Honoring My Daughter's Santa Preference Can Help Guard Against Sexual Abuse
We had a few incidents with Santa this past week which I brushed off as innocent encounters until my daughter's pleas turned dire.
Saturday night we went to an annual Christmas festival and Sawyer was eager to sit on Santa's lap as we explained the process. I asked her what she was going to ask for and she promptly replied "Bing Bong!!" - one of the characters from Disney's Inside Out. She quickly added "AND Disgust!" Which is the only remaining emotion plush doll she does not own. So she practiced it over and over. "Bing Bong and Disgust, Bing Bong and Disgust..."
When it was her turn, she hesitated and my husband picked her up and placed her on Santa's lap. She turned away immediately, arms up to Daddy: Her mouth fell open without any sound. Daddy picked her up and I jumped in to see if she'd sit on my lap with Santa. She wasn't thrilled, but she managed to tell him she wanted Bing Bong and Disgust. Santa was kind and patient with her but she was relieved to depart.
The following day our neighbors had a Christmas party at their home where Santa would be joining. I asked Sawyer if she wanted to see Santa again and she said yes. .When he did arrive, she was in the middle of enjoying a delectable cupcake when she saw him walk in. Her mouth dropped open and cupcake fell out as she looked up at me and barely squeaked the words out "home, home, home."
It was that moment that I realized her terror. Her inability to speak the day before or speak many words now suddenly became real.
Over 10 years ago, I met up with a co-worker for lunch in a town I was unfamiliar with. I was uncomfortable from the moment I arrived but didn't want to be rude. He rushed us through lunch and I asked him to take me back to the train station. He did not.
He drove me to an apartment complex and parked in the back where we could see no one else....and no one could see us. I remember the drive; the road, the empty park on the right... I remember feeling terrified and paralyzed. I wasn't sure if he was going to rape or kill me, but I knew his intentions weren't good.
After parking, he made some inappropriate comments and gestures and I remember being astonished as his brazenness. I was a tough girl, how dare he think he could do this? But why wasn't I moving? I couldn't talk or scream or move. I simply sat there and asked myself why I wasn't moving.
I finally managed to get the car door open saying it was hot...and then there's a period of time I don't remember. I don't know if it was seconds or minutes but the next thing I remember he was starting the car and was driving me back to the station. He tried pulling me back in the car at the station but there were people around so I turned around and kicked him off of me.
I felt guilty. Like I had put myself in that situation. How do they make us feel that way?
Luckily, a friend happened to call out of the blue and asked how I was, I told her what happened and she convinced me to call my boss and file a complaint - I agreed only because she made the case that he could be doing this to other girls. Apparently he was disciplined after admitting guilt, but I wasn't privy to the punishment. He was later terminated after further misconduct with another employee, however, I recently found out he was re-hired by the same company. Baffling.
All this came back as I stared into the pleading eyes of my toddler.
Her voiceless screams from the night before were all too familiar and I needed her to know I heard her. I will always try to hear her.
Protecting our children
There are a number of guidelines we have in place to help Sawyer feel loved, valued and safe. Some of them have to do with protecting her from physical or sexual abuse, including:
- We don't force her to show physical affection
- Have you ever seen people force their kids to hug or kiss grandma or a random cousin/uncle, etc. as they kick and scream? Whether it's defiance or instinct, we honor her preference. Over 90% of sexual offenders are people close to the child. I'd rather offend a family or friend then have a daughter I'm inadvertently harming while dismissing her intuition, knowledge or discernment.
- We don't let others speak for her
- Have you ever asked your child how their day/visit was and have another child or adult answer for them? I always ignore them and look at Sawyer and re-ask the question. I won't allow anyone to push their answer on my child or insinuate they need to answer a certain way, so I will re-ask her later without the company around.
- We had one particular situation where I walked into a room with a couple people and one was clearly making my daughter uncomfortable. I looked at Sawyer and asked if she was ok, but no sooner were the words out of my mouth did he place his hand on her back and say "She's fine." Not ok. I took her from the situation and gave her a chance to tell me what was bothering her. Those words and touching can truly affect a child - they can can intimidate a child into agreeing with him. Side note, he didn't do anything wrong besides being an odd person who she wanted to leave her alone but couldn't communicate it.
These are tricky parenting subjects to navigate, and I certainly don't want Sawyer to think she won't ever be uncomfortable, as my husband reminded me. If we all avoided uncomfortable situations, we wouldn't ever grow, innovate, change the world, etc!
As a Christian family, our first and main concern is with Sawyer's spiritual health and well-being. We also believe God gave us the ability to judge situations in order to protect our daughter physically and emotionally to the best of our ability. We put our trust and faith in the Lord to overcome the areas where we fall short.
So for now, Santa will get the boot. She doesn't have to encounter him anymore, and I am giving her plenty of opportunities to discuss her feelings about how he made her feel, how she doesn't have to be in situations like that, how it is ok to say no regardless of how "rude" it may be and how I will try my hardest to keep listening to her, honoring her preference and encouraging her to listen to her gut and spirit.
Sorry Not Sorry Santa. You aren't the reason we celebrate Christmas anyway. My daughter spent some time praying that you would't scare her or anyone else this holiday.
I'd encourage you to read a few articles to help know how to listen to your children and watch for signs of abuse: