I know a lot about sexual abuse. I mean a lot! I have experienced it myself, I have walked women through healing from it for years, and I have spent endless hours reading about it.
So all that knowledge can sometimes leave me scared. I can feel how little control I have in each situation.
As parents every day we run into new situations, like: the neighborhood kid has a new iPhone and is showing videos to your kids, or your kid is asking if he/she can ride a bike to this place, or wants to walk to 7-11 by herself.
I could go on and I assume you could too. If we are honest, really honest, we have less and less control as our kids get older. The hard reality is, as my colleague Caleb Grover says, sexual abusers aren’t going to do anything when you are there. It will happen when you aren’t there. Is the solution, then, to never ever leave our kids? Should we be hyper-vigilant and live in fear and therefore teach them to do the same?
There must be other options. To teach our children that their safety is dependent solely on our presence is to damage them in an even deeper way. It would be to imprint on their hearts, “My child, you are not trustworthy, you can’t trust your gut, your intuition, your sense of what is good.”
It is our emotions that can alert us to danger. That feeling in our gut that something or someone is dangerous or untrustworthy. I call it a compass because a compass lets you know which direction to go.
All children grow to become preteens, then teens, and then young adults. And they must have an internal compass that gives direction to them in this world. We have to start teaching them about this compass long before they are in their teens. They will have so many voices pressing on them from every which way. We want their compass to be much louder than the rest of those voices. We want it to roar, not whisper.
My three-year-old was outside and our sweet neighbor (late 70s), who is just lovely, wanted a kiss from her.
“Can I just have a kiss please?” She kindly and sweetly asks. My daughter is hiding behind my legs and all over my little ones face is “I don’t want to do that.” I wanted her to give this nice lady a kiss but my daughter didn’t. I feel tense all over. Quickly, I realized my choices are: I can either make her kiss my neighbor (and teach her to be touched when she doesn’t want to be) or I can have the awkward conversation where I stand up and say (which I did): “She doesn’t want to give a kiss right now.”
What does my neighbor do? She looks at me surprised and maybe a tiny bit hurt and says, “Do you teach her not to do that?”
I am thinking “I hate doing this. I don’t want to hurt this nice lady” but then I say, “Yeah, I teach them to only give kisses and hugs when they want to.”
She quietly replies, “Oh, okay, that is good.” Awkward moment ends and a sigh of relief drifts from my lips and my body relaxes again. We go on playing and talking. My daughter comes out from behind my leg and begins playing and talking with my neighbor.
I hope in small moments like that I teach my daughter to trust her “gut” when it comes to touch. Because someday, someone will want to touch her when I am not there. And I want her to hear my voice saying, “Trust yourself.” Because let’s face it, she will face a lot of this world and I won’t be there. And neither will you.