I’ve been very down this week. A lot of troubling news coming out of places like Steubenville, Ohio makes the mother in me cringe and wonder what kind of world I am sending my children into. I don’t want to spend time on this blog discussing all the bad things. There are many people already doing that, dissecting the mistakes and the problems that have been brought to light by recent events. I’m glad that is happening – we cannot fix anything before we understand what is broken. But dwelling on it further will not lift me out of the doldrums I am feeling.
Instead, I want to share what I’ve decided I can do to try to change things for the better. I don’t know how much influence I have over the world. I do know, however, that I have a great deal of influence over my children. So I have been thinking of what I should be saying to my children. Here is what I’ve come up with:
(Disclaimer: This is obviously not a complete list of what can or should be done, nor is it in any particular order. Please do not find offense where none is intended.)
I will teach all my children – not just my daughters, but my son, too – that they have ownership of and responsibility for their bodies. That means they can say “no” or say “yes,” and that they have the right to be respected and free from shame. That also means that they need to treat others with the same respect I expect them to demand for themselves. This seems so obvious – and yet, so much of the news that has made me weep this week would never need to be reported if people who wouldn’t push their way through a grocery store line would have learned to respect other people’s personal space in every instance.
I will teach my children that no one ever has the right to take advantage of them, no matter what bad choices they may have made. As a society, we must stop blaming victims. We all have the right to move through our lives without fear of harm. Victims are never, never, never at fault. But I will remind my children that having the right to do something does not make it right to do. I will ask my children to not put themselves in situations where they can be victimized – not because that makes them culpable in any way, but because I do not want them to be hurt. Because while victims are never to blame, they do get wounded. I want my children to protect themselves from that as much as they can.
I will ask my children to consider, before they get in a position where they are impaired to a point where memories may disappear, how some of the most enjoyable things about fun experiences are the memories that are created. Again, not because any impairment makes them fair game. It does not. I only ask this to increase the likelihood that they will be safe.
I will teach my daughters and my son that despite whatever false machismo they see on the internet, tv, or other media, a real man does not look at someone helpless and see a deserving victim. A real man sees someone who is helpless and does what he can to help. I don’t know how we ever got to a point where this is not obvious to everyone.
I will teach my children to listen to what a person says and take note of what a person does, and to be cautious if the actions don’t harmonize with the words. This applies to everything from politics – why doesn’t that senator’s rhetoric match his voting record? – to social situations.
I will pledge to my children to try to be less judgmental, critical, or disapproving of the things they tell me, so that when I say they can come to me with anything, they can believe my words to be true. So many tragedies can be averted if people stand up and say something, but that doesn’t happen as often as it should. I understand how hard it is to say something when everyone else is silent. But I will teach my children that while doing the right thing is harder than doing the popular thing 99% of the time, it is still what they should expect of themselves 100% of the time. I will do my best to show them that when they do have to stand up to do the difficult and right thing, they will not have to worry about where to find the strength to do that. Because I will be standing behind them, supporting them, every time they need me.
But most of all, I will hold my children closer, in the hopes that I can protect them with my body and with the strength of my will for as long as I can. Because it is a scary world out there, but parents do not have a choice but to let their children go. Because I cannot control my children’s happiness in life, but I can control whether they feel loved and supported by their mother. And because sometimes, hope is all we have.