I was a stay at home kind of mama until our kids started school. And even then I only took part-time jobs for the longest of whiles. Jobs with hours opposite my husband’s so that if I couldn’t be with our kids, he could. Using daycare was never a viable option for me.
I could never hand my children over to someone else to care for them for any repetitive length of time.
Not because I believed my way was better than another’s way. Not because I believed in an only way. But for the singular reason that I was subjected to years of sexual abuse at the hands of the person, the family member, whose care I was continually left in as a child.
As to my age at the onset of the abuse, I only know I was terribly young when it began. I have flashes of recall but nothing solid that I can use to match up certainty and a calendar. And I know I was ten years old when my abuser was exposed, not because I finally told, but because of being caught abusing another, and another.
I came away from the experience with the eventual knowledge that I would do my damnedest to make sure the same thing never happened to my own children. And with an array of emotional baggage and psychological issues. The effects of sexual abuse form canyon-esque fissures in a psyche. In a life. In a legacy. They do not go away. They remain steadfast monuments to the events that created them. And so I knew before I ever had children that I’d do whatever it took to help create smooth landscapes for their lives, lives void at least of the irreversible scars of abuse.
There exist some phenomenal daycares for small children. There are some family members, friends, and neighbors to be trusted and whom are able to shoulder the task of caring for children without doing them grave harm. And the ability to trust in those institutions and those people was taken from me early on in life.
I wish I had been able to take advantage of other-than-parent care for our kids, had I wanted to. If for no other reason than what earning a second income would have done to shore up our kids’ college funds, not to mention our retirement accounts. But even in the face of future financial risk, I just couldn’t do it.
Because in addition to my own reality, I came to know the chilling numbers. That 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will suffer just like I did. Still, today. Decades after my own molestation, a word I loathe but refuse to allow myself to shy away from in honor of others who are subjected to it, these are still our numbers. These statistics are unfathomable to me. Unthinkable. Intolerable. And yet, they persist.
Institutionalized daycare was actually the least of my worries though. As I knew the majority of sexual abuse of minors is conducted at the hands of a relative, a friend, or a neighbor. Someone who has repeated access to the child, the ability to be alone with them and groom them over time, as well as the trust of both the child and their parents. Even so, my fear of leaving our children in someone else’s care was absolute and indiscriminate. I even had trouble leaving them with grandparents, whom as a demographic are unfortunately not exempt from the above commonality.
I was able to find a happy medium over the years and trust a bit here and there. But I was never able to remove the armor of vigilance or alter the guilty until proven innocent view I had of anyone I ever considered leaving our children alone with.
I know you know the numbers too, and that I am not the first to relay them to you. 1 in 4 girls. 1 in 6 boys. You know this. And yet, if you’re a parent, you still have to work, you still have to attend classes, you still have errands to run, the occasional date night to schedule, the rare party to attend and the elusive weekend getaway to get away to. You’d like to conduct your life and raise your children as if you all exist in a vacuum; void of vile, despicable, unadulterated evil and the possibility of irreparable damage to your babies’ bodies, hearts, and minds. And yet, you can’t. Because of the numbers.
1 in 4 girls. 1 in 6 boys.
But we do not lay down and die. We do not stop bringing sweet, innocent, loving, bundles of unbridled potential, joy, love, and goodness into the world. When forced to work with instead of ideal, we adapt and we toil to overcome.
One of the best ways to do that in regards to the sexual abuse of children is to talk.
Loudly, openly, frequently and unashamedly about our own horrific experiences and how we hope to prevent them for others. The words we use to do this will vary based on our audience. For you, I can let it fly. For our children, finesse is required.
To you, I can say it’s likely someone, somewhere, will somehow try to harm your child by engaging in some form of sexual activity with them. I know you just threw up in your mouth a little. That or you felt woozy and the need to lie down. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to startle you. I mean to absolutely startle you. 1 in 4 girls. 1 in 6 boys. These are still the numbers and they have yet to change. We, you and I, must be the change.
To our children, we can say we love you and here is how we show you.
We can say we love you and here is how we don’t show you. We can teach them from the time they are small that their bodies belong to them and that unless a doctor needs to provide medical care pertaining to their genitals, those places are off limits to EVERYONE else. Unless they are being assisted on the toilet or in the bathtub by someone helping only to clean them up, NOBODY is allowed to touch them in the places their swimsuits cover, or anywhere else that makes them uncomfortable or inappropriately comfortable. And that everyone and nobody includes mommy and daddy, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, cousin and neighbor, sibling and friend.
It’s not enough to leave it at the more we know. We must shift into high gear and race ahead at the speed of the more we talk. The more we talk about what is and what isn’t ok, about what should be told, the better chance we have of achieving new numbers. 0 in 0 girls and boys is the ideal. If we’ve no chance at ideal and have to work with instead, then that we must do.
We talked early and often with our own kids about their bodies; specifying who they belonged to and what all their parts were for.
When their capacity to understand the depth and gravity of what we were trying to convey expanded, so did our conversations and run-throughs of possible scenarios. Around the age of 5, we began to read a particular book with them, often, and we riffed on the content as well. The book was The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (Jody Bergsma Collection).
“The Right Touch reaches beyond the usual scope of a children’s picture book. It is a parenting book that introduces a very difficult topic–the sexual abuse of young children. This gentle, thoughtful story can be read aloud to a child by any trusted caregiver.” – Amazon review.
If you have young children, please consider reading this book to them. Please help them to understand their bodies belong to them and only to them. Please empower them to tell you, to tell someone, if ever anyone else, including someone they trust or someone they love tries to lay claim to their bodies. Without this sense of autonomy and power repeatedly bestowed upon them they will not tell you if they fall victim to the incomparable evil and life-altering circumstance of childhood sexual molestation.
Let me say it again. THEY WILL NOT TELL YOU.
For 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys, their abusers will work tirelessly to make certain of that. But, in retaliation for those numbers, you and I can work tirelessly to change them.
We can change those numbers. We can and we must. The methods we’re each able to use will differ according to our life circumstances, opportunities, and realities. But each and every one of us can talk to our children candidly and frequently about how they should and shouldn’t be touched and by whom and what they should do if someone crosses the line. It’s the very least we can do and the very least we owe them in the face of the numbers.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys.
Please begin these conversations with your children and please, do not stop.