“Yes Ma’am…Yes Ma’am.”
February 7, 2015
Updated February 10, 2015
9 comments 272 views
“Yes ma’am…yes ma’am.” I heard these words one morning as a little girl, while crossing my sister’s large living room. My mother and I were taking our annual summer vacation to visit family and had spent the night in the home of one of my older sisters. I knew my mother and I had to go and visit other family that morning, so I bounded out of bed, before the rest of my sister’s house was awake, and went looking for my mother. From the bedrooms, I could see my mother in the kitchen, on the telephone. As I strode the expanse of my sister’s living room, I heard my mother meekly say, “Yes ma’am…yes ma’am”. Even with her back turned to me, I could tell something was wrong, because she sounded as if she had just been kicked in the chest. My quick, clumsy gait slowed to steps of caution as I approached. My mother hung up the phone and could no longer stand. She collapsed into a broken heap of sobs.
Through her crying, my mother said that she had just called her mother, my grandmother, asking what time we could come over that day. My grandmother’s response was: “Don’t be calling here so early in the morning, waking folks up.” As my mother wept, she bemoaned this question, over and over, “I can’t call my own mama’s house? I can’t call my own mama’s house? I’m her child, too!” My family was accustomed to our grandmother’s curtness. But that morning, my mother, herself a married, middle-aged mother of five and grandmother of eleven, was shattered.
In her own childhood, my mother experienced repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. As a result, my mother was sent to live with her cousin while my grandmother stayed married to that man. My mother forgave her stepfather and, as an adult, went with her stepbrothers to visit him before he died. Still, I do not know how much healing my mother experienced, personally, or in her relationship with her mother. My Christian family was one of those that “didn’t talk about such things”. So, there was no counseling, no church community involvement, no pastoral care. Instead, what I witnessed most of my life was my mother always trying, unsuccessfully, to garner some type of attention, affection, or nurturing from her mother.
A recent Huffington Post article cites a report from the American Psychological Association that childhood psychological abuse, not only is just as harmful as sexual and/or physical abuse, but can also have “long-lasting impact”. What are our churches doing to walk with, not only our children who have been on the receiving end of any type of abuse, but the adults among us, as well? There is life past abuse. We are supposed to be pointing people towards Jesus. How are we also helping them to find healing in that? One resource we would like to point you towards is a booklet from Faith Alive Resources, entitled Emotional Abuse, found at http://www.crcna.org/SafeChurch/what-safe-church-ministry under General Resources.
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The question you pose is an important one, Robin, "What are our churches doing to walk with not only our children who have been on the receiving end of any type of abuse but the adults among us as well?" There are many adults who carry the scars of abuse, which is why it is so critical that our worship, adult discipleship activities, and education programs are at least cognizant of it, if not addressing it directly. Thank you for sharing this story, and the link to the Faith Alive booklet!
Thanks for your comment, Reverend Shannon! In doing the research to write this blogpost, I was startled to find the statistics about the impact of emotional abuse. That can explain so much, when we see wounded adults.
Thankyou so much for sharing your story, Robin. I wonder if you have identified why CRC churches are so reluctant to talk about abuse and promote Safe Church Ministry. Maybe there are too many adults among us who have experienced some sort of abuse, including emotional/psychological abuse, that are not ready to face our demons. Maybe we are reluctant to face up to the fact that there are leaders or parents among us who are responsible for those demons. Maybe by speaking about the abuse we have endured we fear risking ruining the reputation of someone that others in the church have always looked up to, admired and respected. Maybe in sharing our experiences we fear not being believed. It's time to start talking about our experiences so that there can be healing for all, both victims and perpetrators!
You have raised some very important points, Elly. In my mother's generation, and even in mine to some extent, subjects about abuse were just considered taboo. It seems some churches, in general, are reluctant to talk about abuse and I wonder if it is just because they feel ill-equip to handle it. The problem is that, along with silence, comes shame. Thankfully, there are resources and advocates, like our Safe Church Ministry team members, who can help open the avenues of sharing and talking. Great suggestions, Elly!
I'm not sure that ALL CRC congregations are reluctant to address this sort of problem. My church here in Montreal has had an abuse policy since 2002 at least, and all the doors have windows in them so someone passing by can see what's going on in the room. And adults wanting to work with children have to undergo a police background check first. So let's avoid generalizations and blanket statements please.
So glad that more and more churches are addressing abuse prevention. Having a safe church policy is one way to make our congregations safer places (we're up to 64% of CRC congregations that have some kind of abuse prevention policy - I would say that's not enough, but at least we are moving in the right direction). As the story points out, abuse doesn't only affect children and most abuse doesn't happen in a church context. I think we have a long way to go to make our congregations safer places to disclose abuse that has been experienced. Sharing a story of abuse is difficult for many various reasons. Yet when someone is able to share his or her own story in a community of people who listen, believe, and offer support, it becomes that much easier for the next person, and then the next, and so on. And healing can begin to flow with the Lord and with his people. May it be so among us.
To comment further on this matter, I know that for a long time, even when they did believe the victims of incest or child sexual abuse, those same victims would be removed from their families and sent elsewhere to be protecting. I know that society was still doing that into the 1980s because my mom who was a professional social worker worked in detention centres for girls back then, and most of the inmates were victims of incest. Now, if I've heard Dr.Phil say even once that when there is trouble in the home children will believe it's their fault, I've heard it a hundred times. And they would certainly be even more convinced of it if they were sent to a detention centre while the abuser was allowed to stay and continue with the other children! I wish I could say that it never happens anymore, but I'm not sure. Batshaw's track record in this matter is far from spotless.(It's the child protection agency here in Québec.) They've been known to make very dubious decisions about whom to give custody of children to in cases of divorce for example. It certainly is far less tolerated, and now the spouse of such an abuser is more likely to be told to "kick the bastard to the curb" than to send the child away.
Currently, I believe that most child protective service agencies work to keep families together when possible, balancing the benefits of family with the need to keep children safe from abuse. Often wrap-around services are involved to provide various interventions for all members of the family with the goal of better functioning as a family for everyone's mutual benefit. As damaging as emotional abuse can be; it's often harder to define and acknowledge. And deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and relating to family members can be hard to change. Change involves unlearning old ways and re-learning new ways of interacting.
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