Monday, May 13, 2013

VERY IMPORTANT POST ! I want to hear from my readers...

I must share this comment with my readers because, in my opinion, this is the crux of the problem.  Silencing victims is what allows perpetrators of abuse to go unstopped for years, and allows innocent children to continue to be hurt:

 

"My heart aches for victims of abuse. I cry for what you say you have been through. To think that one person would be abused by so many, is scary at the very least! I do have a concern about your mental health though. I understand you are working on yourself which is amazing. I do not think, that you should be a caregiver to children though, until you get through the healing.
Am I the only parent who is now worried about you? This is very scary."


This is an excellent question that must be addressed if we are to understand trauma and recovery.  If we are to understand how we are to possibly keep our children safe in a world full of survivors and perpetrators.

Protecting Our Children From Abuse

Are survivors of abuse safe with children?
How can we, as parents, know this?

I don't think the poster of this comment knows me.  I don't think s/he realizes that by going public about my past, and using my real name, (My husband is a tzadik!   He is my number one support and inspiration!) I put myself at risk of losing my parnasa, and my reputation.  I am doing this to prevent child abuse, and to encourage other survivors to speak out without shame, and to heal.

I will in some form always be dealing with recovery from trauma. This is true for all survivors of trauma. The idea of 'getting through the healing' is based on a false premise that there is a finite schedule for healing.

Child sexual abuse is a severe trauma that must be dealt with.  Like the death of a parent or sibling, like divorce, like natural disasters, or any kind of childhood trauma, the affects must be acknowledged, discussed, and felt.  The losses mourned.  Survivors of childhood trauma who go through this process emerge stronger, healthier, and more sensitive to children.  They are highly unlikely to willingly cause pain to another child.  It is survivors (of any kind of trauma) who can not acknowledge and process what happened to them who are in danger of passing the pain along to the next generation.  Both of my parents, are an example of this.  Neither of them could acknowledge to me, even privately, how badly they were hurt as children.   Yet, they both told me in their own way.  In a way that denied, minimized and rationalized the hurt that they undoubtedly experienced and passed along to me. For years I held the pain for my whole family.

I asked myself more than once, If my parents and others, who outwardly seemed like healthy normal people, (some would argue this point, but the reality is there are 650 children who's parents do seem comfortable sending their children to T.I in Baltimore ) so blindly hurt me, and so blindly deny my pain, how do I know I won't repeat the behavior that I learned at home, even inadvertently?  How do I know that I can trust myself with children?

This question was brought home to me when I was twenty five and I was caring for a little girl with Downs Syndrome. Her mother, a lawyer, had to do some pro-bono work as part of her training and was required to defend a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.
The perpetrator's defense was that he himself was abused as a child therefore he should be pitied and not punished.  This is not an acceptable defense in my opinion.

Although many abusers have themselves been abused,  most survivors of abuse do NOT grow up to be abusers. This is a very important difference.  Using child abuse as a defense for evil behavior, contributes to the re-victimization of most survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who would never dream of causing similar pain to another child.

The mother of the little girl with Downs Syndrome found out I was a survivor and expressed her concerns. Her daughter was only two years old and had communication issues. How would she know her daughter was safe if she didn't speak? She asked to speak to my therapist, who reassured her that she did not believe that I posed any danger to her daughter. The mother was just fine with this but I wasn't.  I was hurt and scared.
I felt re victimized. Was I damaged goods?  Did I have to keep the abuse a secret because people are going to brand and judge me as a potential perpetrator because of my past?  Isn't this just what the perpetrators hopes will happen?  What if they are right and I shouldn't be trusted with children?   I quite the job, and stopped working in chinuch for a couple of years as I explored the answer to this question in therapy.
The irony of this story is that the caregiver who was hired to replace me was a friend of mine who was also a survivor, but kept it a secret...The mother never knew.  What we don't know may not hurt us...
But then again, it may.

I believed then and still believe today that a parent should not leave their child with a caregiver whose safety they doubt.
Statistically one out of every four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, usually by someone her parents know and trust. Math has never been my strong subject, but that would seem to mean that in my class of twenty five Bais Yaakov girls, about six of us are survivors of child sexual abuse. My guess is that I'm the only one who talks about it openly. Considering the number of Bais Yaakov girls who go into chinuch, it's likely that my survivor classmates have been, or are currently teachers of children. Think about this:  Out of every four female teachers (and every five male) your child has, one is likely a survivor of child sexual abuse...You just don't know it.  They are probably more sensitive to children than most. My point is that child sexual abuse is very common.  Way too common. 

Most of us are not privy to our children's teachers' past traumas. Parents need to trust their gut. If you have doubts about the basic safety of your child's caregiver, seek a caregiver you feel confident with.  Don't doubt yourself!

Anyone in child care, in chinuch, is in a position of power over our children. This is an incredible responsibility. Parents and children in my gan know that there is one basic rule. My Gan is a safe place for bodies and feelings. Period. If this rule is broken we have a problem whose solution must be satisfactory for all involved. The children in my Gan have the same emotional rights as adults. The right to be listened to and heard. The right to be treated with respect. The right to make choices, take risks, make mistakes. The right to decide about their own body. The children in my Gan learn very quickly that no one, including me, or anyone else in their life, even and especially people who love them and care for them, is allowed to touch them in a way that scares them or makes them uncomfortable. If this ever happens we talk about it. A lot. We process it and discuss it. 

A child came in crying that he went to the doctor and got a shot. He was angry. Why was it OK for the doctor to hurt and scare them when he was taught that no one is allowed to ever hurt and scare him? Why would their parents allow this? We talked about how this one situation might be an exception, and why it is different. We validated the anger and the hurt. It is not a secret.
There are so many opportunities to educate our children about personal boundaries.   In my Gan it is an important part of the curriculum as I believe it should be in every Gan, school, and home.
“He hit me!”
I don't let anyone hit you. It's your body. No one is allowed to treat you that way. Can you tell him by yourself, or should we tell him together?"
“She's tickeling me and I said no!”
"Listen to her words. She doesn't like that tickeling game. It's not fun for her. A good game is fun for both people"
“She's grabbing my toy!”
"Tell her to stop.  Let's remind her to ask you for the toy and then wait and see what you say."
If a child is crying and pushes away a hug from ME I say:
 
 "You don't want a hug right now? It's OK. (It's your body and you decide.) Is their another way I can help you feel better?"
This is how we educate our children from day one about personal boundaries. By modeling that respect. By treating them like people with real feelings and ideas and rights, not just dependent, needy beings who we have to control and keep in line. Our children's neshamas are sensitive to every nuance, to everything we say and do to them. We do not own them. They are not pets to be “taught and trained.” I have seen children treated this way in so many Ganim and so many schools.   I believe that by changing this currently accepted culture to unacceptable, we can prevent a lot of child abuse.

I will say this about myself, my Gan, and any other educator and educational institution. If you doubt your child's safety it is not the right environment for your child. Trust yourself as a parent. Don't think, "So many people trust her, it must be OK. I have concerns about a. or b.but it must be me.  It's my problem."

This is absolutely wrong!

You are the parent and it is your responsibility to keep your child as safe as possible.  To do this important job you must trust yourself and your child.  My Gan tends to attract parents who trust and respect themselves and their children. 

The following true story illustrates how important it is not only to listen, but to really hear our children.  Not to react with panic and fear when they share something upsetting with us but to try to understand, and help them understand, the message.

 A number of years ago a parent approached me flustered and upset. Her son came home and told her that one of my teachers hit him. Her son did not understand Hebrew well and did not feel totally comfortable with this exclusively Hebrew speaking staff member. The mother was concerned that the teacher had lost patience because her five year old because he didn't understand her. The mother told me she knows how important child safety is to me. She knows I trust my teachers and wouldn't hire someone who would hit a child. So, her son is probably is mistaken, right?
I said, "Absolutely not.  Children say things for a reason.  Did you ask your son for more details about what happened?"
"No.  I wasn't sure how to talk to him about it."
 I sat the little boy down and we had the following important conversation:
“I heard this teacher hit you yesterday.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Can you show me where?”
“Yes. Here on my leg.”
Can you tell me what she hit you with? Was it her hand?
“No. it was the slide.”
“She hit you with the slide?”
“Yes. I was being wild on the slide on top of Moishe, and she pulled me off and the slide and it hit me right here on my leg.”
“Oh, that must have hurt!”
“It did. I told my mommy what happened.”
“Good for you!  You knew just what to do! Telling your mommy was so smart!
Should we ask her this teacher to be more careful with your body?”
“Yes. You tell her.”
“OK, I will...”
Pause.
“You know, I was wondering... I think the teacher might have been worried that Moishe couldn't breathe under you. Next time this teacher's worried about safety can you listen to her words so she doesn't feel like she needs to pull you?
“OK.”
Did you understand what she was telling you?
“yeah, but it was so fun, I just didn't want to get up!”
Our children are brilliant but they have less experience then we do and they need our guidance. We can not always take everything a young child says literally. But we must listen very carefully to them to find out their truth...If our children know they will be listened to, heard, and understood, they are more likely tell us when something is wrong. Our tefillot and our relationship with our children are our only hope.

11 comments:

  1. Genendy, Excellent explanation and examples of the problem and its solution. I wish I would have had those when I was raising my children. Here in Baltimore, I have seen the wholesome children that have come out of your Gan. I'm glad you trust yourself and are sharing your knowledge with the rest of the community. Hatzlacha rabbah! Keep up the great work!

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  2. This is so well put, so thoroughly explained, Genendy.
    Having known you and known people and kids who've been thro your Gan, I can attest to your incredible ability to create a safe, playful and respectful environment at the Gan.
    The fact that you can be that safe adult for kids shows how self-aware you are, the deep work you have done on yourself.
    Few adults, ie parents and teachers, have done this spiritual, intellectual and emotional work, and then put it into practice so well.
    May you go from strength to strength with Hashems help.

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  3. How brave of you to put yourself out on a limb once again and address the question head-on for the benefit of all survivors!

    Genendy, I can't say this enough: You are the best, most caring, most respectful, safest ganenet our children have ever had and without exaggeration the only ganenet we have met who acknowledges and respects children's boundaries, both physical and emotional. My only regret is that our older children didn't have the opportunity to attend your gan. (So thanks for all you're doing for them now; they are learning so much from you!)

    Chani

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  4. Genendy, wonderful article, well written and i love the examples you used about the child on the slide.
    its very sad that a person who has been through such horrors should have to feel they need to be quiet so they wont be mistrusted. i think its great that you are talking about your experiences in this way, and hopefully gaining support too.. my child had a great year in your gan. she was definitely safe with you!!! no doubt about it.

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  5. Devorah Schendler, Ph.D.May 17, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    Anyone who has had the privilege to send their child to your gan knows with absolute confidence that you are the most nurturing, safe, and respectful of boundaries ganenet around. As a clinical psychologist and mother, I have learned so much from you about how to effectively and respectfully communicate with my children. I often ask myself “how would Genendy speak to the children in this situation?” You teach the children how to politely, sensitively, and successfully express their likes and dislikes, get their needs met, and resolve social conflicts. Your gan is not just a safe environment, but it is an environment that fosters within the children the tools needed to promote their own safety even when they are no longer under your care. If anyone has any doubt about your safety, they should come and see your gan for themselves. Your open door policy for parents and others to observe you at any time is because you have nothing to hide-in fact you have everything to be proud of! Looking forward to continuing to send my children to your gan for many years to come!

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  6. I heartily agree with everything Devorah Schendler wrote in her comment above. Having sent three of my precious children to your gan (and having sent to many other ganim), there is simply no one I trust more to be respectful and sensitive toward them. My mothering has also been profoundly influenced by your example- "I can't let you do that because our home is safe for bodies and feelings," is something I probably say at least once a day!
    As a therapist, I also agree that it's people who have been abused and NOT PROCESSED IT that may pose a risk to others. You are the polar opposite of this. Having experienced the ultimate danger as a child, you are devoting yourself to creating ultimate safety for children. With admiration, Miriam

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  7. We implicitly trust Genendy more than any teacher we have had in 18 years of parenting. Anyone who has doubts as to the the safety of Genendys gan should feel welcome to join her gan for a day, a week, a month...Her unique open door policy is a sure sign of the open and safe environment of her gan. But beware because once you enter her gan you may not want to leave! You will find yourself in a truly amazing, vibrant and exciting learning environment. Her enthusiasm for learning and teaching is contagious! Her thirst for of knowledge, curiosity about the world we live in, her desire to explore and experience learning with the children is remarkable. The hands on type of learning which takes place in Genendy's gan is enough to make it far superior to any gan I've ever sent to but the aspect which really makes her gan the most special place to be is her overwhelming love and respect for the children. Each child feels special in her gan as Genendy gently and beautifully enables them to channel their unique strengths AND weaknesses. The "bossy" child is holding a clip board with a check sheet of the gan kids, organizing clean up time. The "wild" boy is allowed his own time to jump on a trampoline or swing on a rope. The "aggressive" child is gently taught to come up with alternative solutions to their conflicts. Every child is a world onto himself and that is how Genendy sees each child in her gan. I could go on and on but I guess the real subject at hand is whether Genendy's gan is a safe place for children which in our eyes seems like the most ludicrous question! Genendy is the most honest, respectful, loving, fun and creative friend, mother and teacher we have ever met and her gan is the most wonderful, safe place for our children. Our entire family has grown from having her as part of our life. May she be blessed with many, many more years of teaching us and our children.

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  8. Dvora Shmulewitz Sanders, Ph.D.May 20, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    As Genendy stated so well (and so respectfully, as this is how she treats everyone!), and as many of the previous comments confirm, her gan is a place where children are respected, nurtured, and loved in a safe and fun environment.

    As a scientist who researches risk factors for psychiatric disorders, I agree that someone who experienced severe childhood trauma and subsequent psychiatric disease, but who has not dealt with these issues, would probably worry me as a caregiver for a child. But Genendy has faced these issues and spent many years working through them and strengthening herself in the process; she is probably the safest person to take care of our children. After going through the experiences she described, Genendy would never treat a child in any way that would impinge upon the child's safety, self-respect, or self-confidence, as she has a real and deep understanding of the pain and damage that an adult can cause, more so than others who have not had her experiences. The proof of this is that Genendy could have kept quiet - and then no one would be "worried" or "scared" - but she cares more about our precious children than about herself, and by talking about her experiences, thereby helping to protect other children, I am sure she will save lives! Genendy, keep up your amazing work, both as the best ganenet we've ever met, and as a champion of our children, the biggest gifts we have.

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  9. I wanted to post, but couldn't see exactly where to do so. So I'm writing below and you can post it:

    My family and I have lived in the same building as Genendy for the past 8 years. For years I listed to the sounds of the children in her gan happily playing on her balcony, listed to Genendy nurturing the kids curiosity and creativity, as the sounds drifted down from her balcony down to mine. For years I would joke that I just wanted to have a kid, so that I could send him/her to her gan. Well thank God my wishes came true and as soon as I could, I sent my beloved son to Genendy gan. I could rave all day about the fabulous years he was there. What a phenomenal place, thanks to Genendy's patience, love, wisdom, guidance, creativity, sense of adventure, in a nutshell – she is an educator par excellence.

    Genendy, when you told me about your past I just could not believe it. I couldn't believe that anyone who went through such a horrific experience could come out of it so "normal". You are so fun and interesting to be with, and such a fabulous wife, mother, friend and teacher.

    Genendy in the years I've known you I have come to love and admire you as a good friend who was there for me in difficult times, an educator – most of my child rearing philosophy is learned from you, my neighbour – sharing Shabbes meals and afternoon chats (not enough!!), and my hero – what you have lived through and how you survived, and the incredibly whole and beautiful balanced person you are today is incredibly inspiring.



    As you move on this difficult and frightening path I bless you with courage and strength. And please always remember that I, and so many other "fans" will always be there for you!!

    Love you,

    Mandy Gaziel

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  10. Dear Concerned Parent,
    Genendy is the most caring ,devoted and honest preschool teacher I have met.
    Any child in her care is lucky to have her.
    You will not find a better advocate for children anywhere.
    Genendy is gifted in her ability to understand and relate to children.
    She is also dedicated to deepening relationships between children and there parents.
    One parent told me she wishes she knew Genendy when her older kids were young .
    She says she learned so much after she sent her younger children to Genendys.
    A very close friend of mine considers time spent with her son at Genendys gan learning time.
    She says that the skills she has acquired through Genendy have had a profound positive impact on her entire family.
    Before sending my children anywhere,I did lots of research and spoke to many parents,I heard the most amazing things about Genendys Gan and was not disappointed when I met her three years ago.
    I spend alot of time with my children,and trust my instincts.
    I read my children well,they love Genendy and feel very safe with her.
    That means more than all the research in the world.
    By the way my husbands grandmother is a Holocaust survivor,she is deeply loved by her children,grandchildren,and great grandchildren.
    I always thought of her as loving,devoted to her family.
    The things she says she has experienced seem very scary at the least.
    Do you think I should keep my kids away from her.
    Should my decision be based on her horrific experiences,or on her behavior level of functioning and personality.
    Do you think that survivors who are dedicated to educating the public about their experiances
    are mentally deficient.
    Miriam Sprecher RN ,BSN,
    Ramat Beit Shemesh

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  11. I want to address Miriam Sprecher's comment. As a child of a holocaust survivor, I did not hear about anything that happened to my father until I was married. Then he openly talked about what happened. My respect was able to grow immensely then, because as an adult, I was able to see that a person who went through such horrors and still remained an erlich Jew was a true Tzaddik. If I would have known what he went through as a kid, I think I would have been visualizing the horrors as he told them as opposed to just imagining them. If your grandmother is a loving human being, denying her the grandchildren would be a horrible slap in the face. You can ask her gently not to discuss what she went through because they are too young to understand now. Perhaps, video her, so she can release it, and so that you have visual testimony-which can be brought to Yad Vashem. If there is one thing here that is clear from this blog, it is that talking about trauma is the first step in healing. Your grandmother is amazing that she went through the Shoah and is in your own words deeply loved and devoted to her family. So many other survivors ended up neglected or abandoned, or are living in a state of miserable poverty, unloved and unwanted. Your grandmother sounds very special indeed!

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