A friend is going through a very difficult patch with her child and my heart goes out to her and her family during this difficult time in their life. Being with them during this period has made me think about some of the difficulties that parents face, some of which hopefully most of us may never have to face.
For instance how does a parent help their child who has gone through abuse or a broken heart or who finds out for the first time that not all adults or friends are to be trusted?
I remember years back when I went to visit my sister in hospital. A couple of wards away was a little boy of six or so years who had been molested. It was heartbreaking to see the little boy whose innocence had forever been taken from him. It made me want to go home and lock up my children in my room never to get them out of my sight. The fear that I could not guarantee sunshine and good times forever for my children has kept me awake many nights. I cannot imagine a worse nightmare than that of the little boy’s mother.
So in the face of moral decadence and evil, what can a parent do? I think the first thing any parent must do is choose to trust their children to God. We cannot be with our children 24 hours 365 days of the year; a time will come when we must let them go. I remember years back an advertisement on television about a father helping his little boy ride a bike. It reached a point when the daddy had to let the boy go and navigate on his own. It was scary for the father to watch his son wobble: but oh the exhilaration when the boy was finally able to balance and ride on his own. That advert was a beautiful illustration of faith. This faith is not just in what we have taught our children but also in a God who is bigger than us and cares infinitely more for our children than we do.
The second thing that a parent can do is train their child to be world savvy. Our children need to learn how to survive in this world. I am slowly learning that by making all the decisions for my children or trying to raise them in a bubble, I am doing them a great disservice. I am in essence crippling them. The truth is that the world is full of both good and bad people and we need to teach our children to self protect. Just giving them confidence and teaching them basic things like avoiding dark lonely stretches, walking with their head high, watching their surrounding and not talking to or going away with strangers, can save them from a lot of harm.
I remember when Tj and Toriah were much younger; the news was full of children being kidnapped by people posing to be their relatives. I drilled them that if someone was to approach them and they did not recognise them they were to run away screaming “This is not my mom or dad; I don’t know them.” We kept practicing this till they were indoctrinated. Some may say that this is way over the top and it probably is, but it helped.
Years later Tj was in the market with his daddy when he felt like going to the johns. There was a well done public toilet nearby that was clean and manned and not too far from where his dad was so he decided to go there. As he went in some guy tried to go in with him. We had talked about what he would do if such a scenario happened and that is exactly what he did. He kneed the guy in some very painful places and took off like the devil was on his heels yelling. The guy abused him but was incapable of following. In minutes he was with his daddy and the situation had been averted. We have no idea what the other guy’s agenda was but I am infinitely grateful that TJ did not wait to find out but reacted automatically. I once heard Oprah say in her show that the best defense when cornered is to have a plan prior so that fear and intimidation do not render you inactive.
The third thing is to keep your eyes open and observe any changes in behaviour of the child. If your child becomes withdrawn, angry or acts out in ways that are contrary to normal behaviour; don’t just assume the behavior. Take action. Talk to them where necessary or do what you must to get to the bottom of the issue. Also make your home safe, be very careful about your associations and the people who have access to your children. Studies have shown that most cases of abuse happen with people who the child is familiar with.
Finally exhale and do not allow your life to be fashioned by fear. The truth is that the world is not full of evil. There are many positive, beautiful things around you and you need to focus on those. Don’t live in fear as this will only make you raise fearful anxious children. Empower your child for any eventualities but teach them also that this world is a beautiful place and for each bad element there are a thousand good ones.