Parenting As A Survivor {Sexual Assault Awareness Month}

sexual assaultI’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault.

In America, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18.

That’s not okay. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I appreciate that there is a month devoted to heightening awareness (like so many worthy causes), but with these numbers, this needs to be a daily conversation. I worked diligently through the years to heal. Then I became a parent. This is how it changed me.

I take protective parenting seriously.

The most beautiful and scariest words that I heard after birth were, “It’s a girl!” Not because I wasn’t ecstatic. I had forever wanted a baby girl! Immediately, my thoughts turned to “How will I protect her?”, “What if history repeats itself?”, “What if…” For weeks, while my body healed, my mind worried. To this day, two years later, I am highly cautious about who I leave my child alone with. While this has caused some friction and hurt feelings, I will not apologize for minimizing the opportunity for an adult or older child to be alone with her.

We DON’T DO SECRETS. 

Ever. That simple.

We use anatomically correct language with our children.

Vaginas are vaginas. Penises are penises. We don’t call them “cookies,” “no-no’s” or “privates.” We do not shame children for touching. Instead, we encourage healthy boundaries. We educate our children about safe and unsafe touching, and we talk openly about what types of touching are okay. We also talk openly about who can and cannot touch our bodies and how it is appropriate.

We DON’T force anything.

We listen to our children’s emotions. As adults, many of us have forgotten how it feels when the entire world was scary and new. We aren’t as empathetic with our children as they learn to navigate socially and emotionally. Yes, children will test boundaries (and your patience!). Yes, setting limits is important. But so is paying attention and taking note of red flags. Ask open-ended questions of your child and really listen to their answers. I try to allow for extra time when taking my child to a friend or family member’s home just to observe their behavior. Remember, they are learning how to communicate and learning what behaviors are appropriate. Listen to your child’s verbal and nonverbal cues about how safe they feel.

You don’t get to bribe my child. 

When you say, “If you give me a hug, I’ll give you a lollipop!” you are grooming my child to accept bribes and setting them up for dangerous situations. Quid pro quo is unacceptable in my reality. It may appear harmless, but people who would harm a child are counting on the parents not to set good boundaries, or to charm or con their way into the parents’ good graces. It makes my skin crawl when adults try to bribe a child into touching them, including hugging.

Yes, some parents are this way without trauma. Some parents who have past trauma are not like this and that’s okay, too. This post is meant only to allow insight into how parenting as a survivor might look – and it will be different for each person. We never really know what has shaped a person into the parent that they are.

If you would like more information or are seeking support locally, the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center offers free and confidential services to people who have been impacted by sexual violence. These services are available to people of all ages and genders, and include a 24-hour crisis line: 316-263-0185 or 877-927-2248.

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