On one hand I’m the helicopter mom, full of anxiety that something horrible will happen to my children. On the other hand, I encourage my daughter’s to travel the world and stay open and curious. I’m conflicted every day that my daughters are going out into the world. But, I have to remind myself that it is not my job to protect them from the bad experiences that could happen. It is my job to help fill their backpacks with the life skills that they will need to navigate the things that will happen, and to give them the confidence to deal with anything that comes their way.
A lot of the fear and anxiety about something bad happening to my daughter’s comes from my own life experiences. The loss of innocence, being afraid of things that happen after dark, the shame of sexual encounters, the physical assault.
These bad experiences that have influenced my view of the world.
When I was 9 years old I was at Niagra Falls for a vacation with my parents and extended family. A man got down on his knees and took pictures up my denim skirt while I was leaning against the railing of the falls. My mom noticed what the man was doing and my step dad tried to confront him and chase him down. He disappeared into the crowd of people with pictures of my panties and my innocence. Because of this experience, for many years I stopped wearing skirts. I’ve spent a lot of nights wondering if he is still out there, taking pictures of other girls.
When I was in 7th grade I was the manager to the boys basketball team. I would often ride my bike home from school after dark. One night I noticed a full-sized van following me. My instincts kicked in and I knew I had to hide. I got to my street but didn’t want them to see where I lived. I turned into a neighbor’s driveway and hid under their car until the van drove past, twice. Shortly after that night I stopped managing the basketball team and became afraid of the dark.
I lost my virginity to the boy I had loved for 2 years. The first thing he said to me after I finally gave him my body was, “there is no way you were a virgin, because you didn’t bleed enough.” For many years I stopped loving myself and my body and started looking for love in other people.
When I was a senior, I gave a drunk college boy a ride home from a house party. I parked in front of his house and he kissed me. When he tried to take it further I said it was time to go. He shoved me, snickered, and called me a dick tease. For many years, this experience stopped me from giving rides to men.
When I was in college I went to a condo in the mountains with a new guy that I had a crush on and a few of his friends. We had been playing games and drinking too much whiskey. At some point I went to bed in the living-room with a sweatshirt and overalls on. When I woke up I was covered in my own puke and he was on top of me. I stopped talking to him after that weekend, and later, his friend shamed me for hurting the guy’s feelings.
One night, when I was in my 20’s, I went out dancing with my girlfriends. We danced until the club was closing and as we were walking through the crowd of people, a man walked up to me and cupped his fingers hard against my crotch. When he was confronted by the police, he said he did it because he was sad that his girlfriend broke up with him. When I got home that night and told my husband what happened, he told me that I shouldn’t go out dancing anymore and that I shouldn’t press charges because the man might retaliate. For a while I stopped trusting the good men to stand up for women like me.
We must take back our power and not allow our bad experiences to keep us from living.
I can’t prevent things like this from happening to my daughter’s and neither can their dad. Even though he jokes about bringing a shotgun to the door when they bring over a new crush. They don’t need us to pretend that we can protect them. They need to feel equipped and empowered in this world. A world that can sometimes be dysfunctional, scary, and hard. A world where broken people hurt other people. The same world that is also beautiful and vast and full of incredible places and goodness.
These life experiences have given me the tools to go out into the world. These events have taught me to trust my instincts, use my voice, have a plan, make loving choices, pay attention to my surroundings, and stand up for myself and others. I still have anxiety and fear creep in from time to time about things that could happen, but I don’t let it stop me from living the life I choose. I feel empowered and capable, and I want that for my daughter’s too.