Working in the field of sexual assault prevention can make a mom a tad neurotic, no? When my three were babies, I added anatomically correct body parts to our sing-along songs “Head, Shoulders, penis, Knees and Toes.” My spouse would shake his head and laugh, “You’re too much!” Our parents were horrified. “Really?! You have to add ‘penis’ to a children’s song?!” I shrugged. I knew there was value.
As they grew, I reviewed safety guidelines with them so often that they used sing-song voices to repeat them back to me. I persisted. They knew that their private parts should not be touched or viewed by others, and that they should not touch others’ without consent.
They understood that sometimes other kids and adults break the rules. They knew that abuse was never the fault of a child—at least they repeated that part back to me. They knew it takes courage to tell. “We KNOW, Mom! Stop! You’re too much,” they told me more than once. I worried about that—that my neurosis would translate into heightened anxiety in an already anxious world. I wanted to protect, not frighten. It’s a fine line, and I was never sure how elegantly I walked it.
When they entered middle school, I taped articles facing in on our glass shower door under the tag, “Mom’s Hot Topic Board”, complete with illustrated flames. The nature and substance of the articles changed over the years as they passed into high school. Articles about kindness turned to anti bullying. Articles about empathy turned to consent. “Be an Upstander!” they would preach. Eventually, the science behind the risks of vaping and marijuana made an appearance, as well as the risks of anal and oral sex. I was met with eye rolls, shocked faces. They couldn’t believe I would broach such sensitive topics. They shook their heads at me and felt sorry for themselves. Their friends’ moms weren’t so weird.
In high school, our conversations focused on gender roles, identity and consent. We were well past sex ed. We connected bullying with sexual harassment and assault. We talked about why some survivors would choose not to disclose, why people enduring abuse might not seek help. My law-and-order one was mystified, my secretive one nodded, my contemplative one asked questions about systems. Sometimes their comments gave me a stomachache. This wasn’t easy. They often ended the conversations with “That’s enough!” or a child walking out of the room. I continued to worry. There I was, being a lot again.
Now they are all in college. As I hear about parties, dorm life and the Greek system, I wonder – did I teach them enough? Are they equipped? Do they have refusal skills? Are they kind and socially adept? Are they confident upstanders? They have anxiety related to academics, and sometimes social situations, but that’s normal, right? They seem well adjusted, but did I go too far?
Questions about whether I’m too much ran through my mind until one of them called me from college. A friend had been sexually assaulted at a party. I was devastated to hear it. I asked what they did. My adult child had told the friend, “This is not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you were drinking. We can go to the doctor and you don’t have to report to the police, but I’ll help you if you want to. We can also call the Title IX office or an advocate if you aren’t feeling safe here. You get to control your story. I am here to support you no matter what you choose. You were brave to tell me.” I teared up with pride. They were listening all this time. I’m not too much. I am just enough.
Creating a Colorado Where Children Grow Up Free From Sexual Abuse: An Issue Brief on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in Colorado examines data and trends related to child sexual abuse in Colorado, highlights efforts to prevent this trauma and presents recommendations to advance prevention statewide.
About the Author
Margaret Ochoa is a blog contributor helping to illuminate the protective factors in her family’s life by sharing her experiences through storytelling as a mother of three, one of the chairs of the Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition and the child sexual abuse prevention specialist at Colorado Department of Public Safety.
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