When Mothers Arise

IMG_4465Each year on this day Catholics all over the world remember the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day she was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. In years past, some families feasted on raspberry shortcake and adorn their statues with rose garlands. Others decorated balloons with images of the Blessed Mother, and launched them heavenward.

Sadly, this isn’t a year for such celebrations. The most recent news reports outlining the depravity of some very bad men at the highest level of the Church has traumatized the Catholic community. The outraged responses are wholly understandable and natural. Sadly, all the outrage in the world is not going to fix this problem.

Last night I attended the vigil Mass at Queen of Peace, delighted to see both my children singing in the choir — something they had reluctantly agreed to after I told them it was the only birthday present I wanted this year. Even so, they grumbled … but they went. As I watched them that night, I was reminded again of the great influence women hold in the lives of their families to inspire goodness in their children.

I also thought about the redemptive power of a mother’s love to make wrongs right, and to guide her children to repentance. While we were in Rwanda, attending an open-air Mass, during communion the religious sisters in front of us left their seats to distribute the consecrated hosts. During that time, a man came and swiped this sister’s purse (pictured above) and tried to make off with it … and was promptly taken into custody by vigilant security. At first he glared about him, defiant. Then, when the sister returned and learned what had happened, she said not a word. She just turned and looked at the man full in the face. He crumbled into a chair and covered his face. Then she sat beside him and began speaking gently to him. (I don’t know what was said — she was speaking in Kinyarwanda). As he was being led away, I thought about the way her mother’s heart had touched him and inspired him to recognize and regret the wrong he had done.

I don’t know exactly how this applies to our current crisis, except to say that a mother’s heart is a powerful force for change. Frankly, I don’t know if it is even possible to exact true justice through the judicial system we have today … I sincerely doubt it, based on our own experiences with the juvenile justice system (ironically, in Pennsylvania). What I do know is that true repentance and conversion is possible only in hearts that are open and unguarded, who love God more than they love themselves. Men who love their Mother enough to be willing to endure any trial in service to her. If there is going to be true change in the hearts of those who lead our Church, it will come only as they are drawn once more to fall in love with God, and with their Blessed Mother. That is where they will find the strength to do what must be done … and to stay the course.

My friends, as we continue to pray for God’s will in this ongoing battle for the souls of both perpetrators and their victims, on this day of the Assumption I will be praying that the love of Our Blessed Mother will arise and blanket the earth afresh, and that we will all find the courage and humility to seek not simply justice, but true healing and reconciliation. Our Lord promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church. We must remember that those gates swing both ways — and that the forces of destruction can come from without as well as from within. Lord willing, so will the forces of healing and reconciliation.

Our Lady of the Assumption, Arise! Spread your mantle of love over us, and pray for us, that we will soon be able to proclaim the Good News with pure and loving hearts. Amen.

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Healing Childhood Trauma

This week on CatholicMom.com, my column deals with the signs parents should watch for in their children that may indicate they are experiencing trauma and need professional help. The source of the trauma varies from child to child and from family to family: divorce, death, separation, neglect, abuse, financial stress, the list goes on. For children touched by adoption or foster care, unresolved trauma from the circumstances that caused them to be separated from their birth families can affect them into adulthood, even if they are loved and supported by their new families. Love, in and of itself, does not always “conquer all.”

What I wish someone had thought to mention to us when we first got our children, is that unresolved trauma can lie dormant for a time — only to bite you in the glutes as the child approaches adolescence. So parents need to keep a watchful eye, especially in children who have been diagnosed with “invisible disabilities” such as autistic spectrum disorders, ADHD, ODD, attachment issues, and so on. And parents of children with a history of abuse and neglect must never let their guard down entirely. Sneakiness and deceit — even with children who are otherwise good and truthful — is part of the disorder.

Another thing I wish had been pointed out to me is that trauma affects parents, too. After years of dealing with acting-out behaviors, your parent brain may not catch the more subtle signs of “something is not right here.” Not only do your kids need help in healing . . . You may also need help in dealing with the stress.

This week’s Gospel, in which Jesus gives dire warnings to those who cause one of his “little ones” to stumble, predicting millstones and a watery destruction, also provide a faint hint of hope to those who hear with the ears of faith. For the Christian, “death by water” has an entirely different connotation than it does for those who have not experienced the “dying with Christ” and “rising to new life” that baptism represents. Through our baptism, we do have all the graces we need to complete the journey. The path is not without suffering, for we follow in the steps of the Savior who suffered and died for us. But as we travel the road together with our children, we can persevere in faith, trusting in the perfect healing that is to come.

Is Your Child Being Bullied? 10 Steps for Parents

Please note: On January 9, 2011, I was contacted by the publisher of Legacy Books, who informed me that this article is actually the work of Janet Lehman, MSW, who published her article on “Empowering Parents.” The link to the original article is here.

excellent post by Lori Clark. I wanted to post it here for anyone whose child is being bullied.

Here are 10 practical things you can do to stop (or prevent) your child from being bullied!

1. Listen to what your child has to say. Being a good liI wanted to bring the omission to my readers’ attention, and repost the article with the correct authorship noted. Please visit the “Empowering Parents” website if you would like additional information on helping your child.

The other day AnnArbor.com ran an article about a Lincoln School student who suffered a concussion after being bullied several times by a six-year-old. Among the outraged responses was thisstener is an important piece of your role when your child is being bullied. One of the best questions you can ask your child is, “What can I do to be helpful?” When your child tells you what’s going on at school, as much as it hurts to listen, be open and able to hear what he has to say. Try to be supportive but neutral when he’s talking. When you react too strongly to what your child is saying, he might stop talking because he’s afraid he’s going to upset you.

2. Don’t blame your child. Don’t put the responsibility for the bullying on him or try to find a reason for it; there is no good reason or excuse for what’s happening. If your child is being bullied, he is the victim, so trying to find a reason for why he’s “bringing it on himself” really isn’t helpful. Never blame your child because it makes him anxious and reduces what he’s going to tell you. Your goal is that he continues to communicate what’s going on.

3. If you were bullied as a child, try not to personalize what is happening. If you were bullied when you were younger, the same situation with your child will most likely bring up painful memories. It’s okay to connect with your child about how it feels to be bullied, but don’t take the problem on as if it’s yours alone. I think the most important thing to do when your child is bullied is to remember the responses you received from others that were—or weren’t—helpful. Use what worked and avoid doing what was unsupportive or hurtful.

4. Don’t retaliate against the bully or his family. As tempting as it might be to take matters into your own hands and retaliate against the bully or his family, don’t do it. This is where you have to set some examples for your child on how to problem solve. It’s very difficult to hear that your child is being threatened; of course you want to immediately stop the hurt. But remember, retaliating won’t help your child solve the problem or feel better about himself. Instead, take a deep breath and think about what you can do to help your child handle what he’s facing.

5. Coach your child on how to react. Bullies tend to pick on people who they can get a reaction from; they choose kids who get upset and who take the teasing to heart. They also look for kids who won’t stand up for themselves, or who they can overpower. It’s important to teach your child how to react. We coached our son on how to avoid bullies at school and who to go to if he felt unsafe. We also did role plays together where we practiced not reacting to what the bullies said. Another part of what we did was set it up so that our son had some control over what was going on. He couldn’t stop the bullying right away, but he could get himself away from it and he could find someone to talk to about it.

6. Find a teacher or administrator at your child’s school who will help. Remember, it is the school’s responsibility to stop bullying; I think most take that seriously. The saving grace for our son was the guidance counselor at his school. She provided a safe place for our son to go when he was being picked on. The guidance counselor wanted him to feel like he had some control over the situation, so our child was the one taking the initiative to talk with her. (While we didn’t openly discuss this with him, he knew at some level that we were also talking to the guidance counselor.) We felt it was important for our child to have some sense of taking this problem on and solving it by going to the guidance counselor on his own.

After he started talking with her, she let him know that he could just sit in her office, even if she wasn’t there; the school allowed him to basically take a time out or break to get away from the bullying situation. Again, that gave him some control over what was going on. It gave him a source of support and made him feel like he wasn’t powerless. By talking to the guidance counselor and using his pass to go to her office, it showed him that there were some solutions to the situation.

It’s also important to make sure your child keeps talking—whether it’s with you, a guidance counselor or a trusted teacher, it’s important that he keeps communicating about what’s going on.

7. Take your child’s side. When our son was being bullied, we constantly reaffirmed that there were things he could do to handle the situation, and that he was in fact doing them. We let him know that we were going to get him help and that we loved him and we were going to support him. We also said that there was no excuse for what was happening to him. Make sure to let your child know that you’re on his side; he needs to understand that you don’t blame him and that you will support him.

We also let our child know that if he retaliated against the group, by swearing back or even fighting, that we wouldn’t punish him at home. Our son was bullied physically and verbally, and we told him that he could do what he needed to do to protect himself. We told him that he would still have consequences at school for any misbehavior because that would be against the rules, but we didn’t add to them at home.

8. Get support. Be sure to talk to your spouse or to supportive family or friends. Sometimes I would burst out crying after hearing about what had happened to our son. There were definitely times when James and I got angry. I think the bottom line is that this situation can really bring out emotions from parents.

We found that we needed to talk with each other about this as a couple because it was so hurtful, and because we wanted to be clear in how we communicated to our son. I recommend that single parents reach out to somebody—a family member, friend, or someone at the school—anyone who can help you help your child. We reached out to friends and colleagues as well, and asked how they handled it when it happened to their kids. If nothing else, it helped us feel like we weren’t alone and that there wasn’t anything wrong with our child.

9. Teach your child to name what’s happening. For younger kids, it’s important to be able to name what’s happening as “bullying.” For a child who’s feeling picked on, it’s empowering to be able to really name it. They’re teaching a lot about bullying prevention in school these days and “bully” is such a negative word that it’s good for your child to be able to attach it to the behavior. This is truly empowering for many children and can work with older kids, as well.

10. Find something your child is really good at doing. Help your child feel good about himself by finding something he can do well. Choose some activities he’s good at and reinforce it verbally. Our son got involved in swimming and it was very helpful for his self–esteem.

This post has been adapted from “Is Your Child Being Bullied? 9 Steps You Can Take as a Parent” and has been reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents.

Janet Lehman, MSW has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. She held various roles during her career as a social worker, including juvenile probation officer, case manager and therapist. Janet also worked as a program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.

Crimes against the (Sacred) Heart

This week cyberspace has been buzzing about the Vatican’s memo regarding the CDF’s revised guidelines for handling cases of sexual abuse among the clergy.

Reading this memo, I was came away with a fresh appreciation for the way civil law (which regulates our actions within the temporal order) and moral law (which compels us to regulate our very lives toward the good, loving, and perfect) work together in the Christian life. And again, how moral law and canon (sacramental) law work toward the same end, in ways complementary yet distinct.

When clergy betray the sacrament of holy orders through perversity, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” However, this does not — must not — preclude swift justice from the tribunal, to determine the appropriate penalty for their moral and sacramental crimes. Their crimes against the Church, and against the Sacred Heart of Christ, are no less serious than their crimes against their fellow human beings.

To those outside the Church, it is the temporal penalty that matters most — in particular, the restitution due the victim (after legal counsel exacts its pound of flesh, of course). From the perspective of canon law, however, such criminal conduct has both a moral and sacramental implications that are much farther reaching than the span on one man’s lifetime.

Remember the words of Christ regarding Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver:

“The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)

And again, what he said to his apostles regarding one who causes a child to stumble:

“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:1-2)

The appropriate penalty for such actions can never be exacted through civil or temporal authority, not with all the money in the world. “For what profiteth a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? And what can he give in exchange for his soul?”

In the end, no amount of money can ever make restitution for such crimes against God our Father, who weeps for the wrong done to his children. Only by the blood of Jesus can such wrongdoing be redeemed — the very blood that is trodden underfoot by such blatant disregard for the sacraments.

If the sacraments impart to us the very life of Christ, and if in his ordination the priest becomes alter Christus, “another Christ,” then the man who betrays through his own actions such profound gifts has far more to worry about than a little jail time. “It would have been better if he had never been born.”

Those who serve on the altar must be held to a higher standard than those entrusted into their care. This is a sobering thought for women who are anxious to cast themselves upon the altar, demanding their “right” to serve alongside those whom God has called to ordination. It is no small thing to respond to such a call, even with all the graces God gives to the ordained.

How is it, then, that a woman could propose to do by sheer force of will what Mother Church has said is not in her power to grant? How could you ever imagine for a moment that you could ever be “Groom” when “Bride” is forever imprinted on your body, and in your heart?

Forgive them, Lord. They do not know what they do.

Prevent Child Abuse: Tips to Help Parents Cope

carriecraftCarrie Craft at AboutAdoption.com has lots of great information for parents looking for tips on a particular aspect of foster or adoptive parenting. Today she sent this link to an article to help parents cope with stress, especially when kids seem to be doing all they can to push your buttons.

Children who have been exposed to physical or emotional abuse will sometimes push the boundaries of reasonable behavior, often (but not always) to test your resolve to parent him or her. By responding with self-control, we teach them valuable lessons about love … and responsible adult behavior. Check it out!

Marriage and the Single Mom: Now @ Mommy Monsters!

peek-babyCome on over to “Mommy Monsters” for an article I posted there today: “Marriage and the Single Mom: Some Thoughts.”

Today I’d like to offer a prayer for single moms everywhere … Those who are raising children on their own, temporarily or permanently. Military moms. Adoptive and foster moms. Divorced and separated moms. Never-married mothers who are doing their best, one day at a time.

I’d especially like to request prayers for my sister, Jennifer, who is divorcing her husband. Pray that God will provide for her needs, and the needs of her children. You might toss up a prayer for Jerry, too … Frankly, I have a hard time doing that without feeling like a total hypocrite, but you don’t know the twit, so you feel free. (Throw in one for me, too.)

Heavenly Father, bless single parents everywhere.
Those who are content, and those who are scared.
Those who are struggling, and those who feel secure.
Those who need a tangible, practical reminder
That you love them, and have called them
To imitate You in selfless, boundless love,
And to lead their children to heaven,
one prayer at a time.

Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of families, pray for us.
St. Jude, patron of the hopeless, pray for us.

Has Your Child Been Abused?

It’s a sad reality of life that many of the children who go into the foster care system have been exposed to horrific kinds of abuse and neglect. In some cases, the abuse is “passive” — such as being allowed to see pornography on television. In many cases, however, the abuse takes far more sinister forms.

Children who have been abused have scars that make them vulnerable to subsequent abuse. So sorting out the real threats from the fears is very important, and often requires the help of a trained professional. However, it is usually the parent (adoptive or foster parents included) who first see the signs that the child has unresolved trauma. Signs include:

* Child acts out in ways that are sexually suggestive or physically aggressive,
* Child has persistent nightmares or bedwetting (age 5+),
* Child touches self or others inappropriately and/or compulsively,
* Child is suddenly fearful or overly compliant around another adult (80 percent of molested children know their abusers – family friends, teachers, extended family members, etc.)
* Child is suddenly fearful of changing clothes or venturing outside home (to school or babysitter’s)
* Child draws disturbing images (or reenacts these stories with dolls),
* (In teenagers), child suddenly loses interest in her appearance, and/or alienates him or herself from friends and family.

Additional information may be found here: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

As adoptive parents – particularly parents of older adoptees with a vague history of neglect and/or abuse – we must steel ourselves for the possibility that the time may come when we are asked to participate in the painful process of redemption for our children. We may find ourselves having to re-direct our children again and again, and get for them (and ourselves) the help needed to resolve and receive healing for the violations they received before they came to us (or even, God forbid, at the hands of a third party while under our care). These wounds go deep, and leave a scar that may make them unwitting targets for subsequent abuse.

What should you do if you suspect your child has been abused?

First, pray and seek counsel so you can think clearly and react calmly. It is crucial that you can be spiritually strong for the child. You are being called to model authentic love for a child who has suffered at the hands of the counterfeit. While you are getting help for your child, go to daily Mass if you can; pray the Rosary and have others do the same on your behalf (though be careful to protect the child’s privacy as much as possible when you make your request known).

Assure your child that you love him or her, and that you are going to help him or her. Nothing he tells you will make you angry with him, or make you love her less. Be careful not to react with anger or disgust if you witness an “acting out” episode – see it for the cry of help that it is. For your own safety and that of your child, carefully document in writing how, when, and where you encounter signs of abuse.

Second, consider the safety of the other children in the family. Children who have experienced sexual abuse frequently abuse younger children. You may need to install door alarms or other safety devices, and take other safety precautions (such as not bathing the children together or allowing them to be left alone in a room together). Children can and do heal from all kinds of abuse … However, such healing does not occur overnight. It may be necessary to have the child placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where no other children are present, for his own good and for the safety of the other children in the home.

Third, get professional help for the child. As a parent, you must find the truth and get your child the help he or she needs – the sooner the better. Catholic therapists who specialize in sexual abuse may be found at http://www.catholictherapists.com/. If no qualified Catholic counselors are in your area, Pastoral Solutions (http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com/services.htm) offers telecounseling.

Fourth, protect the child’s privacy as much as possible without endangering others. If you have a social worker, consult with him or her about what you have observed and get his or her recommendations for next steps. Again, be sure to make careful records of when, where, and what you have observed. This information is too crucial to entrust to memory.

If your child has been “acting out” with other children in the home, make an appointment with the school counselor and/or teacher to discuss the importance of supervising children closely, especially in the bathroom and on the playground. By acknowledging that you are aware that your child has a history of abuse, you safeguard your own child’s well-being as well as that of other children.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a third party, it is absolutely critical that you trust your gut and do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. If another child is the source of the problem, alert that child’s parents; if the children must continue to have contact with each other (such as siblings), they must be monitored continuously and closely. If you suspect your child is being abused outside the home, changing babysitters or even schools is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Once the child is safe, you may then need to file a formal report with Child Protective Services (CPS), for the sake of other children.

Suzanne Baars adds: “Eighteen states require by law that one must report suspected child abuse. Once a child is in counseling and this information is shared with the counselor, either the counselor or the parent will be required to report the matter to Child Protective Services.” Adult perpetrators will be required to leave the home – or the children will be placed in protective custody. When the perpetrator is a child, that child may need to be placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where there are no other children present.

Fifth, do not waste time in self-blame or self-doubt. You love your children, and want them to grow up to be strong, healthy Christians. You may have ambivalent feelings about what has happened – questioning whether you could have said or done anything to prevent the abuse. You may be angry with yourself for having unwittingly endangered your child, for having put him in this school or her in that daycare situation. You may be harboring hateful or even murderous thoughts about the individuals who did these things to your children, wanting more than anything for them to experience the full consequences of their actions. This is normal … but it is also harmful to hold on to these feelings.

Talk with your priest in the sacrament of reconciliation; seek out a professional counselor who can help you work through these issues so that you might be able to forgive yourself and (ultimately) the perpetrator. It is important to release yourself of that burden, so you can be free to help your children. God has entrusted a special cross to you; He is asking you to help your child find healing, and to model forgiveness. Not for the sake of the abuser, but so that those who are touched by the abuse might find peace. God bless you!

Heidi would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Suzanne Baars and Dr. Gregory Popcak, who both reviewed this article prior to publication. Suzanne was especially helpful in describing the legal responsibilities of one who suspects abuse has occurred. You may contact Suzanne through “In His Image Christian Counseling Services” (http://www.conradbaars.com/SueBaarsBio.htm).