As the mother of two adolescent girls, one of the proudest parenting moments that I’ve had in recent years happened recently involving my oldest daughter, Oriel who is now 16. She recently got her driver’s license so over the past year or more she’s been spending more and more time unsupervised without an adult out in public spaces, as will happen when one gets their license.
One night, she and her friend decided to stop at Chipotle for some dinner late at night on their way home from sports. When they pulled in, she noticed that there was a homeless man in front of the restaurant behaving pretty erratically. She turned to her friend and told her friend “Don’t get out of the car.” Then, she stayed inside the safety of the car and they watched and waited for a few minutes to see what this guy was up to. He began doing more unpredictable, irrational things like smashing trash cans into the ground and yelling and screaming, which caused them to feel unsafe. So, Oriel turned to her friend and announced, “Nope we’re not going here” and they started up the car and left. Needless to say, by the time my daughter got home to tell me that story that evening, she was feeling pretty rattled. This was one of her very first experiences out in the car by herself without a parent and the whole thing felt pretty unsafe to her.
Proud mama moment
That was the moment when I started welling up with those happy, proud mama tears that we often get as parents. I realized that what she had done that evening was the culmination of so many life lessons that she and I had talked about for so many years. I was so tremendously proud of the way she handled it. So, as a woman and a mother I do not live in fear and a constant state of anxiety about my daughters’ well-being. However, especially given my chosen vocation, I do live with an awareness that physical assault and sexual assault unfortunately are a part of the female experience far too often in America. I have done everything that I could think of to raise my daughters to feel empowered and to make safe choices so that they feel comfortable when they are out in the world.
Here are a few of the things that I saw her incorporate that night.
Paying attention to intuition
First and foremost, we have to teach our kids to pay attention to their intuition. Instead of discounting their intuition, we have to teach them how to honor and pay attention when something doesn’t sit right with their gut.
Being able to speak up
Secondly, we want to encourage them to be assertive and to speak up just like she did that night by announcing “This doesn’t feel good to me, I’m not getting out of this car.” Assertiveness is one of the greatest defenses that our daughters have when it comes to taking good care of themselves.
Troubleshoot predictable dangers
Then of course, we want to troubleshoot any predictable dangers or any predictable scenarios that we know might be challenging. As she and I talked about it later, this location of this particular restaurant is on a street corner that is known for being kind of sketchy at night. Once we identified that, we were able to agree that she doesn’t go there alone at night anymore. Sometimes we can troubleshoot the scenarios and create more safety that way.
Move at a slow pace
It’s always helpful to start out slow with our kids. So, when she was maybe 11 or 12 years old I started out by giving her time away from a parent by just being across the shopping mall from me. Then, we gradually increased the autonomy and freedom that she had as she got older. She got to the point where she would hang out in public spaces without parents but with friends, and then we eased into her being ready to be out in public spaces without anybody else.
Finally, I would say to have faith that the conversations that you have with your girls are sinking in. It’s not always obvious to us as parents that they’re actually listening and integrating the wisdom we are trying to share with them. However, have faith that it’s getting in there.
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