“She won’t see me. Her sister says he battered her again last night.
I know this has been going on all along. I notice her son is more and
more withdrawn. I’m worried about them. But obviously she does not
want to talk about it, and I need to respect her privacy.” The abused
mothers’ parent educator – we’ll call her Mary- and Mary’s co-workers
wrestled with this dilemma during a recent reflective supervision session.
Mary has worked with the abused mom for several years and has forged a
strong relationship that she does not want to jeopardize. We discussed
whether Mary’s silence might serve to confirm the mom’s (mis)perception
that being abused is too awful to talk about; it’s a private personal problem.
The parent educators did not see it that way- they saw non-interference as
respecting the mother’s privacy. The discussion made clear that a powerful
social norm is in play. Social norms are the rules, often unspoken, that a group
uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
Failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishments, the most feared
of which is exclusion from the group. The social norm at work in this conservative
small town requires the abused mom to hide her bruises and keep quiet; it requires
Mary to pretend she doesn’t know.
But the parent educators came to agree, there is a time to break the rules.
What an abused woman wants and needs more than privacy is someone who
will listen and believe her -- not rescue her, but coach and challenge her to see that
abuse is not normal; it is not her fault; and she deserves a healthy, supportive relationship.
Respect her privacy by keeping her confidence. Support her by letting her know she is not
alone; you are standing by; and there are community resources for counseling,
emergency shelter, police protection. Respect her decisions; they may not be the
ones you would choose for her; but they are hers to make. If she ends the
relationship she will have grief for what she lost and for what she never had.
Acknowledge she is in a scary situation. Help her make a safety plan
so she feels she can manage a crisis and keep her child safe. For a discussion
guide and checklist see the Beginnings Parents Guide pages 102-103.
As the situation plays itself out, engage the abused woman in reflective
conversations to help her begin to visualize a new positive future for herself
and her child. Imagine a miracle happened and this all worked out for you and your
son. What would tell you the miracle happened? What would it look like? What would
you hear? See? Smell? How would your son be different? When
she imagines in detail a new possibility, she can formulate a baby step
that she is ready to take to move toward her best possible desired outcome.
And then another. And then another.
Gaining skill,strength and confidence with each step.
You can start the first conversation with something like,
I know what’s happening. It’s not your fault.
Help and support are out there. I think we can figure this out.
To learn about resources in your area, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233.