By Tammi Pitzen, Executive Director of The Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
Yesterday morning, as I dropped my seven year old son off at school, I had a “moment”. It probably was not unlike a million other moments, had by a million other moms.
I was watching my son bound off across the playground; he turned around and waved good bye with a big smile on his face. And in an instant, I had this feeling of total and unconditional love and a second of panic as he turned and ran off. I watched my son almost in slow motion — his hair in the wind, his little feet and legs moving and then, in a fast sweeping moment, I lost sight of his face as he turned away from me to join his friends.
I was caught off guard. I wanted to stop time. Stop all movement. He was growing up too fast. I was no longer with him 24/7. I suddenly needed him to know that my heart could explode with how much I loved him.
I had tears streaming down my face…along with my mascara as I reflected that sometimes “that” love was not going to be enough to keep him safe.
I reflected on how many of the moms that I have worked with over the years had that same love, but somehow found themselves in situations in which their child was hurt by someone trusted in their life. I sat there in my car for a full ten minutes watching my son play and thinking how lucky I was. I sat there in my car and vowed to always do what I could to keep my child not only safe, but keep him in the center of my world so I could see all around him to ward off any would-be unsafe people.
I really think what is key is “keeping him in the center of my world”; not to either side, not as an afterthought, not when I have time, not behind me, not too far in front of me, but in the center where I can be present with him, where I can have a 360 degree view of his world and where I can put on notice anyone who may be thinking of trying to make my child unsafe.
It really is the best tool in my tool box.
My child is growing up and will be visiting friends in their home where I may not be with him. I am equipping him with the language to be able to talk to me and let me know if things do not feel right. I want him to know I am interested in what he has to say. I want his friends, his friends’ parents and anyone else around to know that I am interested in what is going on.
I want your child to have the same thing.
I use to be amazed when I worked as a caseworker with DHS when I would talk with parents who did not know their babysitter’s name or address or phone number. Many times they did not know who else lived in the house.
I want you to feel empowered to ask the hard questions. I want to know I am not alone in asking the hard questions. If we all ask them, then they become a little less hard to ask.
You may be asking, what are the hard questions?
Here are a few to start with:
- Do you have guns in the house? Where do you keep them?
- Who will be in the house while my child is visiting?
- Are there older kids there? Will they be left in charge of my child? Have they had any issues behaviorally or otherwise?
- What are you going to do if my child wants to call me?
- What kinds of programs will he be allowed to watch on TV?
- What kind of access will he have to the internet? Who will be monitoring that?
- What kind of video games if any will they be playing?
And then I think you let them know you have talked to your child about if anything feels uncomfortable or if anyone asks him to keep secrets or if anyone tries or succeeds in touching him in any place that is private or that he does not want, that he needs to tell you.
It does feel uncomfortable the first time you have this conversation. Your child will be mortified and embarrassed and that only gets worse the older they get.
It will not be easy.
But sometimes a mother’s love is not enough to keep a child safe.