There is little more in this world that frightens me as much as the statistics surrounding sexual abuse and assault. Though most of the time I can blame it on a work-related inquiry, I admit to frequenting the sexual offender registry more often than most. Having open and frequent conversations with my kids about their bodies and boundaries has become kind of my “thing” as a parent.
When they were young it focused on the basics. What is privacy and why is it important? What parts of the body are private? We talked about what to expect from others and tried to plant seeds of empowerment around privacy and respect. We talked about who should see their penis, vagina, and buttocks and what to do if anyone ever touched their bodies in a way that was uncomfortable. We told them that they owned their bodies and could always decide what is or is not okay. We seemed to have a lot of these conversations while the kids were in the bath, and they caught on to the message quite quickly.
Maybe too quickly?…
I’ll never forget the day – my son was 4 years old – when the daycare’s phone number popped up in my caller ID at work. Seeing that number is never a good thing. Either a kid is sick, or I’m late paying the bill. “Oh shit” may have slipped out under my breath.
“Hi, this is [daycare director]. Don’t worry, all the kids are fine. I just wanted to tell you about a conversation R had with Miss C this morning.”
“No, no, nothing bad. He’s having a great day. It’s just that – after your wife left at drop off – there were other parents around, I could let you know who if you want to talk to them, it was in the middle of the preschool classroom, and everyone was clothed – R told Miss C that she couldn’t touch his, um…penis. We agree with that fully, of course, but I just wanted to discuss it with you to give you the context behind it in case he tells you about it tonight and I could see how that could be alarming to you.”
I could hear the nervousness and discomfort in her voice so when I finished laughing, I was sure to fill her in on our conversations of late. I was chuckling over that one for a while!
Now that the children are getting older, the conversations have changed slightly. Less initiation by me, and driven more by their questions and curiosities. We had an incident recently with my son (now 7.5) and some silly butt-bumping with friends at school (kids are cray cray. srsly.). After attempting not to die of embarrassment on the phone with the principal, I used the ridiculousness as a catalyst for a conversation about respecting other people’s bodies and boundaries (“it is not okay to put your butt on people at school, even if it is a game”…oy). As a mom, it can definitely be uncomfortable, but I feel strongly about the power of open dialogue. Through the course of this conversation, it was revealed that my son is starting to take some significant interest in his body and would like to learn more. So, this book is on its way to our mailbox and many more “interesting” conversations are sure to be had! Truth be told, I’m glad we are having these talks now, before he’s old enough to be mortified to speak of his penis in front of his mom.
At the end of the day, I accept the frightening realization that I can not guarantee my children will not be victims of sexual assault or abuse, but I can maintain an open dialogue that attempts to inform and empower – and I’ll pray that goes a long way.