It was on my radar to be aware that when my daughter headed into her teen years it would trigger me in ways my four sons never did. However, I didn't know (until now) exactly what it would be that would set me off.
Having been a teenage girl, I naturally easily identify with what she's going through socially, emotionally, and academically. This has, so far, been the case and hasn't been a challenge. In fact, we have really open communication and discuss lots of light and difficult things, even topics I didn't think I'd ever be comfortable speaking to my kids about. But, what I didn't anticipate was how an experience I had at her age would cause me to become anxious about the potential of it happening to her...so much so my anxiety began to interfere with how she and I were interacting.
You see, in 8th grade I was sexually assaulted by a group of male classmates late one evening while I was babysitting. This experience began to cloud my thoughts each time my daughter would ask to go and play tennis two blocks down the street from our house. My mind would wander to the thought it was likely she would run into some of her male middle school teammates while hitting the ball with her girlfriends.
I found myself fearing what could happen to her while walking to or from the park, or while at the park, and then I worried about what kind of effect it might have on her. I remember all too well how the encounter I had experienced with those boys I had so blindly trusted had affected me.
I tried for a while to dismiss my anxiety, but discovered it inevitably creeping in every time she'd ask to go play. My instinct was to say, "I'll drop you off and pick you up..." or "Not tonight, it's already dark," but then I'd silently reprimand myself because I knew this kind of response would only be allowing a traumatic event from my past to be projected onto her.
My daughter is not me.
That being said, I began to wonder, was there some value in the sharing of my sexual assault experience with her?
Parents have asked me how much they should share about their teen years with their kids (usually around the topics of alcohol/drug use, dating, grades). I believe the answer to this depends on why you want to tell them, and how you actually go about sharing the information. Being open with your kids about your own life can be beneficial to theirs if your intention is positive and when you decide to share the information it doesn't come from your fear.
So that meant for me to share the story with my daughter I had to be in a place where fear wasn't the motivating factor for my sharing. I had some personal work to do.
I asked myself what could be gained by my telling her? How much detail did I want to share? How did I think she'd receive the information? What was the intended outcome? Would this be a situation that could help us connect or would it be something that (out of fear) might cause her to pull away for some reason?
After thinking about the pros and cons of sharing my experience with her, I recently decided it was worth the conversation. But I wanted to be clear with my intentions before it came out of my mouth. The last thing I wanted was to scare her; my deepest desire was to inspire her about the importance of tuning into her own instincts and trusting her gut. Because that is what I wish I'd have done when I was thirteen and faced with a group of boys who thought it would be fun to assault me.
I purposely chose the time (in the car while we were running errands), we had plenty of space for her to digest what I was saying and to ask questions. At the end of our conversation I knew she'd understood my objective because she told me she was sorry to hear that it happened to me, but glad she knew because it was a good example of how to know when to "listen to your inner voice." (Hah!)
Have you been thinking about sharing something from your teen years with your son or daughter? If you have an example from your own parenting journey I'd love to hear about it. Share in the comment section below or send me an email at email@example.com.