I’m sure most of you have at least heard about the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow story in the media this past week.
The gist of it is: when Allen was awarded a lifetime of achievement at the Golden Globes this year, Mia Farrow and her son Roanan tweeted (old) allegations of abuse and molestation of his daughter, Dylan. There was a lot of back and forth: did he, didn’t he? Is she lying, is he lying?
Dylan wrote an open letter about the abuse, and this just fed the media (and social media) fire.
I don’t want to get too into the issue of the allegations themselves. I think that there is far too much victim doubting and outright blaming already in our society, and I’m inclined to believe Farrow’s claim. While false accusations CAN occur, they are exponentially less common than actual abuse; the reality is that sexual abuse and assault is the one of the most underreported crimes in the United States (up to 60% of cases go unreported, according to RAINN).
This is the world we live in.
This is the world we are raising our children in.
But instead of letting this story, these facts, paralyze me with terror for my son and daughter, I’ve tried to take what I know and use it to help them develop a sense of trust in themselves.
Since before Xander (who’s now 3.5) could talk, I’ve talked to him about listening to his body and using his words to express himself. More specifically, these are the things I’ve talked about with him:
- I’ve told him that if anyone asks him for a hug, even Mommy or Daddy, and he doesn’t want to, he can say “No, thank you,” and the other person has to listen to his words. No hugs unless Xander decides he wants to hug.
- The same goes for hand holding or snuggling or any other intimate sort of physical contact. I almost ALWAYS ask him first, and let him decide. (With obvious exceptions for safety.)
- I also have to remind him that sometimes people don’t want to be touched, and that it’s important to ask before you run up to someone and hug them or touch their body. If they say yes, then you can hug. If they say no, then maybe it would be fun to wave and smile.
- I’ve told him that no one is allowed to ask him to keep a secret from Mommy and Daddy.
- I use words like “privacy” and “private” when talking about myself and others, and let him see what I mean by it. (For example, when he wants to come into the bathroom with me, I explain that Mommy likes to have privacy, which means doing something all by myself.)
- When he gets overwhelmed at playdates or parties, I lead him into a quiet area and say that sometimes we all want a little bit of space where nothing is too close to our bodies, and that helps us to feel calm and happy again.
- When it comes up naturally, I remind him that only Mommy, Daddy, and doctors can look at the parts of his body that a bathing suit covers. (And when specific situations come up, like a longer stretch with a babysitter, I tell him specifically that So and So is allowed to change him while Mommy and Daddy are gone.)
- In the bathtub I narrate what I am doing when I do it: “Now I am going to wash your arms! And now your body!” If he protests I pause and explain that it’s important to be clean, and he can use the soap or Mommy can.
I don’t say anything to scare him. I say these things casually, while we play with trains or cars or go for a walk.
I want him to know that he gets to call the shots about his body.
His feelings and his decisions matter.
Luna is a baby still, but I plan on telling her the same things.
And as they grow, I’ll increase the dialogue. I’ll use older language. I’ll make sure they know what’s OK, what’s not OK, and what’s up to them to decide.
I’m not saying that Dylan Farrow didn’t get these lessons, or that abuse always happens as a result of lack of preparation of the victim. That’s ridiculous.
But my biggest goals as a parent are to raise a child who 1) puts his socks in the hamper at the end of the day and 2) trusts himself/herself and trusts US, as his parents. I want my kids to come to me with their uncomfortable questions. I want them to ask me what the joke meant that their friend shared at the bus stop. I want them to know that, no matter what, I love them and I respect them and I trust them to trust themselves.
I may not have control over what happens to them, but I can control the messages they receive now. I can make sure they develop boundaries and know that they have a safe place to come if something feels weird.