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Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

English: Join the movement to end child abuse:...

English: Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news was atwitter this past week with the story of the judge, who has since apologized, sort of, for stating that the 14-year-old girl, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her teacher molested her was “older than her chronological age” and that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,”… “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” (cnn.com) I do not know this case, or this girl. I am not going to comment on this family’s pain other than to try to use their situation to create better understanding of all children who have experienced sexual abuse.

I have worked with people who have been molested for quite a while now and while many people know the company line is to say that it is never the victim’s fault, I do find that as adults it can be difficult to understand why we say that. It is true that 2 out of 3 teen victims know their abusers. In cases where a child knows his or her abuser, it is much more often the case that a child or teen was tricked into performing sexual acts rather than, as this judge envisioned a “forcible attack.”

Child abuse is difficult to think about, so many of us, when given the option, simply choose not to. It is not until we have someone close to us that is affected that we begin to examine our own underlying belief about abuse. I am glad when adults share what they really believe about their child’s abuse with me so that we can address the questions about whether a child participated in his or her own molestation, rather than continuing to hold onto a belief that a child might have done so, a belief that can unknowingly be conveyed to the child through actions, body language and words. In this article, I would like to address some of the questions that survivors and parents of survivors have brought to me over the years which may be difficult to answer unless you have had some time to reflect upon it:

Why didn’t the child tell anyone that he/she was being abused? Doesn’t that mean she/he might have wanted it?”

Children do not tell about abuse for a variety of reasons. Most often an abuser is someone known to the child. The abuser often tells the child that they (the child and the abuser) will be in BIG trouble if the child tells anyone. Abusers are often very good about convincing children they are participating in the wrongful behavior, even when a child says they do not want to. Sometimes an abuser suggests or threatens that if a child tells they will be removed from their home, the abuser will be fired and will not be able to take care of his family, no one will believe the child didn’t want it, that the child misinterpreted the abusers actions, and on and on. It is not difficult to convince children, even teenagers, that they are in control of whether the abuser is in trouble or not. It is a normal part of development to believe that the world in some senses revolves around us so, when an abuser presents the case that his or her world, as well as the child’s parents world and even other relatives,  revolves around the teens choice to tell or keep quiet, it becomes easier to understand how a child, even a teen, especially a teen would keep quiet. Should a teen figure out he or she has been tricked, the shame of feeling tricked can keep them quiet as well.

Yes, but my child was a teenager when this happened, he/she should have known better.”

This is probably the most common issue I hear from parents, family and friends of teens, and even the teen themselves who are abused by adult caregivers. It can be difficult to understand how teenagers who have learned about abuse, and whose parents have told them since childhood to tell if someone is abusing them would still keep from telling. I have even had adolescents who have tried to convince me that they were a party to their own abuse and that they are guilty of participating. I understand how teens and their parents can feel this way and when they do here is what I say. “Think about you two years ago. Were you different?” If you take a moment to think about the difference between a fourteen and sixteen year old, anyone who has had a child either of those ages knows there is a difference. A sixteen year old will absolutely tell you they are different from how they were two years ago, they have different friends, they know more, they have different interests or have increased their skill in an ongoing interest. Then I ask, “Do you think in two years you might be different from the way you are now? If so, what will the differences be?” Of course we all know we will be different in two years. We will have two more years worth of experience and information. We will have two more years of practicing independence, understanding relationships, etc. Last, I point out the difference in age between the abused and the abuser, say it’s fifteen years and say, “So this person had fifteen more years than you to figure out the stuff you are figuring out now. They had fifteen years more experience in relationships and getting what you want in relationships. They had fifteen more years to figure out how to talk someone into giving them what they wanted. Oh yeah, and how many serious relationships have you had?” What people often fail to realize is that for the child, this is their very first introduction to sexual relationships and they are simply outmatched by someone who has honed their skills of manipulation to lure the child into believing that they are on even cognitive ground and therefore in an equal relationship. This cannot possibly be the case when you think about it. While some teens are very good at acting mature and responsible, they do not yet have the ability to determine who is and isn’t trying to trick them and they cannot possibly have the understanding of adult relationships that only comes with experience.

“She/he always seemed older in a sexual way.”

Yes, I hear this one too and my response to this is simple…how does a child come to seem older in a sexual way in the first place? Often it does not take much looking to see why this might seem true. Is this a child that was previously sexualized by another abuser? Is this a child that has been taught that her (could be a he but I find this argument most often to be about girls) looks and looking sexual is something that is rewarded in her family? Has this child been exposed to a lot of media that encourages young girls to act in sexual ways? Does this child live in a family where you do not get noticed unless you are acting out making it easier for her to get tricked by someone who treats her special? Were these circumstances also the child’s fault, or do these circumstances explain the ways in which this child was made into a target for a predator? Just because a child has learned to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, it does not mean that the child has the same cognitive abilities of an adult. It does however, give manipulative abusers a heads up that they are an easier target.

While we don’t like to think about these things, it is important before we make a statement that impacts an average of 1/3 of the people in the room, that we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, approximately 28% of the population in the United States will be sexually victimized by the age of 17. Knowledge is power and if you want more knowledge, try some of these links:

If you want to learn more about protecting your child from abuse try my posts:

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children From Abuse Part I

It’s Not Just Strangers: Spotting Potential Abusers Part II

Teaching Young Children about Stranger Danger

And, if you believe anyone you know is suicidal like Cherice Moralez, please look up my posts:

Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

5 Steps to Take if Someone is Suicidal

September 1, 2013 Posted by | child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, keeping children safe, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Affirmation for the New Year

written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In honor of the New Year, I would like to share one of my favorite affirmations. I believe it comes from Louise Hay, but I have been saying for a while now and don’t honestly know the origins. However, I find it particularly fitting for the New Year. It is fairly simple and goes like this.

I am willing to let go of old, painful patterns that keep me feeling unhappy. I welcome new and fulfilling experiences into my life.

I love this affirmation because it rightly implies that you do not need to figure out how to let go of old patterns, as much as you must be willing to let them go. Just the simple act of being sincerely willing to let go of old, painful patterns, can open up a new experience for you and for your family, since your willingness to let go will impact them as well.

It is my hope for you that this year brings your happiest family experiences ever. Thank you so much for traveling with me through the past year, my first year of blogging, and for your support as I entered a new learning experience. I am looking forward to many more years spent together.

candles

candles (Photo credit: rogerglenn)

December 30, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- budgeting- 11/26/2012

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gorgeous gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again. The time when any old unresolved feelings we have about giving and receiving get activated. Whether you celebrate a holiday that involves gifts, right about now in the United States it would take quite a lot to get away from the messages we get about the meaning of giving and receiving different kinds of gifts. For parents, the meaning of giving gifts can change when we have children. Some of us work to make sure our children have just the same kind of holiday that our parents gave us. Others want our holidays to have little to no resemblance to the holidays from our past. We have a tendency to see people that we only see one to two times per year right around now, which can bring up old, unresolved feelings and cause us to evaluate where we think we are in relation to others. With this perfect storm of holiday memories past and holiday hopes for the future, what happens next can put a real strain on our wallets.

In an effort to get us all through the holidays feeling content with the decisions we have made, I would like to recommend taking a moment each day to ponder what a reasonable budget is for you for this season. When you do, you might want to keep in mind that children are happier when their parents are happy, peaceful and content. Sticking with a budget allows you to feel this way. A parent who is stressed and worried about money is more likely to overreact when children are feeling the normal excitement that goes with the holidays.

If you do that thing I hear some parents do where you worry that you are not getting your children enough, take a moment to ask them what they got last Christmas. I bet they don’t remember it all beyond a few meaningful gifts. Think what the money from the gifts they have already forgotten from last year would mean in your retirement fund, or your child’s college savings rather than on the floor of your child’s room. Also remember that when we look back, we tend to think more about our parents actions, good or bad, than we remember what items they gave us.

This weeks affirmation is:

When I give gifts to my children, I spend only an amount that is affordable to me. I remember that I show my love to my children via actions more than things.

One person who has really come up with a wonderful way to help parents get through the holiday while maintaining sanity and a budget is the Flylady. She has a free email sign up that allows you to “fly through the holidays” where she gives one item that takes a couple of minutes each day to help you get ready for the holidays. I used it myself last year and had to pinch myself while I sipped coffee and read a book on Christmas Eve because all of my preparations were complete, and I had come in under budget. You can do it too.

As a child, did you ever receive a gift that was really special to you? What was the meaning of the gift? What memories do  you want your children to have this holiday?

November 26, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Few Thoughts on Seasonal Affective Disorder

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

seasonal affective disorder

seasonal affective disorder (Photo credit: Evil Erin)

This is the time of year when, like many clinicians, I see a spike in the number of people calling for first time appointments. One of the reasons for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can impact both adults and children.

At it’s core, SAD is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of year. If you have ever heard people talk about the “winter blues,” they are typically referring to SAD. Two issues I see which keep people from seeking treatment for SAD is that they worry about being put on medication, and that they have normalized feeling blue at this time of year. If this is you, please allow me to educate you about some of your easy, quick, medication-free options that you might want to try.

1. In the United States, there is an epidemic of people who have lower than optimal Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is that essential nutrient we get from the sun that, among other benefits, helps us to regulate our moods. As people spend more time indoors, and get better about using sunblock and covering their skin in the sun, we also end up getting less Vitamin D in our system which impacts our mood. We are more prone to this in the winter months. Your Vitamin D level is a quick and easy thing to test. If you have a regular doctor, you can contact them and ask them to test you for your Vitamin D levels. If you do not have a doctor, there are in-home kits you can order off the internet.

2. Talk to your physician about a sun lamp. These are special lamps that produce light which mimics the sun and, for people impacted by a change in the seasons, they also help to even out your moods. You can even purchase them inexpensively online.

English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (I...

English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (Innosol Rondo) used to treat seasonal affective disorder. Provides 10,000 lux at a distance of 25 cm. Suomi: 30 kilohertsin kirkasvalolamppu (Innosol Rondo) kaamosmasennuksen hoitoon. Kirkkaus 25 senttimetrin päässä 10 000 luksia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Take fish oil. Iceland, a nation where people experience shorter days and longer periods of darkness has one of the lowest levels of depression anywhere, why? The eat fish like it’s candy around there! Okay, maybe not like candy, but they do eat a lot of fish and fish oil specifically has been linked to reducing depression. Obviously, you want to check with your doctor before starting this, especially if you have any seafood allergies or if you have any blood related issues especially as fish oil can change the clotting of your blood.

4. Try therapy. You might not have SAD. Just because you experience depression around this time of year it does not necessarily mean you have SAD. I see many people who, around the anniversary of a specific trauma, experience some symptoms consistent with depression. If you have a loved one that passed away this time of year, you might be missing them more. Even if they didn’t pass away this time of year, if you have specific memories linked to this time of year (this happens a lot around holidays), you might be sad thinking about them. Death is not the only trigger, perhaps you experienced the loss of a job, a relationship, or something else around this time of year. If you have not resolved those losses to the point of acceptance, you may just be getting triggered to remember that particular feeling and your brain is giving you a chance to resolve the issue now. I find that seeing a good therapist is essential in this process and that some people who have told me they have SAD have actually, via therapy, addressed and resolved old issues that pop up around this time of year making it so that they did not experience SAD the following year.

For more about Seasonal Affective Disorder from the experts, please check out the link below from Everyday Health.

November 8, 2012 Posted by | counseling, mental health | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Chance to Do The Right Thing

Earlier this week, I had an article published in my professional newsletter for the Maryland National Association of Social Workers. Below is a copy of the article:

by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C
 As Social Workers we have an ethical obligation to support and advocate for the families and children we work with. As someone who both works with and grew up in a family headed by gay parents, and as a former board member of COLAGE (a national organization which is designed to support the millions of children with LGBT parents in the United States), I was excited at the prospect of writing an article in support of the upcoming chance to vote FOR Question 6. In Maryland, voting FOR Question 6 maintains the right for gay and lesbian Marylanders to have legally recognized marriages. NASW has long supported the notion that fairness and equality for all is an essential component in helping our clients. Voting FOR Question 6 supports this notion, that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. In a report released last year titled, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” research conducted with the help of The Movement Advancement Project, The Family Equality Council, and the Center for American Progress showed that among other issues:
While overall children in LGBT families have the same incidence of mental health issues as other children, they are more likely to have a mental health issue in states where their families are not equally recognized.
Children in LGBT families have more fear than other children that their families will be broken up.
Children with LGBT parents are more likely to be denied adequate assistance from the state, since their entire family is not legally recognized; the state does not always take all family members into account when providing assistance and may give families headed by LGBT couples less financial help.
Children with LGBT parents are not financially protected when a non-legally recognized parent is injured or killed.
Having gay parents has also exposed me to witnessing the added concerns my father and his husband have had when estate planning, obtaining health care, and worrying about having access to each other if one of them is in the hospital. Non biological parents of children born in an unrecognized union have the added stress of worrying whether they will have access to the children should the couple split.
In Maryland, we have the opportunity to become the first state ever to pass a law approving marriage equality by popular vote. We all know that marriage makes stronger families and all families ensure that everyone has a fair shot in these tough economic times. While some people worry that Question 6 will change religious freedoms or the educational curriculum in schools, Question 6 is being supported by many religious leaders and was actually designed with some of the strongest religious protections in the country, ensuring that no clergy would ever be forced to perform any ceremony for a couple they were not comfortable joining in marriage. Additionally, there are no changes suggested to any school curriculum, nor do schools tend to teach about families or family structure anyway. As Social Workers, we cannot deny that LGBT families are here. In order to protect and advocate for all families in Maryland, voting FOR Question 6 is the only way to go. To find out more about Question 6, you can go to: http://marylandersformarriageequality.org and to join Social Workers for Question 6, visit: http://www.votefor6.com/socialworkers .

Kate Oliver, LCSW-C is the co-owner of A Healing Place, a private practice in Columbia, Maryland. She specializes in working with children and their families where there is a history of trauma or attachment disorders.

October 30, 2012 Posted by | parent support/ self improvement, Parenting | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parent Affirmation Monday- Respect- 10/15/2012

Right-Wing Republicans vs. Corporate Democrats...

Right-Wing Republicans vs. Corporate Democrats vs. Progressive Populists (Photo credit: Truthout.org)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

As we continue the election season in the United States, it seems easier and easier to get caught up in the polarity between candidates, especially regarding their moral values and beliefs about who should do what, where, when and why. We hear arguments about religious and moral beliefs, personal freedom and equality. We are reminded from candidates on both sides that our vote is a vote for our own value system even though I am sure many of us have values that do not always align 100% with either candidate.

One opportunity our election system gives us is to model for our children the ideas of individual freedom, respect and personal self-expression. With all the discussion about bullying in schools, we have the opportunity at home to show children how to disagree with someone, their politics, their moral stance, their opinion about a particular candidate, while refraining from making sweeping statements about everyone on either sides personal characteristics.

I had an opportunity to do this in my own family this week. We talk about politics a lot and keep our children informed of events as they unfold as well as discuss with them our particular point of view on the topics at hand. The other day, my youngest daughter referred to people who support one of the candidates in the upcoming election as “stupid.” It gave me a chance to really check my own internal talk about people with a different point of view than mine. It is so easy to say that people supporting the “other” candidate, whatever that means in your house, are wrong, misinformed, “stupid,” especially when there are particularly important issues being worked out.

In my state, in addition to the presidential election we are voting on issues like the Dream Act, marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, and whether to expand gambling casinos. While I am not always quiet in my posts about my opinions on these subjects and where they come from, I hope for you and for my children, that I have always been respectful. When my daughter called supporters of our “other” candidate stupid, I was quick to remind her that while she may not agree with their thoughts on the issues, it is important to be mindful that when we make a sweeping statement like that we are often including family members and friends that are essential to our lives. We talked about other statements that would be more accurate such as, “I don’t agree with them.” “Maybe they don’t think about this subject the same way I do.” And “I don’t understand the reasons they think that way and maybe we need to talk about it some more….”

While candidates may not always play along with our sense of right and wrong, or respectful dialogue, we can still model this for our children. And, if someone makes a statement we disagree with strongly, we can direct our disagreement toward them, rather than overgeneralizing. If you agree, please feel free to use the following affirmation:

I am respectful to others and they are respectful to me. I model for my children the ways to disagree in a loving, courteous tone.

What I love about affirmations is that you do not always have to agree with the original statement, for example “they are respectful to me” because as we turn our attention to the possibility of something, we tend to see it more than we did before. Look for the ways in which people are respectful and courteous, especially people who disagree with you. Point it out to your children. Show it to them yourself.

October 15, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Man thinking on a train journey.

Man thinking on a train journey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, I have talked to many, many parents, partners, and spouses about what to do if you think someone you love might be suicidal. There are really two parts to figuring out about suicide, 1. determining whether someone is indeed suicidal, and 2. if the person is suicidal, figuring out the level of risk and making sure they are safe. I am going to tackle one section a week so stay tuned for next weeks post. I want to state at the beginning of this post that, of course, my advice here is general and should not be substituted for individualized mental health advice. If you absolutely know someone is suicidal, please take them to the nearest emergency room or contact your local mental health hotline. And, if you are reading this post because you have someone you are concerned about, even if they are not suicidal, please do your best to encourage and support them in seeking therapy as soon as possible. There are mental health services available to many in the United States even if you are under-insured or are not able to afford counseling.

Determining whether someone is suicidal

There are times when you absolutely know someone is suicidal, either you found a note, they told you they were, you find them in the process of attempting, etc. But other times it can be more difficult. Sometimes parents tell me they think their adolescent is saying they want to die in order to get attention. If this is happening, please stop for a moment to think how desperate you have to feel about getting attention in order to say this. I want to make sure that you know that, even with young children, any indication that someone is suicidal needs to be taken seriously. Even if you think they are trying to get attention, don’t you think it would be a good idea to give them some if things have gotten this extreme? I’ve actually come to know of quite a few people via the work that I do who have tried to “get attention” by attempting suicide in the hopes that someone would notice them. I wonder how many suicides are just that, someone thinking they are doing something to get attention but they actually end up dying. Pay attention! Here is what I recommend to all parents who tell me that their child is saying they are going to kill themselves for attention. Tell them you need to take any statement like that seriously and ask if they are serious. If they say that they are, take them to the hospital. Here’s the thing, I know you might say to yourself, “I don’t want to waste the time of the hospital personnel” or, “This kid is trying to waste my time.” Take them to the hospital. Tell them you love them and that you have to take this threat seriously. Sit with them for the hours it takes to be seen. If they are not suicidal, they will be so bored and so over it that by the time you have finished with it, they will never want to have to do that again. You will have nipped a nasty reaction in the bud. The alternative when you take them to the hospital is finding out that they were, in fact, serious and you took them right where they needed to be anyway.

Here’s the thing about the hospital. They are busy. They don’t want to take your child, your friend, spouse, etc. unless they think they need to. Just like they are not looking to keep people for any extra time after surgery, they are not looking to take in people who do not actually need to be there, so please do not worry, the person you take will not be admitted unless they need to be, in which case, you did the right thing.

Warning signs

Other times, you may have someone who you care about who you fear may be suicidal and not telling. Maybe they have had a series of unfortunate circumstances or are having a mental health issue, like a depressive episode. Here are some warning signs that a person is more likely to consider suicide as an option:

  • They have had recent loss such as a death in the family, ending of a significant relationship or loss of a job.
  • They have a history of depression. Depression is characterized in adolescents differently than it is in adults. Adults tend to have a loss of interest in their usual activities, difficulty attending to tasks, a sense of hopelessness. In children and adolescents, depression more often manifests as irritability and anger.
  • They have friends or family members who have committed suicide.
  • They have mentioned, even just in passing, that they should just kill themselves, or that they wish they could die. Sometimes they may talk about everyone being better off without them.
  • They suddenly begin giving away important items you would not expect them to give away and seem to be suddenly peaceful after a period of difficulty.
  • They begin to isolate themselves from friends and family members.
  • They have increased alcohol or drug use and/or impulsive or reckless behaviors.
  • They have previously attempted suicide in the past.

If you notice any of these symptoms, please take these next steps to ensure that your loved one is safe. Better safe than sorry, as they say. It is especially true in this case.

Stay tuned, next week I will write about what to do to support someone if you fear they are suicidal. In the meantime, here are a few resources.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

How to Know When You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)

October 4, 2012 Posted by | keeping children safe, Suicide | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Children Are Not Protected By Homophobic Laws

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of blogging for LGBT families day today, which I learned about from Dana Rudolph, over at Mombian.com, I am going to post about the importance of acceptance for all families.  I believe this is my first post that will be considered political, however, there are some things as a therapist, and as a human, that we can not allow to idly slip by without comment.  As best I can, I intend to make this post informative rather than preachy.  You will have to let me know how I do.

As my regular readers know, many of the families I work with are created through adoption.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you also may know that I was raised by my mother, my father and my father’s husband.  In case that is confusing to you, as it has been to so many, my father is gay.

For the past eight years, I have traveled to my state capitol twice a year, first to testify against the Defense of Marriage Act, then, a few years later, to testify for the Civil Marriage Protection Act in front of both the State House of Representatives, as well as the State Senate.  Since my father began his relationship with his husband over thirty years ago, I’ve come to know a little bit about being in a family that is outside the norm and it helps me in my work with families formed through adoption.

In my state, Maryland, as we speak, there are quite a few people interested in the topic of gay marriage.  Earlier this year, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, the bill I mentioned earlier, was passed and signed into law with a start date next year.  This bill makes marriage between same-sex couples legal.  As you could probably predict, this has a few people pretty riled up.  It’s a pretty sure bet that the law will be taken to referendum and we will be voting on whether it will actually be enacted or not this coming November at the same time that we vote for the presidential candidates.  Please pause now for a moment to consider how it would feel for your family to be voted on.  That is how I feel.  Now, take a moment to feel that way and add to it the knowledge that in each and every state that has had a similar vote on your family, the people voted against acknowledging the union of your parents.  In case you are having a hard time putting that one together, let me sum it up for you.  It sucks.  But enough about feelings, let’s talk about facts.

As a social worker, it is my job to support and protect families and the safety and security of children.  By legally recognizing all families, we are protecting not only the couples, but the children of those couples.  The example I am about to give may seem counter-intuitive, but please allow me to break down how this works by giving you a composite of a few families I have worked with over the years presenting a situation I have seen too many times.  As you read it, please remember, I’m a therapist so I see people who are going through a hard time:

Susan, an attorney, and Vanessa, a former educator, then stay-at-home-mother, have been together for 15 years.  Seven years ago, they decided to adopt a child from another country that does not allow same-sex couples to adopt.  Consequently, the couple decided that the person that looked best on paper, and who had the best health benefits package through work, would be the one to adopt.  Susan adopted their daughter, Kayla, as a single parent and the couple planned that once she was formally adopted by Susan, they would get a second-parent adoption, which is legal in Maryland, so that Vanessa would be legally recognized as  Kayla’s mother.  After adopting Kayla, as happens to all parents, life sped up.  The second parent adoption didn’t happen.  Susan and Vanessa needed to pay for unanticipated costs like speech and mental health therapy for Kayla.  Vanessa knew she was Kayla’s mom and assumes that Susan honors that as well.  After all, Vanessa stays home to care for Kayla and, were they in a traditional family, she does a lot of what we would call the “primary caretaking” for Kayla.

That is why, when Susan tells Vanessa that she has decided to end the relationship, Vanessa is shocked!  Remember, Susan is an attorney, she quickly enlists the help of friends to create a custody agreement, reminding Vanessa that she has not been legally recognized as a parent to Kayla.  Vanessa realizes she has little or no recourse but to sign the agreement.  After all, Susan has all the money, and Vanessa can no longer offer to be a stay-at-home mother to Kayla since she will not be getting spousal support.  After speaking to an attorney, Vanessa finds out that in Maryland, the law has rarely recognized the “de-facto” parent, which is the only recognition Vanessa could hope to get at this point.  Vanessa is devastated as she sees Susan meet a new woman who then begins to parent Kayla as well, while she watches her own relationship with Kayla diminish before her eyes.   While you are imagining what this does to Susan, please imagine what this does to Kayla as well!  Whereas children with married parents who are divorcing have the protection of the law, which recognizes their legal relationship to both parents, Kayla is left watching not only the relationship between her parents dissolve, but her relationship with her primary parent diminish as well.

I know it seems strange to make a case for marriage by highlighting the protections for children of divorced parents.   I actually debated for a while before writing that example, because, you see, as an adult raised by gay men, I feel pressure to say that our families are the best in response to all the attacks we get and the headlines I see everyday like this one and this one.  But the truth is, our families are just like all the others.  We have happy and sad times, times of wealth and of poverty, and ups and downs in relationships.  We don’t always act in ways that we wish later that we feel good about in hindsight.  I will point out for the record that Massachusetts, the state where same-sex marriage has been legal the longest, has the lowest divorce rate of all the states so this is not a typical situation by any means.  But it does highlight the need for protection for children.

After all, marriage isn’t only about loving each other.  In the way it is constructed in the United States, it is not solely a religious recognition of a relationship either.  It is also about legal protection, and the rights of families that are connected via marriage, like it or not.  My father and his husband have spent thousands of dollars over the years to have the same civil protections that my husband and I had the day we married almost 13 years ago.

Now that we are looking at the cost to the children of having parents who are not allowed to have a legally recognized relationship, let us also take a quick look at the research as well.  I will note here that all professional mental health organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  Also, in a report released last year titled, “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” recent research showed that among other things:

  • Children in LGBT families, while overall they have the same incidence of mental health issues as other children, they are more likely to have a mental health issue in states where their families are not recognized.
  • Children in LGBT families have more fear than other children that their families will be broken up.
  • There are still states where children are left in foster care even though there are LGBT parents willing to adopt them because the state does not allow LGBT parents to adopt.
  • Children with LGBT parents are more likely to be denied adequate assistance from the state, since their entire family is not legally recognized, the state does not always take all family members into account when providing assistance and may give families headed by LGBT couples less financial help.
  • Children with LGBT parents are not financially protected when a non-legally recognized parent is injured or killed.

You can find a good break-down of this report here.

A final thought about this topic.  The argument I hear over and over, even from people who know I have same-sex parents is that they want to protect their children from knowing about same-sex couples.  Parents reason that, while they do not want children with same-sex parents to be discriminated against, neither do they want their children learning in school that being gay is “normal or acceptable.”  People really say these things to me.  My response, if I am being honest is this: Being gay is not about sex.  Get your brain out of the bedroom!  What makes a relationship is not what you do in there!  A relationship is made from mutual love, care and respect.  And really, is your concern that your child’s school is going to teach about how gay people have sex?  Let’s get real.  Schools don’t teach about how straight people have sex.  That’s a debate for another day.

If you are worried about how your child is going to respond to knowing that gay people exist, I wish you could see the video (it has since been removed from youtube) of little Calen when he first meets a gay man who says he has a husband.  It was an endearing little video.  Here is an excerpt of the transcript (read it with the lisp of a four or five-year old):

“I usually see husbands and wives…but this is the first time I’ve seen husbands and husbands. How funny. So, that means you love each other? Yeah. You’re much alike — you’re much alike. Okay I’m going to play ping-pong now. You can play if you want to.”

Yup, that’s pretty much how it goes.  I hope your kids can handle all that struggle :).

What do you struggle with when it comes to this issue?  Let’s have a discussion here for anyone that is interested.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | keeping children safe, Parenting | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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