Dear black moms, the best tip to protect your kids from sexual abuse: change your parenting style

This is a heartfelt plea from my inner child who suffered at the hands of countless men in two different states…

It’s a plea from a black woman who still suffers from triggers, flashbacks, and several mental health disorders, bipolar included…

It’s a plea from a black mom of a boy and girl whose nightmares and endless thoughts turned her into a helicopter mom, worrying about their friends, their friends’ parents, and my love interests…

Last, it’s a plea from a black mom who learned that she needed to change how she parented to keep her children safe…

To understand why I’m reaching out to black moms, you have to understand the era in which I was raised. It was the 1970s and back then, no one discussed abuse of any kind. We were encouraged to sit in stranger’s laps, teased when our breasts budded from puberty, and called all types of sluts and whores if we sat with our legs open, wore short shorts, or entertained the flirtations of boys our own age. Our generation was laden with patriarchy and toxic theology, and girls were effectively subjugated. We knew our place; do well in school, come straight home, do the chores, and don’t talk to boys. In my home, talks about the birds and the bees were read from the book, Where Did I Come From? and accompanied with a lecture that we were to wait until marriage. As a kid, I did the math and no one in my family waited. Some had even married after having children.

Nevertheless, there I was, a skinny brown-skin girl with coke bottle glasses larger than the frame of my face, constantly teased for being too skinny, too smart, and dressing funny…and given way too much freedom and responsibility. When I was seven, I was tasked with taking care of my four-year-old sister when we climbed off the school bus. I don’t recall the number of hours we spent at home as latch-key kids, but it was done every weekday and long enough to do serious damage. The older neighborhood boys knew my friends and I were home alone. When we went outside to play, they played with us. During the daylight, it was fun games like keep away and swinging on the swings. When it got dark, the game turned into hide-and-go-get-it. They’d count to 10 while the young girls hid behind trees, in the sandbox, or behind homes. When we were caught, they performed every sexual act they could get away with. I was seven and stopped playing soon after. But the abuse didn’t stop.

My childhood best friend was always too fearful to spend the night at our house so my sister and I practically lived at hers. She had an older brother who didn’t just sexually abuse me, he abused her too. When he’d insist that my sister go into his room, I always objected, making myself a victim for the second time that night. Not long after, he told all his friends and they began abusing me too. I cannot recall the exact number, but I know I had more than 10 sexual partners before my 10th birthday.

My attempt to escape abuse was to stay in the house and read, reasoning if they didn’t see me outside, they couldn’t abuse me. But they knocked on my front door and back door and sent my friends to persuade me to come outside. Every time I tried to say no, they used their strength to pull me along or threatened to “tell what I’d been doing” if I didn’t consent to follow them in the house. I never felt like I could confide in the adults in my life; if I didn’t feel totally ignored and unloved, I was being lectured at, judged, and criticized at home.

Me around 7 years of age.

Today, I’m a mom and I get it. Back then, times were tough. On top of the economy, the adults in my life were dealing with a host of other issues of which I only recently became aware. That’s why I can never blame them for their lack of parenting. It was the age before self-care Sundays and mental health movements. In the 70s, children were seen and not heard and adults truly believed children didn’t know how to feel or behave in any situation. We got our asses beat with extension cords, shoes, and switches. We were constantly told to shut up, sit down, and be quiet. We rarely engaged in family time and dinner conversations. As children, we were living in our own Handmaid’s Tale, executive produced by Disney.

Which is why I need to address some of you moms. The ones who slap their children for the slightest offense. The ones who tell their children to shut up when he or she is asking a simple question. And especially the ones who pay absolutely no attention to their offspring. You’re too busy texting, posing for selfies, or searching for your next sponsor to ask your child about his/her day, whether they need help with their homework, or if anyone touched or made them feel uncomfortable.

As I type this, a thought ran through my head: these parents don’t care about their children. But the thought left just as quickly as it came because I don’t believe that’s true. While I’ve heard stories of parents who not just abuse but proposition their children to be abused, they are a minority and deserve to be prosecuted. The parents whom I’m addressing do care and would be devastated if their child was abused in any way. Yet, these moms are stuck in a generational curse of tough love and toxic parenting and lack the tools to break it. Some may have tried once or twice but failed to make a permanent change.

Moms: what you need to understand is that predators look for women just like you. Protecting your children begins with you: you must change your parenting style. Here are four characteristics you need to adopt—today:

Be someone in which your children can confide

Predators either threaten to kill loved ones or shift the blame, making the child believe he/she will get in trouble for being abused. Not only was this done in my case, but the abusers also spread rumors about my promiscuity. Remember, I was seven and they were five or more years older than I. The adults in my life never considered that the older boys, and sometimes men, were abusing me. They, along with my peers, victim-blamed me and because I had no one to explain that I was a victim, I believed what they said about me. But never, not once, did I consent or want to have sex. I was scared of my abusers and believed not complying would lead to greater consequences.

Not only do children need to learn these tactics, but they also have to believe that if something should ever happen to them, they can confide in their mom. But they won’t feel safe and will shut down with parents who seemingly have zero interest in them. It makes them feel unloved and unwanted. Remedy this by asking about their day. Everyday. Talk to them about their interests. Learn about their friends. Explain that you were once a child too and made your own mistakes and your job is to help them navigate life and make better decisions. Talking to your children builds an unbreakable bond and because of the relationship, reassures them that they can come to you with anything.

Control your anger

Children will continue to make mistakes. Often. But how you deal with one mistake leads kids to believe you’ll react the same way for every future mistake. Believe me, if he/she is ever abused or touched inappropriately, they will feel as if it was their fault. To ensure your child can come to you about abuse, you have to control your anger for every situation. If you have a bad temper, try counting to ten before speaking or waiting until you calm down to address an issue. If you decide not to speak until you calm down, be sure to tell them so; otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re giving them the silent treatment which is another form of emotional abuse. And I ask: if you do have an anger issue, what is at the root of it?

Admittedly, this was the area in which I struggled. I was always yelling and overreacting; at times, I even hit them unnecessarily. But one day, when I was watching my little boy physically shrink from one of my yelling tirades, I realized I was the one doing the damage. Counseling taught me that at the root of all of my anger was the abuse I suffered. I was angry that no one protected me or believed me. I was angry that ‘my no’ was disregarded for years, even decades. And I was angry that I was the one that went through all of it; it changed the trajectory of my life and I was resentful because of it. Counseling and a closer relationship to God alleviated my anger and as a result, my children are thriving and our relationships are stronger than ever.

Girls aren’t fast and sexual abuse is not a boy’s rite of passage

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of y’all know which family member is the abuser. Yet, you continue to leave your children alone with him/her. The assumption that a girl is fast because an adult coerces her into sex is illogical and in its own right, abusive. In the ‘do-as-I-say’ parenting construct, children reason that they have no say; they have to do what their abuse tells them to do especially if they are threatened. And if the perpetrator is a peer, threats and feelings of guilt and shame prohibit them from speaking up. The worst thing any mother—any human can do is make the child feel as if it was their fault. According to our laws and the law of logic, children are unable to consent.

Our boys suffer in much the same way but when they are abused, they are encouraged to ‘man up’ and be happy about it. Some men actually laugh when young boys cry and feel shameful about being sexually abused by an older girl or woman. They’re expected to embrace the experience and are taught that sex with anyone is a rite of passage. Our boys are not animals and shouldn’t be treated as such. Our slave ancestors were treated like animals and coerced to have sex with whomever the master deemed appropriate. We are no longer slaves; boys deserve to choose their sexual partners and make it memorable just as much as girls.

Repeat often

These are conversations and habits you’ll need to adopt perpetually, shedding the stifling, hard-handed parenting style with which many of us were raised. It’s going to take time, commitment, and regular practice but it can be done.

Black parenting has often struggled with vulnerability due to fear and suffering. I argue that it stemmed from our enslaved ancestors’ trauma of being torn from their offspring and husbands. The inability of our ancestors to let go and love has been passed down from generation to generation and it has stifled our relationships with our children today. On top of that, we’ve muted our kids’ voices because we believe we don’t have a voice. When our children attempt to give an explanation or “tell their side, ” many moms perceive it as a sign of disrespect, the same way when we’re perceived when we attempt to speak up at work or talk to a police officer.

Moms, we’re doing our children and our culture a disservice. We can never rise from the shackles of abuse, depression, homelessness, incarceration, and more unless we make a concerted effort to become better parents. Children are not robots or mannequins. They have feelings and opinions, and deserve to be heard and protected. When children are raised in such an environment, their confidence soars. They believe in themselves and develop dreams bigger than their reality. So change your parenting style. It not only helps prevent abuse, it also has the potential to change the course of your child’s life. Believe me, I know. My two children are proof.

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