Last night my husband and I watched a documentary about a school which looked the other way while a teacher sexually abused over 40 students. While there were many parts which sickened, baffled, and shocked me the part that really hit home was something that one of the interviewees said. I don’t remember if she was a teacher or what role she had, it doesn’t matter, but the point she made, what really stuck with me, was when she was discussing the position those vulnerable children were in; “who would believe them?” She pointed out that when you put the word of a teenage boy against that of a well-respected teacher in the community, which one are you going to believe? That hit me hard. As a mother myself I thought throughout the entire documentary about how those parents must feel and how could I avoid my children ever being in such a position? The documentary touched on how these affluent families put on a façade, how nothing bad ever happens, and these children knew that. So would they feel comfortable possibly tarnishing the family name by making such harsh allegations about an adult which their families respected? And again, would anyone even believe them?
I have been talking about stranger danger and appropriate touching with my oldest since she was old enough to understand the basic concepts. As she prepares to head off to school next year, spending the majority of her day in the care of strangers, people who are supposed to be trusted with the care of your child, all the while without REALLY knowing them, I wonder, would she tell me if something happened?
Unfortunately, no one really knows the answer to that. But, as parents we can do all that we can to make our children feel like they can tell us should anything bad ever happen to them. I know that I never want my children to question if I will believe them or not. I will always LISTEN to what they have to say. I’m not naïve, I know my children will probably lie sometimes, it would be foolish to think they wouldn’t, but I can still be there to hear what they say. If it requires some detective work to find out the truth that is fine, but I always want an open door for them to express themselves.
How do we do that? How do we as parents make our children feel that they can come to us with mistakes, bad news, big feelings, and hurts? Well first we start right from the beginning, as babies, responding to them, attuning to them, paying attention and learning them. We respond to them with empathy and care. We trust them. We let them know through our words, and more importantly, through our actions that we are here for them; to listen, to help problem-solve, to support, and when needed, to defend them. We must remember that our actions speak louder than our words. That means that while we say that our children can come to us with anything, we most importantly need to follow through on that. Sometimes it may be inconvenient; we may be busy or tired or frustrated, stressed or preoccupied. It is hard to be available to our children all of the time, but when we make it clear that they are important, that the things they have to say matter to us, that we want to hear them, it opens the door for two-way communication. Now we obviously cannot be available to them ALL of the time. If that were true my daughter would never sleep, as her favorite time of day to talk to me about everything on her mind is of course when we are snuggled up in bed and she is supposed to be falling asleep. I have learned though that I need to work this time into her routine. She doesn’t know it, but I factor in a 10-15min space so that if she decides she has something to talk about, she has that time. As she grows and her habits change I will find other times and other ways to be available to her. I want my children to grow up knowing that I’m always here, I will always listen, I will always support them. I will work hard to respond to them with empathy and understanding, leaving the door for communication always open, so that hopefully, they never question if I’d believe them!