Raising my daughters to honor their voice, from a sexual assault survivor.
A few years ago I read an article titled, Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.
I resonated with the article and I immediately started to give our daughter’s voice (Alexandra was an only child at the time) power and weight. And since I read that article, her dad and I have focused on teaching her how to honor her body, to have dominion over it, to treat it with care and respect.
This year, she started Pre-K 4. Wowzers! This is our first year to experience a full school experience. You know what I mean, parents? Drop off is at 8am, pick up is at 1pm, Monday-Friday. There’s folders and checklists and forms and meetings -- it has really thrown a wrench in our coffee drinking!
Last week we were getting ready for school, the house was moving at 90 miles per hour, we were running late, so I hustled to her bathroom and grabbed her long, curly hair to loop it into a ponytail, and turned to me, raised her voice and firmly told me, “MY HAIR, MY BODY. You didn’t have permission.”
I was born in 1983, and finally at 35 with the help of therapists, God, personal growth and community, I have started to stand tall in the notion that my body is my body.
Becoming a mom -- the pregnancy, the post-partum depression, the cracking open of my heart and body, the evolving and changing – peeled back my protective layers. It exposed every raw nerve ending I had surrounding body image and worth. And by the grace of God, I knew that I was being presented with the opportunity to heal festering wounds and broken belief systems.
The first time someone groped me, I was in the 3rd grade. I was 8.
We were in the school hallway standing in front of our homeroom and one of my classmates reached out and grabbed my 8 year old boobs with his hands.
I was wearing a blue polo shirt (my parents used to dress me in shirts that would tone down my curves) and long denim shorts. My cheeks still flushed from recess.
I still remember his face and the way his straight black hair framed it.
I still remember the confusion.
I still remember the embarrassment.
Do I think my classmate was evil? No.
Do I think he knew what he was doing? No.
Do I think he should have known better? Yes.
I went home and told my parents. They were mortified, and my dad told me to punch anyone who ever did that again.
That was the start of it. 3rd grade. 8 years old.
Becoming a mother to now two young girls has shined a light on all sorts of things, like:
I am always aware of the men around me, how they are acting and what they are doing, and I’m always aware of how I am dressed. What people will think of me when I wear _______________? What message am I sending? Isn’t that sad? I know that’s the way of the world, and I know that’s the way it’s always been, but my goodness, does it always have to be that way?
I’m not even sure I know how to make choices without taking the “man factor” into account.
My heart races because somewhere along the way people planted seeds of “it’s not that bad,” or “it’s no big deal,” or “he isn’t hurting anyone.”
As a woman society taught me to give and serve and be hospitable -- to cushion the blow for everyone else, especially the men. Sometimes I feel like I should just absorb the discomfort of harassment/indecency/bad taste -- for the sake of the relationship, situation, party, moment, etc.
I remember going on dates and ending up in the same room with the guy after and feeling like I owed it to him – I owed him sex, I owed him my body. And for the record, he may not have thought that I did – but we were too young and ignorant to have any language for it. What a terribly low bar. Food? A meal? In exchange for my body? My spirit? The space that it would take in my heart forever? Pitiful.
So when Alexandra said, “MY HAIR, MY BODY. You didn’t have permission.”
My immediate thoughts were:
Use your mom card, YOU ARE HER MOM.
It’s time to go to school!
No time for preferences in the morning.
BUT I took some time and thought, If I override her voice now, it will be that much harder for her to keep centered and strong in her convictions.
As her mother, I will always have some authority over her, AND so will a lot of other people, and I NEVER want her to think, their opinion or preferences matter more than mine.
Because, that’s what a lot of this boils down to, right? What you want, matters more than what I want. And that’s bullshit. What I want should matter.
In regard to healthy relationships (not any form of abuse)…
We are bigger and better and smarter than thinking only one person can get their way. There’s always talking, there’s always a widening of perspective, there’s always letting go, there’s always space for discovery and possibility. There’s always opportunity for someone to speak up about who they are and what they want. There’s always time to hear someone and honor them. There’s always time to be heard and be honored.
I want our mother/daughter relationship to be a model for her relationships going forward.
What does a loving, caring, solid relationship look like? What does it feel like? How do two people dance it out? How do two people cheer each other on? How do people in relationship walk through disagreements? How does someone lead with honor? What does it feel like when someone wants the best for me and the best for themselves?
Alexandra: “MY HAIR, MY BODY. You didn’t have permission.”
Me: “You are absolutely right, Alexandra. I did not have permission. Since we are going to school, would it be okay if I put your hair in a ponytail?”
Alexandra: “Okay, you can give me a pony tail. But, remember, mama, MY HAIR, MY BODY.”
Me: “Yes it is, sweetheart. Next time I’ll ask permission.”
Shine your brightest,
Feature photo by Jessica Rockowitz Photography