My self-care tips through CSE – parent’s advice

CSE can easily become all-consuming in the strain it puts on our families. We want to fight against everything and everyone that is threatening our child, and rightly so. But it’s really important to remember that we will be dealing with the after-effects of CSE for years with our child, and so we need to approach our battle strategically.

You are, quite possibly, the only one who will fight for your child, so it is vital that you look after yourself so you will be strong enough to do this long term.

When I first became aware of CSE with my daughter I had such overwhelming anger towards the exploiters, and I had no outlet for that because I couldn’t get to them. This spilled over into anger with Social Services, anger with the police and justice system, anger with the government, and even anger with my own daughter. So I wasted a lot of vital time and energy in fighting battles that I didn’t need to fight. I’m sure most parents can identify with sleepless nights, writing complaints and appeals just to be doing something, anything, that might help. At my lowest point, when I had just placed my daughter into care, I was sleeping two or three hours a night. I was barely speaking to my daughter, my marriage fell apart, I was neglecting the emotional needs of my younger son, and I felt like I was just going through the motions of everyday life without really being there. People close to me thought I was going to have a breakdown, so I realised that something had to change.

I went to my GP who referred me for counselling, and my counsellor eventually helped me to recognise the need for self-care. Just taking half an hour out of my day, two or three times a week, to do something for myself. It took a long time for me to do this, to even feel worthy of looking after myself was really hard for me. I had been consumed by CSE for so long, that I felt I didn’t have any identity left that was separate from that. When my counsellor asked what my hobbies and interests were I genuinely didn’t know, because I didn’t have any! Anything that I could think of doing, I felt guilty because I should have been doing it with my daughter. The first time I went to the cinema without her, I think I cried through the whole movie. But I went! I learned some simple mindfulness techniques which helped with my sleeping, and I learned only to fight the battles that were most important.

My relationship with my daughter started to improve as I was less tense. I had more time for my son, because I could finally relax and do normal things with him again. Having a life outside of CSE gave me a much better perspective because I could see things more objectively for once. When you’re in the middle of a storm you are fighting just for survival every second. You can’t think clearly and you are reacting rather than being proactive. Once you take a step back it becomes much clearer to see what is going on and to be in control of the situation again. You can win the war, but only if you equip yourself properly to do so.

Ideas of activities for self-care:

  • Go for a walk alone while listening to your favourite music
  • Go out for a coffee on your own
  • Book a massage or manicure
  • Write a journal that has nothing to do with CSE
  • Switch off your phone and have a bubble bath
  • Practice mindfulness using a YouTube video
  • Go for a swim, run, or whatever physical activity you enjoy
  • Write down things you are thankful for.

For more information about mindfulness and self-care, have a look at this helpful booklet produced by the Birmingham Rape and Sexual Violence project.