“You’re too young to know what depression is.”
“I want you to know you can talk to me.”
“We have to do something about your teeth. They aren’t straight.”
“You can trust me.”
These are some of the statements that were said to me as a child and young adult. Parents, I know you mean well, but something I’d like you to work on accepting is, your kids are smarter than you give them credit for. We’re sensitive and observant and we look to you as role models and our protectors. When you say things like this, you create a conflicting feelings and make us not want to talk to you.
My parents did their best to protect me from the harsh world and give me a great childhood, but something they didn’t protect me from was childhood sexual assault…from a family member. I realized at the approximate age of 10 that I was being abused by a family member. I’m going to avoid details because the details aren’t important in this discussion. What is important is I didn’t think I could tell my parents what was going on because I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me or they wouldn’t do anything about it because…it was a family member.
I finally told my mom at 15 what was going on to my sister and I; that it had been going on for a long time. She cried, feeling disappointed in herself that she didn’t protect us well enough. She offered to give my sister and I therapy to get us through that difficult time. I told her no that talking to friends was starting to really help (hint; please encourage your children to talk to someone after they come to you with something like this). We continued to keep it secret from my dad because we weren’t sure he would believe us since the perpetrator was on his side of the family. Keeping secrets created a chasm between family members.
I couldn’t say no because I had family members telling me that I had to greet, hug, kiss my perpetrator. I had years of uncomfortable and unsure feelings about what to do because no one knew what was going on. I didn’t know I could say no. I didn’t start saying no to my perpetrator til I was 15. I couldn’t develop my own sexuality or have a healthy relationship with a partner because I had flashbacks to bad touches from my childhood. I had depression and anxiety that made living difficult.
After the death of the perpetrator, the truth finally came out. My father surprisingly believed my sister and I. Because of the secret finally coming to light, I now have a better relationship with my father than I’ve ever had before.
I’m one of the lucky few that made it to the other side. I graduated from therapy. I have a job that I enjoy going to every shift. I am able to give back to others with the Center and Code EMS. Not every survivor or victim ends on the other side.
I regularly talk about my experience because I want others to learn and prevent it from happening to their children, family and friends. This is an uncomfortable topic, but start small and slow.
Start with consent. Good touch, bad touch. Encourage your children to say no when they find something uncomfortable.
Parents, you love your children and share an unbreakable bond with them. I want to encourage you to talk with them, teach them everything they need to know about having a healthy life: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Put your uncomfortable feelings aside to have these conversations. An uncomfortable conversation could prevent a lifetime of struggle. If you don’t think you can have these conversations, that’s okay! There are resources for you to utilize to help you with these conversations.
The most important thing to remember is this: if your kid ever comes to you saying something happened to them, believe them. No matter how crazy, unrealistic, unlikely, believe them. Even if you can’t have these tough conversations with them, even if you have these conversations and they come to you and say it’s a family member, believe them. They are coming to you with feelings of shame, confusion, fear, anxiety, and so many more emotions that I never experienced. At the age of 23, I didn’t want to exist on this planet anymore because of what happened to me as a child and how it was handled. By 25, I’m engaged, continuing my education and advancing my career and giving back to my community by helping others in my career and survivors. I’m living an emotionally healthy lifestyle for the first time in 25 years of living.
A conversation with your kid could help prevent any further violence from happening; have the courage and strength to have these conversations or reach out for assistance in these conversations. It could potentially save the heart, soul and mind of your children.