I shivered and shook when the boys took their turns with me. Under the canopy of evergreens, these brothers stole my heart, my innocence, my self. I was five years old and had no one to protect me. Even after I dared to tell my babysitter what those boys did, she vowed she’d tell my mom, but she never did. The next day the boys visited again, cementing the idea in my head that even my mother didn’t care if I were being molested. (Note: My mom didn’t know, so she couldn’t protect. But as a little kid, I didn’t know this. I believed my babysitter.)
I shook hands with Jesus ten years later under another evergreen tree. He held me close as I grieved my childhood. He saw fit to heal me so deeply, change me so utterly that I could actually want marriage.
But the fear came when my children arrived. Particularly when my girls reached age five. I panicked. Freaked out, really. What if they experienced the trauma I endured? Seeing them at the age I was when my innocence was stripped opened more wounds, insecurities. And it also made me vigilant. As I look back on my own abuse, I wish there would’ve been one adult who saw what was going on, who perceived the signs of abuse. But none did. In light of this, I’m actually better equipped to spot telltale signs in my own kids, and I’m careful with who they spend time with.
Here are some things I’ve observed that may help you as you love and parent your kids, protecting them, yet still letting them be kids.
Know your child.
The best defense in protecting your kids is knowing them well. Know their nuances; become a student of their behavior. In kindergarten when all hell swirled around me, I had a sudden change of behavior. A compliant child to a fault, I suddenly came home with a 3 in cooperation (the worst grade). Instead of asking questions and trying to figure out why a compliant child would morph to an uncooperative one, my parents scolded me. If your child has a sudden shift in behavior, take it seriously. Become fascinated about his/her issues. Love her through it. Chances are it won’t be because of a sexual predator, but in knowing your child’s heart in any situation will only deepen your relationship.
Be vigilant but not immobilized.
Definitely set parameters about who gets to spend time with your children alone. Watch your children and who they hang out with at the park, at church, in the neighborhood. Be cautious about adults seeking alone time with your child.
There’s a tension here, though. Don’t become so immobilized that you never let your kids be kids. You don’t want to raise a fear-based child. Trust your instincts.
Entrust your kids to Jesus.
Often I hear parents ask me if I have danced over the line into hyper-vigilance with my kids in other areas of their lives. Oddly, I haven’t. Why? Probably because I made it through some pretty horrific things, without the benefit of nurturing, interested parents. I have walked through enough healing in the aftermath so I’ve become alive and whole. I’ve seen my tragic story turned around.
I fear for parents who have given into what I call “The Cult of Protectionism,” protecting their kids at any cost, never letting their children expand, grow, explore. They control their kids, ordering their worlds. While we should protect our kids, we’re also role models, demonstrating a life lived in adventure, not fear. If we insulate our kids from every perceived harm, how will they experience their own adventure?
My own tragedy under the evergreens has not necessarily informed my present. I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not a perfect wife. I’m not fully whole, but I have seen the benefit of running after healing. The most important thing I’ve done as a mommy in this crazy, sometimes-icky world is learning this truth: great parenting comes from a healed heart. The best gift I’ve given my kids is asking, begging, and sprinting toward surprising healing.