The man in line behind us at the grocery store told my 11-year-old daughter that she had beautiful blue eyes like her mother. It was probably a very innocent compliment. But my heart started racing. All I wanted was to pay for our groceries and get my daughter away from him.
Mom, what’s wrong?
Why did we rush out of the store so quickly?
Why are you crying?
The answer was complicated, and I could have just made up a story. I could have told her my stomach was really upset or that I had a migraine coming on. I could have lied. But I didn’t.
When I decided to become a mom, I knew I didn’t want to be “perfect” in her eyes. I wanted her to relate to my flaws, to find comfort in my honesty, and learn from my mistakes. She would feel safe asking for my advice and know I didn’t expect perfection.
My daughter and I have been having a conversation about sex since she was a toddler. It started with naming her body parts. She learned about appropriate touch and eventually the importance of respect and honesty.
When she was seven, she tried to Google the word “sex” at school. We talked about how sex was a very big topic and that it wasn’t appropriate to talk about at school. I told her sex was what people did to express their committed love to each other. Sort of a bonding ritual. That was enough for her.
When she was eight, she wanted to know the “details” surrounding sex. We bought a book and though I skimmed the book, I had missed the page that said, “Usually the sperm and egg meet during sexual intercourse when a man and woman fit his penis into her vagina.” Apparently, this was too much information and caused her to declare a week later she needed therapy. We then had a conversation about how it was completely normal to fixate on things she didn’t fully understand.
I was beating myself up because I had an 8-year-old that could not stop thinking about sex. She was coming at me with questions I wasn’t ready to answer, but I never once told her she was too young. I always started with basics and slowly added to them when she needed clarification. My daughter always had my full attention and the conversations always lasted until she was confident in her understanding.
Little did I realize that talking about sex would be one of the easier conversations we would have.
We’ve discussed same-sex marriages, different religious ideas, sexism, domestic abuse, molestation, sex abuse and abortion. These were all hard topics. I had to balance the value of her innocence with the amount of information I gave her. I wanted her aware but not oversaturated. I wanted her to understand without being fearful.
When my daughter asked me why I was crying, I could have lied but I didn’t. Because even at 11 years old she was ready for the conversation I had been dreading since she began kicking at my insides.
My daughter already knew what rape was, but she didn’t know I had been raped. One of my biggest fears has always been not being able to protect her from sexual violence. It is a valid concern. According to RAINN, 1 out of every 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Not telling her was never an option. I just needed to wait for the right time.
I took a few deep breaths and asked her if she remembered when I told her what rape was. I told her when I was 18 a boy I really liked said I was beautiful, and I had gorgeous blue eyes. He was nice. I told her I kissed him and even though I said NO he forced me to have sex. I told my daughter I had been raped.
A few moments of silence passed as she looked at her lap absorbing the information. I told her I didn’t want her to be scared, but I wanted my experience to make her wiser. She asked me a few questions, and I answered. She looked up, reached across the front seat and gave me a hug. She told me she really loved me. I told her I love her too.
We sat in silence holding each other’s hand and gave the moment the respect it needed. This was certainly just the beginning of many more conversations that would take place on this topic. Once a few days passed and I asked her if she had any new questions or thoughts. Her response surprised me.
“I keep thinking about how happy you are considering something so bad happened to you!”
I told her people are resilient. It takes effort to overcome trauma, but people do it every day. We talked about how bad things can happen to good people. How we can use our good and bad experiences to help other people.
One day my daughter will fall in love. I hope he will be kind but if he isn’t I hope she will be wise. Perhaps someday a kind man will tell her she looks beautiful, and she won’t panic. Perhaps a nice man will tell her she has stunning eyes, and she will be able to enjoy it.