The courage to say hard things

Quite some time ago, someone was talking to me about one of her children and said something oblique that led me to understand her daughter had been molested.  It wasn’t my place to inquire and I don’t know the specifics but my impression was it was an early level by someone who was grooming her.  I wasn’t sure from the way the mother was speaking if she realized the significance of what she was saying.  In a later conversation I came to feel that although the mother knew what had happened, she wasn’t understanding how central this was to the issues her daughter was having.   As a result, she wasn’t taking steps to protect her daughter from a situation that was developing because of the lack of this awareness.

This put me in an uncomfortable situation because it’s not fun to bring to someone’s awareness something so sensitive, especially when your opinion isn’t being directly asked for – she was asking for my feedback on something that she didn’t think was related.  I knew she valued my opinion but still…to call it a touchy topic is a big understatement.   But when there’s a child at risk, you can’t just stand by the side and say, ‘tsk, tsk’ later on when something happens.  I told her it seems there is a potential perpetrator in her daughter’s life  and that her daughter was at a very high risk of being sexually abused unless steps are taken to protect her.   Thankfully she was receptive.

I’m bringing this up because I was thinking about why so often good people see something wrong and stand by and do nothing – including me.  We don’t like being uncomfortable so usually we ignore things we see rather than take action, or blame the victim because they made us uncomfortable and it’s easier to blame them than to exert ourselves to actually do something to help.

I was concerned about a different situation and for months thought about how to approach the mother without making her defensive.  I told myself that she probably wouldn’t listen to me, that she didn’t have the resources to change the situation, that she was well-intended, that I was imagining things, that the situation wasn’t really as bad as I thought, there were other people closer to them who would say something, the school would get involved.  Basically, I made excuses to avoid doing anything that would make me and her parents uncomfortable.

Even though I told myself this, I knew I was making excuses and making the parents’ emotions more important than the child’s.  I was afraid this would be unpleasant for the mother to hear and I didn’t want to be the messenger.  I saw a child who was being impacted by a situation and I wasn’t doing anything to help because I was more worried about what her mother would think of me than about what her child needed, and this lack of personal integrity weighed on me so heavily it was like a physical weight.

I tried to think of ways to help from outside the situation  but everything required me to speak to the mother and come up with solutions together with her.  Finally I asked the mother if we could meet.  I really don’t think conversations like this should be had in any way except in person, it’s just too delicate.  She couldn’t.  I asked if we could speak by phone.  She wanted to know about what.  In an email I very briefly shared my concerns.  She emailed back and said the situation is being taken care of and to never mention this to her again.

Sometimes you can help and sometimes you can’t.  But I don’t want to let an unpleasant response keep me from having the courage to step up the next time I have the ability to help.  Usually being brave requires facing things that we don’t want to face.  Sometimes being brave is being willing to hear hard things.  As unpleasant as facing our fears is, it’s still much easier than living with the results of not listening to our conscience.


8 thoughts on “The courage to say hard things

  1. I think you were extremely brave to confront her, even though it will likely be awkward and uncomfortable in the future. Although it hurts to be pushed away when you have only the best interests of the child in mind, it’s better to do your hishtadlus to help the child and risk making an “enemy” of the mother than to potentially allow such horrific damage to happen to the child.

  2. You likely still made a difference even though it didn’t seem like it from her response. I’m sure she respects you and just that you brought it up shows her that you care and that whatever it is needs to be fully addressed and maybe now it will be addressed more fully than had you not said anything. So I’ll bet you did more than you realize.


  3. I was in a similar situation, sort of. A neighbor’s 10 year old kid had molested my little kid. I was able to handle my child and what my child was going through, but I needed to tell the parents of the molestor what their kid was doing, and that it was likely that their kid was molested as well… It took a lot of courage to tell the parents what happened, and their response was very “ok thanks”, not much more than that, and since then, our relationship cooled off tremendously. But you know what? I’m happy that I told them anyhow, because I’ve seen clues from random things, that this little kid of theirs is now getting the needed help… It was worth the current awkwardness with the neighbor.

    1. It’s so hard when you extend yourself in that way and then you get so disappointing a response. I’m glad you’ve been able to support your child and it’s great that despite their response to you that they’ve gotten help for their child, too.

      (Sorry for delayed response – I just found a bunch of comments waiting for approval that I didn’t see come in from a while back.)

  4. One of the things that really upsets me about society is that people are, on the whole, unwilling to risk opening their mouths when they see something needing to be addressed. Not just in parenting. I understand why it happens, but I see it as a cost of living in a modern, disconnected world. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your trying to address people forthright despite that great discomfort. Seriously, thank you!

  5. Thank you for writing this piece. I made a choice to risk a good friendship with my neighbour because I witnessed neglect in her household (leaving young children at home without supervision). She did not take my observations well and we are now just on neighbourly terms. Everytime I see her, I wonder if I did the right thing…

    1. I think you did the right thing…you can’t make someone make good choices, but we each play a part in the kind of world we want to live in by what we choose to ignore and what we choose to respond to. You made a move toward a world in which children are protected and cherished.

  6. Beautiful introspective post. This is the true testament of the ideal friendship. However, based on your personal experiences (as you have so eloquently posted in the past) with some of the medical,therapeutic/educational culture in Israel (as well as my own) , I believe it is vital to make sure the proper supports would even be available to this family if geographically and culturally relevant. The resources available for children who have multiple intelligences, learning differences and various medical needs while maintaining the comfort of having a religious Anglo doctors, therapists, Ravs, organizations and Torah shuirs which value the same research, methodology and chinuch ideals must be in place for any positive growth to take place. I miss everyone more then words can say, but wouldn’t trade RBS for the world! Being without the supports one is accustomed to the first few years of Klita with older children is very difficult.

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