When I was growing up, my dad was extremely protective of my sister and me. Some would say he was overprotective, and they would probably be right. Now that I'm an adult, I can understand his motivation behind the protection more than I did as a child. My dad wanted to keep us safe and be sure nothing -- or anyone -- ever hurt us.
He was very careful about who he allowed us to spend time with and when we were allowed to spend time with them. We were home-schooled and attended a christian dance studio. We typically weren't allowed to go on sleep overs or do a lot of "normal" things that other kids enjoy. I didn't understand it at the time but now that I know how dangerous the world is, I know that he was just doing all that he knew to do in order to keep us safe.
He thought that he would always be there to help us make safe choices, but he wasn't.
My dad died in his sleep when I was 14-years-old. I just woke up one day and my dad was already gone.
He died without explaining to me how I should and should not be treated, without telling me what domestic violence is and what I should do if some one was abusing me or my family. He didn't think I needed to know because he would have never let me be in a situation that would even come close to the things I was about to face. At 14 years old he was no longer there to protect me, and he never taught me to protect myself.
11 months after my father's death, before we even had time to fully process our grief, my mom remarried.
All the signs were there that this was not a healthy relationship, but I did not know how to read them.
I didn't know it was wrong for a man to punch me. I didn't know that just because he was laughing didn't mean it was an okay joke. I didn't know that it wasn't okay for him to blame me for everything that ever went wrong. I didn't know there was a term (psychological abuse) for that and all the ridicule and screaming I endured. We never really talked about abuse and all the different forms it can take, so I didn't know what it looked like when it happened to me. I didn't know how to make it stop, or even, that it needed to.
I thought I was the problem. I assumed I just needed to toughen up and be stronger. I had no idea that I was being abused.
What I endured for several years at the hand of my stepfather are the exact things that my dad expected to be able to protect me from. Maybe one day he was planning on telling me about the world, instead of just hiding me from it; but he never got that chance.
Through everything I endured, I never once asked for help because I never knew I needed it.
I'm now safe from all of these things and have found healing and peace. I have a beautiful family of my own, and I've moved on to live a happy life. But I knew I needed to share this story.
Credit: Jenna Hatfield. For more info: Pinwheels for Prevention.
Parents, please teach your children about abuse: What it looks like, how sneaky abusers can be, and what kids should do if they are being abused. Don't just assume you can protect them. Don't just warn them of the situations that you think they might face and keep them ignorant of others. Equip them to protect themselves. Prepare them for it, help them know what to do, who to call, and how to stop it. Let them know that they have the power to say who can and cannot touch their bodies. Let them know that they can say speak up, even if it's about a person they trust or some one in authority. Don't expect them to just know what to do. Don't assume that you can protect them forever, because you can't.
A warning might have frightened me a little as a child, but it also could have saved me years of pain and heartache, both during and after the abuse. I don't pretend to know how this conversation should be had in your family or at what age your child will be ready for what information. I'm sure it will look different for every child and every family. I just wish I had known. I wish my dad would have done more than just protect me; I wish he would have taught me to protect myself.
Please don't think I'm blaming my dad for everything that went wrong in my life. I don't blame him in the least. He was and awesome dad and did his best, but like any parent, his best included some mistakes. It took me a long time to write this post because I wanted to be sure I wrote it in such a way that I would not disrespect either of my parents. I think my dad would be happy if our story could stop even one child from being abused and he would love for me to share it, as I have done so today; mistakes and all. Don't read too far in to this. The point is not what either of my parents did, didn't do or should have done. The point is what a loving parent can do now to teach their children to be able to protect themselves.
Editor's Note: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize we each can play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in communities. Please educate yourself and then follow through with our author's suggestions and educate your children as well. -Jenna
Beauty Through Imperfection.com
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