An interview with Shadi Johnston, LMHC
This Mother’s Day, we honor all the mothers out there who are survivors of sexual violence. We sat down with Shadi Johnston—our senior clinician and Clinical Intern Program manager, as well as a mother of three herself—to talk about her work with mothers.
In your work with survivors, how have you seen a mother’s experience of sexual violence affect their experience of parenting?
I think that oftentimes this is what brings some survivors in. In some cases, they're already a parent and there are some things that are triggering them, or they're thinking about becoming a parent and have some concerns. I think the number one way I’ve seen it affect mothers is around their trust in themselves, the world, and others. How do they trust to let their children out into the world or even just into child care? They're worried about their own judgment and their ability to care for their children. And they're also worried about other people and how they’re interacting with their child. Often mothers who have children around the same age as they were when they were assaulted need to process and discuss their feelings.
What are some of the strengths you see in mothers who are survivors?
I’ve seen mothers who are much more cognizant about letting their kids have autonomy over their bodies and their own boundaries. They’re often far more aware of checking in with their children around saying no and what they're comfortable with in a way that's very unique. I also think that they are able to advocate for their children in a way that they weren’t able to advocate for themselves, so I think that those kids then have a sort of extra layer of protection and also that extra layer of autonomy.
What are some of things you share with these mothers?
I like to remind them of all of the ways that they are wonderful, capable, strong parents. And that they have the opportunity to write their own story with their child. They can make meaning of their experience by being an empowering parent and caring for their children maybe in a way that weren’t cared for. They have the opportunity to model for their children what is safe and what is healthy. Often, survivors have this doubt in themselves. They lose trust in themselves, and so I want to remind them that their experience actually gives them a unique perspective that can give their children a very strong foundation in the world. They can empower their children to be strong individuals who can set boundaries for themselves and know that it's okay to do that.
What do you want to say to survivors who are mothers on this Mother’s Day?
You have a lot to give your child. Trust yourself, because you know your child the best. You, as a mother, are a gift to your child. And if you need or want more support to be the mother you want to be, you deserve it. Please reach out to us here at BARCC.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Survivors who are mothers are some of my favorite clients to work with. A lot of healing can come through parenting. Motherhood can also give survivors a sense of purpose and of ownership over their own lives. It’s really unique and beautiful. The strength and wisdom I see in these women in particular is amazing.
If you are a parent who is a survivor (or has a child who is a survivor) and you need support, please contact us! You can call our 24-7 hotline at 800-841-8371 or request an appointment.