I had given her a lot of freedom since our move, more than I would have in New Jersey. The small town to which we had relocated in coastal North Carolina had a Mayberry feel. It was quiet in the off season but not deserted. The neighbors looked out for one another yet politely minded their own business. It was the kind of place where kids rode bicycles together after school until their parents called them home for dinner. I was happy for this, when it wasn’t worrying me to pieces.
My fourth grade daughter is a good kid, a trustworthy child who has always told me the truth, even when the truth was difficult. A few months back, she admitted to stealing a Chapstick from a food store when she was in kindergarten, an incident she had forgotten about until she found the long lost tube of cherry lip balm in the back of a clothing drawer. Over the summer, she cried herself to sleep after confessing to me that she had been mean to her younger sister that day. The truth always comes out with her, and the truth is never that bad. It has been easy for me to give her certain freedoms that I believe she can handle.
I have encouraged my daughter from an early age to be her own person and to avoid pressure from her peers. I’m hoping that those messages adhere as she navigates the waters of early adolescence. While I believe she handles herself in the right manner while she’s out exploring the neighborhoods, I’m also keenly aware that little girls can get themselves into dangerous situations without trying, especially in the absence of parents.
“Whose house are you going to?” I ask as she is about to walk out the door.
“Sarah’s,” my girl says as she steps into her flip flips.
“Is her mom home?”
“No, Jason’s watching them.”
“I don’t want you in their house if their mom isn’t there.”
“No going inside with a parent!” I say emphatically.
This has been our rule. She’s not allowed in someone’s house unless I know the mother and if the mother isn’t home, she’s not allowed inside the house at all. We go over this every afternoon. A lot of the families in town, like mine, are single parent homes. Children my daughter’s age are often watched by older siblings or babysitters while their parents are at work. I’m sure in most cases, nothing objectionable is going on in these homes.
Yet, I’m not sure enough to let her into them without the presence of a parent.
One night, my girl comes home and mentions she was in Sarah’s house.
“Was her mom home?”
“You know my rule.”
“Mom, I ran in to use the bathroom.”
“You could have come here to use the bathroom.”
“I don’t know Jason. I don’t want you in a house alone with him!”
It was then I took a deep inhalation and looked my daughter in the eye.
“Do you know what rape is?”
Most of us start talking to our kids at an early age about strangers. Maybe we make some reference to the inappropriateness of those strangers touching their private parts, and that’s where the conversation ends. Yet, for where my girl now is, socially and within her own development, I knew a stronger talk was needed.
I am someone who believes that most people are good, but I’m also aware enough to realize that all my daughter needs to do is walk into the wrong house at the wrong time, and a group of mean spirited fifteen year olds could alter the course of her life forever. I’m not paranoid enough to think that this happens all the time, but I’m mindful enough to know that it does happen. She needs to know that it happens, too.
We talk about gut instincts, having the feeling that something or someone doesn’t seem right. I tell her to never worry about being polite if she feels she’s in danger, to leave a social situation if she senses something’s off. We talk about where she should run to if she thinks she’s being followed, or chased. Scream, knock on people’s doors, never worry about looking crazy, and don’t listen if the person who is after her tells her that he will hurt her mother or siblings if she doesn’t obey. We talk about what she should do in self-defense, if God forbid, a situation should ever come to that.
I try not to terrify her, but empower her.
How does one balance the explanation that this kind of violence exists in the world while at the same time, reassure that the odds of being a victim are minimal?
How do you explain to a ten year old that sex is one of the greatest acts of love that two people can share while at the same time, can be one of the greatest acts of violence?
How do you describe the delicate toggle of freedom and risk? How do you manage it as a parent?
I want my children to feel safe in this world, but I also need them to understand potential threats to their safety. It’s a fine line. Did I walk gracefully, or did I trample it? Only time will tell.
Have you talked to your children about rape?
About the Author:
Ilene Evans is a single mother, writer, yoga teacher, budding entrepreneur, and a New Jersey native who recently relocated to Coastal North Carolina. When she is not chasing after her three children, you can find Ilene blogging at The Fierce Diva Guide To Live, at a local pizza parlor, or both at the same time.