A few weeks ago I was in line at the store, checking out. This is pretty much my children’s favorite part of going to the store because they get to ask for stickers. In almost perfect harmony, they sing-song “Stickers pwease!” and the cashiers melt into puddles, and give them stacks of them. I watched as my oldest son carefully put one on his shirt and held on to the rest. He likes to keep them in the car so that he can put one on his shirt every time we go for a ride. My daughter hastily tore them all off the sheet and put them on her shirt in a rosette sort of way. My middle son tore one and tried to eat the other.
I smiled as I thought about how perfectly this describes their personalities. Calvin is careful and a rule follower. Hattie is impatient and just can’t get enough of life. Frank wants to know how everything works, and uses all five senses to figure things out. We don’t yet know how Arthur will interact with the world, but I can guess that he will forge his own way just as the others have done. Then I had a moment of panic: parenting all these different personalities and learning types is going to be crazy for this “needs a plan” kind of mom.
I used to worry often about whether or not I had what it takes to be a mother to my daughter. I will be the first woman that helps her to form her own thoughts on body image, clothes, make-up, boys, friendships, sex. My own experiences as an adolescent make me worry for her. One day (much more recent than I would like to admit) I realized that I am also the first woman to help my boys along these paths as well. The differences in their personalities present more of a unique challenge than whether they are male or female.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As an advocate for all survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I want to raise my children to be advocates as well. This will mean teaching them all to respect the inherent dignity of all people, and to stand up against violence. Just as I am their primary educator in so many other ways, it is from me that they will learn about injustice and how to combat it. I cannot rely on outside educators to tailor this message for me. If my children use stickers in such wildly different ways, then they are going to need different approaches when we start talking about our duties to help others and to stand up against violence.
As parents, this means that we have to be well informed enough to answer uncomfortable questions. We have to understand the dynamics of sexual assault. We have to know about the different types of sexual violence. We have to be willing to affect change.
If I am not informed, how can I prepare my children for life in a broken world? A simple “Don’t get raped or be a rapist.” is not enough. They will need more from me. So I gather information and advocate against violence so that I am as prepared as I can be for the times in their lives that they need to hear me tell them that I am there to listen and help them understand how they can be a part of the movement that says sexual violence will not be tolerated.
It is important for parents to get a handle on the prevalence of sexual assault. The problem with this is that sexual assault is notoriously under-reported, so statistics can be difficult to sort through. Keeping that in mind, here are some things to know about sexual assault:
- No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, and anyone can be sexually assaulted.
- As many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual assault before the age of 18.
- Out of sexual assaults that are reported, only somewhere between 2%-8% are found to be false.
- Sexual assault victims are more likely to be assaulted by someone that they know.
- Rape is not about sex. It is about power.
Here are some ways that you can start this conversation with your children in an age-appropriate way:
- Talk to them about healthy relationships of all kinds: friendships, romantic relationships, and familial relationships and what that might look like within your family’s moral boundaries.
- Talk to them about their bodies and how it is their body and those without permission cannot touch it (“To clean or if you are hurt only”).
- Every person is worthy of respect.
- Ensure them that you are available anytime they have questions or need to tell you something.