April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please, it’s not just your business. It’s your obligation to help.
We’ve all been there. The baby or toddler is screaming because it sounds awesome (to THEM), the older child is threatening the younger for touching his toys, the preteen is talking and talking (aaaaaaaaand talking) about the cute boy in Math…we hear constant noise like the hum of the water heater. We know it’s there, we know it’s making noise…we just have tuned it out. We become animated in our enthusiastic responses of positivity, and completely nonchalant in breaking up fights or removing the tantrum-throwing toddler from the garbage, again. We don’t listen to keep our sanity.
But what about when we SHOULD have listened? What about when the preschooler is urgently trying to tell you something about a classmate that would save the classmate from abuse? What about the teenager that is sobbing uncontrollably about the love of their life – from this week? What about the toddler that tried to tell you in his distress, that he didn’t feel safe?
My grandmother told me once, when I was just starting to babysit, that I needed to listen (REALLY listen) when a child was telling me something they thought was important. Because to them, at that moment, it IS important, regardless of how jaded and tainted our opinions are as adults of what’s important.
The other day, I had such flagrant disregard for my son’s important. But like so many moms, so many times, I dismissed it.
“Oh, he’s not sleeping because he learned to climb out of bed.” “Oh he’s hungry because he refuses to eat anything but goldfish.” “Oh he’s going through a clingy phase…”
I dropped him off at daycare, the same daycare I use all the time. He LOVES this daycare, he knows the name and even when he cries a bit when I pass him off to the teacher, he’s totally fine and forgotten about mommy within five minutes.
But this time, there were different teachers than normal. This time, when I walked in, he totally. Lost. His. Shit. We’re talking completely and totally ballistic. I tried to calm him in the teacher’s arms, then I took him to calm him myself. I even brought him in to play with the other littles, let him see the trucks they had. Then I got up to leave. Again he lost it. I chose to give him a kiss and walk out. I had work to do. I needed a mommy break. I had deadlines.
I had an uneasy feeling about it.
I called three times to follow up. As a work at home mom I get the blessing of being a block away from his daycare at the Starbucks. I reiterated that if he was inconsolable, or if anything seemed wrong, I was five minutes away. I would come get him. “He’s fine.” Every phone call: “He’s fine.”
I still didn’t feel right. My husband offered to pick hm up and have “dude time” while I met some deadlines. “No. It’s ok. They said he’s fine.”
Three hours later I came back to get him. He heard my voice and completely lost it yet again. As he was brought over to me the teacher said “There’s no need for that,” as he damn near leapt from her to me. Once in my arms it took 45 seconds until he was completely calm. Truth be told the first thought was “What the bloody F%^& is happening?!”
I’m going to interject here with the statement that I trust children’s and animal’s instinct irrevocably. They know things we as adults have forgotten or just blatantly ignored. They are always right.
So daycare. I ask the teacher how he did, what he ate, if he calmed down. She gave answers I was not happy about on any level. She said he never really got put down and was extremely clingy (my child is not clingy. He is rather heartbreakingly independent and gets irritated when I make him hold my hand in public to keep him from running). She said he was wet and put the whole diaper in the wet bag (I pack two covers and seven inserts in my diaper bag, So logic states that if one cover is in the wet bag, and he needs changed again, how do you change him? Do you leave him in the dirty diaper because you have no covers to use?). But the one that set me off, was that he didn’t eat. At all. “Are you sick little man?!” I say to him in a panic. He eats like a 4 year old. More so at daycare. So when he doesn’t eat something is extremely wrong.
“Well, he picked at his goldfish and ate the whole package of the three crackers.”
“So he ate no lunch?! At ALL?!” Again. I panic. “He usually eats all of his and tries to steal others’ food!”
“Oh. We didn’t feed him lunch. I didn’t see it marked down so I just gave him the snacks.”
I’m pretty sure, knowing how transparent my face is, that I gave a look of murder. So you decided not to feed my non-verbal baby while every other child ate in front of him even though I only had goldfish crackers in my diaper bag?!?! I told her he was hypoglycemic and only one and a half years old so for him to go longer than three hours of not eating means he’s a complete mess. By this time he hadn’t eaten in 4.5 hours. That makes adults sick. There’s a REASON to kids eat every three hours. She apologized and I simply left, horrified and in shock. I didn’t say anything solely because there were still children in there, and I’m pretty sure I would have flipped out, terrified the children, and possibly been asked to never come back.
Here’s the thing. He wasn’t abused, he wasn’t TRULY neglected, and he was not molested. I know all of that for a fact. Yes, I was livid that the teacher didn’t have the common sense to feed my toddler when mom seemed to be the flake who didn’t provide lunch for him, and yes the cloth diaper thing is hard for people to grasp, but he wasn’t TRULY hurt.
But he could have been.
He KNEW something wasn’t right. He tried to tell me. I didn’t listen.
The mom guilt I have at this moment is insane because of it. You hear the stories of dogs flipping out when nannies come over, of babies going ballistic when uncle Bob comes near them, of kids not wanting to spend any alone time with a parent. You think that it’s rude to not force your child to give uncle Bob a kiss, or dismiss their anxiety as a “phase.” Then years later we find out, no. That nanny was beating the shit out of the two year old girl. Uncle Bob has molested well over 15 children under the age of 7. Daddy has a Lolita complex.
Maybe I’ve known one too many adults who were molested as children. Maybe I know one too many children that were sexually abused or beaten. I know at least one. THAT IS ONE TOO MANY.
- 34% of all child sexual abuse victims are UNDER the age of 9.
- Over 25% of abused children are under the age of 3
- Over 45% of abused children are under the age of 5
Of the number of children who died because of abuse or neglect…
- 70.3% were younger than 3 years of age
- 44.4% were younger than 1 year of age
Here’s the rub. Here’s the horrifying fact that made me promise I will NEVER ignore my son again when he is trying to tell me something and that h doesn’t feel safe:
Each adult person that I know that was abused in some manner as a child TRIED to tell their parents. The parents didn’t believe them. Each child I know that is now safe, tried telling their parents long before the truth came out. The parents didn’t believe them.
Our job is to PROTECT our children. When we do not protect them, we HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT. Period.
My son has no verbal skills yet. He doesn’t have the cognitive ability to be manipulative or lie. So when my son is trying to tell me in any way he can that he is not ok and I ignore him, I just taught my son that mommy will not keep him safe.
He was extremely hungry. That’s it.
But “to them, at that moment, it IS important” and dammit, we need to start listening.