Thursday, March 4, 2010
Protecting the Gift
I mentioned this book, Protecting the Gift, in a post the other day. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Pretty intense and serious stuff. Because of that, how I handle teaching my kids about their bodies is a sensitive issue. So, as I am inclined to do, I read a lot on the subject. I get lots of opinions and hear a lot of experiences. I read websites and expert opinions. Protecting the Gift is one of the best books I've read on the subject. Anyone with children needs to read this book. The best way to protect a child from an abuser is to empower the child to say no, to defend themselves, to tell a safe adult. Teagan is at the age where we've already been laying the foundation (using actual names for body parts, emphasizing that her body is hers and no one is allowed to touch her private parts- I'm avoiding the body part names on the blog for the sake of avoiding bots and spammers and such- and so on) for a couple of years. Zach is at the age that we are just starting to lay the foundation. I've had a couple of examples happen lately that are part of this topic and I wanted to share them. A couple of weeks ago, Teagan and I were at Music Team. She loves coming to Music Team because she gets to see Pastor Jennifer, hang out and have special time with Mommy, and play with a couple kids who have parents at Music Team, too. One of my friends often brings her kids along. Her daughter is younger than Teagan, her son is older than Teagan. Her husband usually comes and meets them at church and then he entertains the kids while we practice. Sometimes they play in the church while we practice and sometimes he takes them to a Sunday School room to play or outside to the little playground or to explore the outdoor worship space. We were done with practice and I headed back to gather Teagan. I walked down the hall as she was exiting the Sunday School room (she hadn't seen me coming) and I hear the dad call out to her to come back and help clean up the toys she had been playing with. She gets bossy and tells him she's going to find me. At this point, I speak up and tell her that she's found me and that she needs to get in there and clean up the toys. And she did. On the drive home, I wanted to talk about what had happened. I asked her why she needed to go back and clean up the toys. She answered "Because friend's dad told me to." The message I pushed was that she needed to go back and clean up the toys because she had played with them- not because an adult had told her to do it. She had the opportunity to play with the toys and it was her responsibility to clean them up when she was done. And here is where I felt like I was walking a tightrope. I don't want her to distrust adults. I don't want her to feel stressed about the possibility of an adult hurting her or embarrassing her. I don't want her to be afraid of this particular dad or family. I also don't want her fully trusting every adult she meets or that is part of her life. I don't want her blindly doing something because she feels that she has to because an adult said so. So I told her... that sometimes there are adults who make bad choices and do bad things. Even adults we know and care about. I made it clear that no adult should ever ask her to take off her pants or underwear with them. We talked about what to do if an adult did something like that. That no matter what they say to her, she can always, always, always tell Mommy or Daddy about it. And again- the tightrope. How much do I say? I don't want to lead her, I don't want her to have "ammunition." But I want her to be prepared in case she is ever in a situation where a trusted adult is threatening her... I'm not trying to insult or insinuate anything about this man or this family- don't misunderstand. In all honesty, I would expect that any family should be cautious towards us, just as we have to be cautious towards others- no matter if they are family, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. All too often, the tragic stories include news coverage of the suspect being "the nicest guy you've ever met!" So I walk the tightrope. We got a call from school yesterday. Teagan (who came home early on Tuesday, went to the doctor- "raging" ear infection) was wiggly and complaining that her bottom hurt. At this age, it's still common to not wipe thoroughly and that leads to irritation, rash. Plus, she recently finished a 5 day course of antibiotics and now she's on a 10 day course of antibiotics. So it's also possible that she has the onset of a yeast infection (even though she is eating yogurt to combat yeast and we limit her sugar consumption when on antibiotics). Lori, the owner/director of the school, called me. Explained to me that Teagan had been wiggling, complaining of her bottom hurting, grabbing at her underwear. Explained to me that she sent Teagan to make sure she had cleaned her bottom well, even giving her a baby wipe. Lori offered- to Teagan- to check her bottom to see if there was any redness. Here's the cool part. Teagan turned her down. Knowing my daughter the way I do... I know that she was protecting her private parts. I feel like part of the message is coming through and I can keep building on it, working with her, teaching her to defend herself, to not be afraid of being aggressive for the sake of protecting herself, for valuing herself enough to continue to respect the privacy of her body. I'm still walking the tightrope. I'm still feeling my way through this topic- being extremely cautious and watchful and protective and coaching her and teaching her and guiding her and encouraging her. But I feel like I'm making my way forward and holding my balance. In conclusion, I want to share the Test of Twelve from Protecting the Gift. This is what I am working towards with my kids. Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that's an important signal. Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant? Does your child know it's okay to rebuff and defy adults? Does your child know it's okay to be assertive? Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help? Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him. Does your child know how to describe his peril? Does your child know it's okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you'll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid? Does your child know it's okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run? Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ''This is not my father''? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent. Does your child know that if someone says, ''Don't yell,'' the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ''Don't tell,'' the thing to do is tell. Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn't know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him? ***** I've got the knowledge and the goal. I just have to make sure I don't get in my own way, that I don't hold myself back. That I use my greatest strength- my instinct- and that I never ignore it or talk myself out of it. I think my tightrope is getting broader.