Two days ago, my 10-year-old daughter asked me, “Mom, what’s sexual abuse?”
It’s enough to make a mediocre mother choke on her coffee I tell you, because that’s what I was drinking since it was 9:00 in the morning when she inquired about the subject. Personally, I prefer light questions when I wake up: “What are we doing today?” or “Is there any milk left?” or “Can I watch TV?” These are questions I’m capable of answering as I sit on my sunny couch with bed head and morning breath waiting for the caffeine to kick-start my brain. Explaining the definition of sexual abuse is a topic more suited for after dinner when I can swill a glass of wine and try not to freak out.
“Where have you heard that term?” I asked my daughter, curious as to what prompted her question.
“Well, I hear it on the radio and on the television,” she informed me. “I always hear, ‘Help stop sexual abuse.’ So what is it?”
We had a very frank (age appropriate) discussion of the topic and I closed with, “the important thing to remember is if it ever happens to you—I don’t care if it’s a family member or your best friend’s parent or someone’s brother—you always come and tell me or dad so we can help keep you safe. You will never be in trouble and it wouldn’t be your fault. Is there anything you’d like to tell me now?” That’s a question no parent wants to ask, but should probably ask from time to time.
She shook her head no. Thank you Jesus.
Sigh. When exactly did parenting become so difficult? I don’t ever remember my mother explaining the finer points of sexual abuse, molestation, or rape to me —not that these things didn’t happen when I was little, but surely there seems to be an upsurge in how often we hear about these items in the media.
Thanks to the Casey Anthony coverage, my children have asked me about child abuse and why a mom wouldn’t report her daughter missing for over a month. “That must mean she did it, right mom? And why would a mom kill her little girl in the first place?” (I wasn’t even watching any of the trial coverage.)
Rihanna’s songs have generously brought up the questions, “Mom, what does S&M mean?” (To which I lied, “I have no idea. It’s just the name of the song.”) and “What’s a ‘rude boy’ and what is he trying to get up?”
While shopping for clothes for my son the subject of looking “gangsta” came up and while I stood in Sears trying to explain that a “gangsta” was more than just someone who wears a flat brimmed hat slightly to the side, my daughter said, “Oh, you mean, like a pimp?”
Because with television shows like, “Pimp My Ride,” and phrases like, “It’s so pimped out,” my kids think that the term “pimp” means to decorate something so it’s really cool. Pimps must be very hip people.
But trying to explain to my daughter what a pimp was, meant I had to explain what prostitution was, which prompted my daughter to ask why girls and women would ever want to have sex for money if pimps weren’t very nice to them. I then found myself trying to explain that sometimes the girls were runaways and sometimes they were taken and then she asked how the girls were taken and I was dangerously close to having to discuss sex trafficking and the social ramifications of drug use and all because I wanted my son to avoid the t-shirts with the gang-like graffiti on the front.
Shoot. Me. Now.
My daughter now has dreams about being kidnapped in a parking garage by a group of teenage boy pimps. Fabulous. (In my defense I never said anything about parking garages or that pimps were teenage boys. But that’s how her mind has processed this information.)
I am one of those moms who believes in giving kids the correct information to their questions, while at the same time only revealing the information that they absolutely need to know for their age. That quote that “knowledge is power” is true to a certain extent, but knowledge before they are ready for it comes at a price—their childhood innocence.
While I’ve considered (however briefly) moving my family to a cave somewhere in the unpopulated recesses of Montana, I realize that this is the world they live in and I have to find a way to prepare them to do that successfully. We haven’t hit too many detailed sex questions yet, but drug and alcohol questions are starting to come up more frequently. As with all difficult topics to explain, the answers aren’t easy because they are frequently intertwined with other problems; social inequality, lack of opportunity, prejudice, stereotypes, domestic violence, and the like. Some topics I explain fully, and some topics I’ve said, “You’ll learn more about that when you’re older. For right now, all you need to know is…” Is that a wrong way to approach these tough subjects?
Perhaps I need to make a sign to hang around my neck that reads, “Easy Questions 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tough Questions after 5:00 p.m. only.” At least then I could make sure I had my daily caffeine intake (and had a glass of wine at the ready) before having to explain what a sexual predator is. Or the meaning of the term “69.”
I know I’m not the only parent who’s having to explain these things. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to explain to your children? How did you do it? Do you believe in giving your kids all the details of a subject, or only what they need to know?
Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at www.eastcoastmusings.blogspot.com. You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.