(finally adding this installment to this blog… This entire series was originally done elsewhere, but I felt it warranted repeating here.)
Alright, here we go – the last in this series, and in many ways, the easiest, yet in others, the hardest. It’s also the LONGEST!
I have shared my history, and how I was an easy target and some of the things that made me “easy” prey. I know many of you have gone through similar – and often worse – hells, and you know the feelings, the thoughts, the fear.
But this isn’t about getting through it, or getting over it. I’ve been there and done that. This isn’t about a group therapy session of sharing our pain, telling our stories and reliving our nightmares in order to release them. I shared what I did to let you all know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and hopefully to let you know that when I speak of those signs parents should be looking for, and tell you those things I am doing to help my kids stay safe, it’s because I KNOW – I know from a child’s eyes what it is to be abused.
And so, here we go…
There are countless Web sites out there extolling the virtues of teaching “stranger danger” and how to teach a child to “say NO” and all about inappropriate touching. There are programs you can attend, books and DVDs you can buy, self-defense courses you can enroll in and so much more. Some of the programs I’ve seen seem to be guaranteed to protect your kids, but they also seem pretty guaranteed to teach your children to live in fear and to go to their wedding beds thinking of sex as some horrid, dirty, shameful thing that is going to hurt like hell. Yeah, great. Just what I want for my kidlettes.
While my kids are still “kids” – my daughter will be 13 next month, and my son is only 10 – so far, they have remained “safe” and I am confident that they feel comfortable coming to me with any problems. My daughter already DID come to me once, and I am very proud of how she handled the situation, during and after. She avoided being victimized, and learned that when someone messes with her babies, her Momma is someone to be feared.
From an early age, I taught my children that certain areas on their body are THEIRS. They are “private” – I described it as “the areas covered by your swimsuit” – and explained, time and time and time again that no one had any right to touch them in those areas except with their permission. We used doctor visits as a good example. Our pediatrician would always ask ME first, then ask my kid for permission to examine those areas. He took time, each and every time, to affirm the things I was teaching.
I also taught my children that if they were not comfortable with someone – if that person made them feel weird, icky or any other thing – they did not have to be near them. They were NOT made to hug relatives they did not want to hug (there was no – “OH, give your Uncle Charlie a hug, you silly goose!” in my house… If the kid didn’t want to hug Uncle Charlie, the kid didn’t have to hug him.) They were not made to sit on laps of anyone they didn’t want to sit with and they were not made to give smootches to anyone either.
Yes, they were taught to be polite, courteous and respectful to all adults. And they were taught to give polite, courteous and respectful greetings. However, since when is NOT hugging someone “rude”? Only in children do we expect physical displays of affection and consider it “impolite” if they don’t comply.
How many of us have heard, witnessed, or worse yet, said things like, “Honey – go give your Aunt Bertha a big kiss, don’t be shy!” or “Just climb up on Uncle Jim’s lap, what are you afraid of!”
So, my children were taught that hugs, kisses and lap sitting were acts of love to be given to those THEY felt like giving them to. They were taught the polite way to greet someone was to say, “Hello, Uncle Charlie, it’s nice to see you.” And the polite way to say goodbye was, “Bye Uncle Charlie, see you soon!”
From the very earliest ages, I also encouraged my kids to tell me ANYTHING – that I would always listen to them. That meant silly little things too…
If my kids complained about a teacher being “mean” – I wanted to know why. Did that mean I went climbing down the teacher’s throat? No. But it did mean that I listened to what my kids said and considered BOTH sides of a story when deciding what to do about it. And guess what? Sometimes, my kids were RIGHT.
I was very protective, I did not allow my children to go out alone for a very long time. I did not allow them to go to the corner store by themselves until very recently – and even then, only in a GROUP. I have taught my kids there is safety in numbers, and they should always stick together.
I have taught my kids that if they are lost, or need help, they should look for a police officer, an employee in a uniform, or another MOM (someone with kids!) – no those aren’t fool proof, but better than nothing. My kids have also had various self-defense classes – yes, they took karate, but they also attended some classes designed to teach them what to do, and how to do it, in case someone grabs them. (there are some really funny stories about THAT – trust me!)
We’ve gone through all the scenarios – the school taught a “stranger danger” class to First Graders – and I attended WITH my kids, then followed up on it with my own teachings. All those things they teach, you can repeat in subtle ways:
Adults DO NOT ask children for directions, help finding a lost pet, or anything else.
Mom will NEVER send someone ELSE to pick them up without first talking to the school – even if it IS someone they know. They can and SHOULD say “NO”.
Mom will NEVER send someone to pick them up along the route home – even if it is someone they know, they should say “NO”.
We all know what we SHOULD be teaching… But are we doing it? And are we modeling it? And are we doing it in such a way that instills CAUTION and AWARENESS not FEAR? Are we focusing on teaching “stranger danger” when we should be focusing on teaching our children to be aware of themselves, their surroundings and to be confident enough to know that it’s OK to say NO?
And more importantly – when our children TALK; when our children SHOW us things, are we really paying attention?
My usually very talkative daughter – GEC – came home from a youth event very quiet one time. She was only 11, and brand new to the youth group. When initially asked what was wrong, her answer was a flippant, “nothing”. Her Dad left it at that. He blamed it on girl hormones. I knew that “nothing” was really “something” – I could FEEL it. Something was not right.
I went to her room and we started talking, about NOTHING. Just talking. I reminded her that she could always come to me with anything. I reminded her that she could ask me anything. I told her I loved her and that was the end of our “talk”. Later that night, she asked me, “Mom, what’s a condom?” Now …. GEC had started her period at age 10, we had already had all the sex talks, the how a baby is made talks and talked IN GENERAL about birth control.
I explained what a condom was, and what it was for, then asked (as calmly as I could), “Why do you want to know?” Her initial answer was, “Oh no reason.” The last thing I wanted to do was start lecturing her at that point … So I just told her, again, “Hon, if you have any questions, or want to talk about ANYTHING, I’m always here.” Then it all came out in a rush.
An older boy, a kid who was only sort of involved with the youth group, had cornered her, asked her if she had a condom, told her he was going to f*ck her and she’d better have one next time he saw her – there was some pawing going on, which she described as “rough rubbing” on her breasts. Her response was to shove him away, tell him if he ever came near her again, she’d hurt him and she came straight home. She didn’t know what a condom was, nor did she know what the word “f*ck” meant, but she knew it wasn’t right.
We sat and talked, and I told her the right thing to do would be to report the boy, and that I would stand behind her 100%. I also told her if she was too afraid to do it, I would do it for her. She chose to go to the youth pastor herself, with me along for support. She reported the boy and what he said and did. The youth pastor basically blew her off.
That was when Mama Bear went into action for her baby.
I calmly told the young pastor that he had a choice – deal with this NOW, or deal with it sometime after this kid actually commits a serious sexual assault, and remember who will be testifying that the pastor was aware of the problem ahead of time.
I also found out that there had been a few witnesses to the whole thing, a small group of kids who hung on the fringe of the group. It didn’t take long to get names and parent’s phone numbers and start making phone calls talking to the adults, finding out what was going on.
I am not a nice person when you get me ticked off – and so, I did phone the police, found out that yes, this was considered an “assault” and that we could press charges. I asked my daughter what she wanted to do. That kid decided to press charges. She said she didn’t want that boy to ever do that to anyone else, and he needed to learn his lesson. (God, I’m proud of my baby!)
Long story short – the young man had prior assault charges of a similar nature, he had already served time in a youth detention camp and he was essentially “on parole” and this assault was a violation of the terms. Between my daughter’s statement and the witnesses, he was sent back to the youth authority.
Meanwhile, I also made sure the entire adult leadership in the youth group was aware of the problem, as well as the way it had been mishandled by the youth pastor. I had also complained to the senior pastor.
Amazingly, to the credit of the kids in the group – there was no social impact from GEC turning this boy in, and to the credit of the leadership, that youth pastor had a brief tenure.
I share this story not to say, “look how great my kid handled this” – but instead to show how a kid CAN be aware of things, and how a parent’s involvement DOES make a difference. My daughter KNOWS I am there for her. She KNOWS I will listen. And she KNOWS when others may let her down, I will take a stand for her, as I always have.
What did my own Mother miss?
She missed her bubbly, active, playful daughter becoming more withdrawn. She missed the fact that I “didn’t like” to be around certain people. She missed me changing the way I acted, the way I dressed and the way I moved. I started sitting in a tightly curled position. I started hating being left alone in the house. I started keeping my drapes tightly closed at all times.
But we’ve all seen the Web sites with lists of what to look for. We’ve all seen the “warning signs” of a predator. And we know that it can be the guy next door, the favorite teacher, the best friend or just some stranger. And it terrifies all of us.
The best we can do is teach our children confidence in themselves. Assurance that we, their parents, love them unconditionally, no matter what and that no one, no thing and no event will EVER change that unalterable fact no matter what anyone tries to tell them. And we can demonstrate it by listening to them, teaching them to always be polite, and standing behind them with they take a stand against something wrong. We demonstrate it by BEING THERE for our kids.
We teach them as best we can, we encourage them as best we can, and we protect them as much as we can. And when we have to turn them loose into the world, we hope our words stick; we hope what they learned at Mama’s knee holds deep in their hearts. And we pray that it never happens to our children.
Most importantly of all – we have to realize that it CAN happen to our kids. It CAN happen in our neighborhood. It CAN happen to “good” kids, in “nice” neighborhoods, and with “upstanding” people. It does not make us bad parents when and if it does happen.
Even if it does happen, if the horrible and unthinkable occurs, a good parent can make all the difference in the world to their child with their love and support – and THAT is the most important thing of all!
Now, a slew of Web sites for y’all and please feel free to add any others you know of…
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
By the way – one funny story about my kids and their classes….
After the first week, my daughter (age 7 at the time) was telling her Grandpa about the class, he said, “Oh, so what would you do if someone…” and he came behind her, wrapped his arms over her shoulders and lifted her off the ground.
My little kid – that bundle of joy – promptly whipped her head back, striking him in the chin, smacked his testicles with one fist, drove the other elbow into his rib cage and stomped his foot with her heel as she came down – all the while SCREAMING at the top of her substantial lungs, “NO – PUT ME DOWN! NO! NO!” He was left curled in a ball on the floor groaning, “I asked for that, didn’t I?”