" loudly enough?  That same mother, almost ten years later, breaks out in a sweat when it's time to go shopping to send her daughter off to college.  A time that should be filled with joy and pride, instead brings memories she can't stop from coming. She is afraid for her daughter, for herself.

The Motherhood Survival Guide aims to gives voice to a dialogue long muted, how to begin to manage parenting as a survivor who may walk through the world with upsetting triggers for difficult feelings. Being a mother is difficult; being a survivor who is a mother can be even more difficult and deserves attention. We seek to offer hope, tools, support, and dialogue to courageous women exploring these worlds together.

-Jennifer Cutilletta, LCSW

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more on this topic, Jennifer Cutilletta will be co-facilitating a workshop with Amy Chandler on Sunday, April 6th. Click here for more information.
Date: April 6, 2014
Time: 10:00am-4:00pm
Event: Mother's Survival Guide: A Workshop for Survivors Navigating Parenting

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1 comment:

  1. As a parent, father, and husband, I say: what a brave idea. I hope this workshop offers strength and encouragement to your participants.