Tag Archives: parenting

Are We All Complicit in Child Abuse?

I see them on the news and in the papers everyday. Story after story of adults hurting, abusing, or trafficking children. I’m sure you do too.

Young girls raped in their own homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Babies attacked for crying too much. Toddlers used to hide or run drugs. Kids starved and beaten for punishment. Boys taken advantage of for their perceived weakness. Parents trafficking their own children for financial gain. It never ends.

I also hear the outrage and see the comments on social media condemning the abusers, who in many cases are the child’s own parents, or someone they trusted. As a Catholic, I know a number of people who have left the Church over the priest sex abuse scandals.

But the real story of child abuse, be it sexual, emotional, physical, is much deeper than the idea that “there are bad people out there.” Statistics tell us that one in four girls and one in ten boys will be sexually abused by age 18. If you have children, that means multiple kids in their school classroom. Multiple kids on their soccer team or cheerleading squad. 

Even more than that, it means most of us actually KNOW an abuser. Stop and think about that for a moment. It could be someone in our neighborhood, someone in our social circle – perhaps even someone in our family.  Child abusers are not that rare boogie man we’re all taught to fear. They are everywhere.

No one wants to hear this. No one wants to think their children aren’t safe from abuse. Yet they are not.

I have two young girls in Catholic school. Many would tell me they’re in greater danger there, considering the number of priests accused of sexual abuse. Yet I disagree, particularly for two reasons. First, research done by the Church has found that overall, about 2 percent of priests are/were involved in such abuse. That includes retired/ deceased religious. That’s about the same percentage as the general population. 

Secondly, the Church has gone well beyond any other organization that has found itself embroiled in child abuse scandals. It stopped making excuses, started investigating, and set up advisory boards to study and deal with cases that surface. Pope Francis himself became intimately involved. ANY adult that comes in contact with a child on Church property must go through a training course and have a clean state police background check. That includes parents who work in the lunch room, parishioners who administer communion at Mass, cleaning staff, athletic coaches, grandmothers who visit a class to read a story – everybody. Clearance to work with children must be updated every three to five years.

Of course nothing is perfect. There is still a possibility of danger within the Church, but I know now that danger is also everywhere we go. We know this simply from what we see in the news. In addition to educating ourselves as adults, we must also find ways to teach our children to protect themselves, to be cognizant of what and who is around them at all times. This is difficult for kids – it’s their nature to focus on whatever is on their mind, and being conscious of what’s happening around them is usually not a priority. And it’s  hard to teach this skill without generating fear as well.

Yet somehow we must. We cannot let them grow up in a dangerous world without the tools they need to survive. Unfortunately, this is going to mean doing some of those “right” things we would often just rather blow off.

We need to learn to control our own anger and behavior. We need to be frank with children about how sex is a beautiful act, but also how it can be used for evil. We must protect their childhood and modesty – girls shouldn’t look 20 at 14, and boys need to be taught that women are not simply for their pleasure. We adults need to pay attention to what we’re showing them. We worry about what books and lessons are age appropriate, but we never seem to worry about what entertainment is age appropriate. We must.

Take some time today to think about what your children are exposed to even in the smallest way. What are the lyrics of their favorite songs? How does their favorite singer dress or dance? Do they have friends that are much older or younger? Do they see inappropriate movies? Do you know and trust their friends’ parents? Who do they talk to online? Who are they playing games with over the Internet? What example do you set for them? 

Kids of all ages are impressionable. Make sure they get the right message – that their bodies are their own and they should be on guard. As for those little ones who depend so heavily on adults, be vigilant. Be helpful to overwhelmed young parents. Stop telling yourself it’s safe for a seven year old to have unsupervised access to the Internet. Teach your sons how to respect girls and be gentlemen. Do what you can to keep them from becoming victims – or abusers.

Take that outrage you feel about the abuse we encounter everyday, and stop looking away. There are children who need you to care. 

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The Gifts that Keep on Giving

I face the same dilemma every Christmas.
I have absolutely no idea what I can give my parents to show them how much I cherish who they are and what they have done in my life.
I know that Christmas isn’t about presents. But in my life, I’ve come to use Christmas gifts as a way for telling people I love that they are truly valued. It’s not about what the gift costs, it’s more about showing someone you know who they are inside, or perhaps about capturing a special moment from the past. Like a few years ago when I bought my brother a box of Pez dispensers that looked like the members of KISS. But I digress.
In recent years, particularly since my children were born, I’ve come to know and love my mother and father more than I ever have in my life. Yet in this new understanding and appreciation of who they are, it’s become more and more difficult to celebrate them at Christmas time.
We often hear people talk about the feelings they have for the most special people in their lives. How friends have always “been there” for them, whatever that means. How family is the “foundation” for everything, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room with cousin so and so or aunt this and that. Or, even how we should eject from our lives anyone we care for who dares not agree with us.
Truly, I understand the amazing rarity that is my relationship with my parents. But I often take it for granted. I tire of people constantly blaming their own failures and bad decisions on mom and dad, as if everyone has what I have. I’m insulted when other women lament becoming like their mothers. I could only wish!
This problem of not being able to pay my folks the proper appreciation has been growing year by year. Mostly because I have discovered that I need their love as much as an adult and parent as I ever did growing up.
I know now that it is my parents, not the friends I once relied on, who are truly my support and strength. It was the two of them who spread the net under my family when finances threatened ruin. It was they who cried with me as I struggled through severe post-partum depression. It was mom and dad who rushed to my side when I had my heart attack, to hold my hand, hold my children and hold up my husband. No. One. Else.
And sadly, I realize with each passing day, that I will not have the blessing of their presence forever.

They challenge me, but respect my choices. They help me, but do not provide me a crutch to rest on. They pray for me, but do not expect God to forget my transgressions. I fight them, yet they stay at my side, unlike so many who have tired of my battles and brokenness.
They are indeed the ultimate gifts, equalled only by my own children and husband. And this Christmas, in my attempts to repay all they have done for me since I’ve supposedly graduated to adulthood, I’ll likely find my dad another Pittsburgh Steelers something, and my mom another hand bag or piece of jewelry she doesn’t really need.
I know they know these things are only symbols. That how I feel is so much more than I could ever express with my limited funds or mere human words.
But year after year, I’ll continue to look and pray for some thing or some way I can show them the unlimited value of the gifts they give me everyday of my life.

Dear Santa, Let’s Just be Friends…

Christmas has had me thinking about childhood a great deal these days. Not so much because I have children, but more because I have children who are on the cusp of no longer believing in the “Big Guy.”
They’ve been dealing with all sorts of tweener issues this year — things like early puberty, friends with hormonal issues, bras, the “talk,” and well, you get the idea. They’re growing up. Much to my horror.
These pivotal moments have me thinking about my own growing up. I wish so much I could explain to my girls what a great time this is for them. Not my dad’s old speech on “high school and college are the best time of your life so have fun, but don’t fail.” I’m thinking more of the forgotten magical time between “your a little kid” and “your a big kid now.” Maybe we rush our kids through childhood so quickly now that this period no longer exists. Maybe the rush to grow up. But I remember some great things about it that I never knew were great. I hope my girls aren’t so busy growing that they miss them.
Particularly, I’ve been thinking about one specific summer. I can’t remember how old I was. Eleven? Maybe 12?
My best girl friend (who I haven’t seen physically in something like 17 years) and I went to every little league game played by a group of boys who lived in our neighborhood. Mostly because my friend and one of the guys on the team were what we thought was a “steady” thing back then. You know, held hands in school at recess, played together after school and on weekends, a rare kiss or two on a birthday and that was about it. If only our relationships since than had been so simple.
It was usually pretty hot outside, and we loved getting junk at the ball field’s little concession stand. Particularly gum and soda. It was the same field where earlier in the year, I failed the Presidential Physical Fitness Test because I couldn’t run three laps around the outfield and through each dug-out fast enough. Puberty, remember?
But my memories of that field aren’t really of my lack of physical endurance, or really of baseball itself. They’re about practicing my middle-school cheerleading voice for the sake of one fascinating young man who had more hits than any other kid on the team. Probably because his birthday fell late in the year and he didn’t make the cut off for the team he should have been on. Not that he wasn’t a good player. He was talented. The best, maybe still, in my star-struck little girl eyes.
As I remember, I did my job well. One of the coaches gave me an award for being the “Most Boisterous Fan.” I wonder of it’s still somewhere in my mom’s garage. By the time the boys won their league championship (I think that’s how it went) my cheering for the quiet blonde was usually followed up with little boy taunts of “ohhhhhhhh” from the dugout or outfield. Sometimes when I remember this I indulge myself by believing a few of those hits and home runs might have been just for me.
My oldest daughter is a cheerleader now. The younger one wants to be next year. I wonder sometimes if there is some special boy she cheers for on the football team. Then I tell myself she’s too young for that, because I don’t want to admit she could feel that way about anyone yet. I tell myself – she still believes in Santa. She doesn’t like boys yet. Then I remembered how long I believed in Santa. Ok, I still do.
I haven’t asked her yet if she still does, but I know she’s suspicious. I think she wants to, but doesn’t want to be the be the only kid in fourth grade who does. I also think she’s holding on because she knows her sister (who is working on her third boyfriend at 8) still believes.
I’m not sure where believing in Santa became my litmus test for my daughters being ready for their first crush. After all, I can still remember the first boy who caught my eye. In second grade.
My baseball boy actually called me on the phone a few times that fall (he was my first crush to take to the phone), much to the concern of my mother who never went to one of the ball games. They were those kind of magical, innocent calls where a boy’s friend makes the actual call, puts the other boy on the phone, boy and girl giggle a little, say hi, ask how school is, and then laugh and give up, having nothing to say.
I’m wondering if my daughter’s new year will include any of those special moments, dripping in innocence, throwing up red flags for her father and I to worry about. I hope then I remember those summertime glances and blushes for what they were — innocent.
And I hope she believes in Santa for maybe one more year.

And the Last Shall be First

A few months ago, my daughters started running cross country for their school.
I convinced them to give it a try for a few reasons. One needed to find something to engage herself in that she could call her own. The other needed a bit more physical fitness in her life. And I didn’t want either of them to become an adult like me who hates exercise.
While I was busy focusing on how they could benefit, I never stopped to think the pursuit -and my girls- would end up teaching me the real lessons.
One of my daughters it turns out has a real knack for this running thing. She improves all the time. The other…maybe not so much.
Today, they ran one of the more challenging courses they’ve been dealt so far. I knew one would finish near the end. The other I expected in the middle of the pack. Earlier, I had watch them set out with something of a wince. My one daughter, as expected, was dead last, and continued to fall behind as the pack moved out of sight.
As I waited near the finish line, kids were coming in one after another. But not either of mine. The field was thinning. Earlier finishers were heading home. And I saw one of my girls come into view. She had to be near the end of the heap, yet she didn’t look particularly spent or tired. Odd.
A few moments later, I saw her sister, the one who struggles more with her performance and technique. She was obviously exhausted. Pushing ahead in what seemed to be agony, she was also gathering the support of the parents watching, her teammates and competitors from other schools. They were running with her. Cheering her on.
Tears were clouding my eyes under my sunglasses. I hurt for her, physically and emotionally. All parents surely understand. It’s painful to watch your child struggle so publicly.
I hugged the daughter who had finished and handed her water as I turned back to the course. The other’s coach was now running at her side, encouraging her gently but firmly. Other runners from the home team came to run with her. Cheers were growing louder. I couldn’t help but wonder if the support – all genuine – lifted her or embarrassed her. But as she crossed the finish in a crowd of people, there was no frown.
She walked into my arms, and when she saw my tears, she cried herself. I turned her beautiful face, covered in sweat and wet hair, up to mine and kissed her forehead. I had never been more proud of her, my heart felt fuller than I thought it could.
Her perseverance was inspiring. And I told her so. That I would think of that moment every time I wanted to give up, take the easy way out. Take a nap instead of doing something that needed doing. And she smiled a beautiful smile, and said, “I love you mom.”
We gathered our stuff, and people came by, still cheering her on. “Great job, honey.” “Great way to hang in there, kid.” I was proud to be her mom.
As we were walking to the car, her sister, the more talented runner, took my hand. Another coach had been encouraging her to take on more in her training, greatly impressed with how far she’d come so fast. I wondered how that would progress now that she had finished second to last.
“She finished it, mom.” She said and smiled. I looked down at her and finally understood why she finished so far back. Just a moment before, I thought I couldn’t be more proud. But I was. I realized she had stayed behind on the course with her sister to support her effort just to finish, instead of pursuing her own interest in a stronger time.
My kids have done more than learn to run and stay healthy as I had planned. One has re-energized me to fight on when the days get hard. The other showed me that not all winners cross the finish first. Some do it last.

Catholic Schools are Community Jewels

Recently, a team of professors from the law school at the University of Notre Dame released a study suggesting that neighborhoods lose more than economics when a Catholic school closes.
That price, the researchers say, is community vitality.
Ok, I thought, but there’s a lot more to community erosion than closing Catholic schools. And then I had an experience where the reality of that study smacked me right in the face.
I grew up in the Catholic school system. Grade school, high school, college. Even grad school. My two beautiful girls are now enrolled in a Catholic school. My experiences have not been horrible as so many attest. No nuns ever beat me with a board, no priests or brothers abused me. Of course like anything, Catholic school isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that makes it different.
If you are part of any Catholic school, particularly elementary school or high school, it’s because you WANT to be. Not because it’s where you were “assigned.”
Parents, including parents who are not Catholic, send their children to Catholic school because they want an educational experience for their children that’s more than 123s and ABCs. And, dare I say, one that’s even more than catechism.
Parents who send their kids to Catholic school know it’s reality. It’s an investment financially, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s tuition, fundraising, time commitments, more fundraising, countless donations, and trust. It’s teaching by example.
It’s cliche, but it really is like a family, the way modern people think of it : You spend a lot of money and time to be with people you may not want to be with for the sake of your children and your own roots.
And that’s the rub right there – what the researchers may have been driving at. Community is not about candy and roses and everyone loves one another. It’s more about bearing with one another, no matter how you feel about them, for something worthwhile.
That’s what happens in Catholic schools. Case in point, sports and activities. In this fashion, Catholic schools have changed since my day. Many reasons have taken programs like football and cheerleading out of some schools. Mostly, however, schools don’t have the number of kids necessary to field two football teams and cheerleading squads anymore.
But kids and parents still want the opportunity to play. In our area, parents from various schools in the region (north, east, west, south) took the responsibility to pull interested players and cheerleaders from multiple schools into teams, chose volunteers to manage the teams and squads, manage and man concessions and administration, and built programs stronger than many of the old single school groups.
Parents did this. Parents who work day jobs, who have kids in other activities, who have babies at home, who care for ailing parents, who may not always want to spend time together, may not even know one another, do it so their kids can thrive and discover their talents. The ones who understand that community begins with strong confident kids say “why not?” instead of “do I have to?” or “I don’t have the time.”
Big deal, right? It’s football. But grade school football programs are also community engines. There are local photographers hired to take team pictures, local screen printers who do t-shirts and hoodies, vendors who provide concessions, venues that hold games, social events and banquets. Our team even offers space to a woman who makes jewelry in team colors. And it’s parents showing kids that they are important, and that everyone in the community has something to offer.
Community isn’t about having everything you want and liking everyone where you live. It’s much more about doing things you’d rather not on a rainy Saturday afternoon out of a sense of responsibility and necessity. It’s about forking over another $20 for candy or candles or wrapping paper so your child’s class can have a Thanksgiving play. It’s about hauling three cases of bottled water to a cross country meet because it’s your turn and sweating in the heat until that last kid crosses the finish line on a 90 degree afternoon.
It’s about giving kids something to do after school or on a weekend so they don’t have to find something questionable with which to occupy their time. It’s about sacrificing some personal pursuits to teach a future generation how people come together and strengthen one another. It can be about swallowing pride in front of your kids to show its important to find ways to work with one another.
This may happen in other institutions. But Catholics are particularly good at it. Like families, we certainly have dysfunction amongst ourselves. But our gift lies in pushing forward regardless of how problematic our inner differences maybe, and sacrificing when we’d rather not.
Kids – who in modern society so often get pushed aside, abused or overlooked – keep our communities vibrant and growing. Supporting and striving for the future of Catholic education is about more than economics. It’s about teaching another generation how to build a community people want to be part of.

The Real Test for Parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the New Jersey teen who tried to sue her parents after she, unhappy with the rules of her home, decided to move out and in with her boyfriend.
I have two daughters. One of whom is running toward pre-teen at breakneck speed. The other one is following everything the older one does. So naturally the description of the girl who lawyered-herself up was disturbing to me. Catholic school, cheerleader, good student, nice family, bad-boy boyfriend. Not that they were describing my girls. They were describing me at 17.
I’ve often looked back at the years of my life between the ages of 17 and 22 and realized there must have been an angel on my shoulder. It was probably all that praying my mother did. I was never a bad kid. But a few steps to the left here or a few to the right there, and things could have been MUCH different. Truthfully, not only am I lucky I escaped young adulthood with my life, it’s downright amazing I came away with no more than a broken heart.
All these things digested together give me a stomach ache. They also concern me about the randomness these days of raising girls.
Case in point. I know two young women, roughly the same age. Both come from middle to upper middle class families. Both sets of parents are wonderful, respectable people. Each did well in school, both attended very good schools in affluent districts and participated in extra-curricular activities. Both had/have friends and siblings.
Both girls went to college. I presume both had “fun” – it is college after all. One is a second year surgery resident, starting a period of medical research, and getting ready to marry another resident this spring.
The other, after changing majors from engineering to (I’m not kidding) wine/vintning, dropped out of school, moved in with a boyfriend. On one Christmas break, she surprised her mother with the news she had had an abortion. The next, she brought a small photo album of the child she gave up for adoption. She never completed a degree and is in financial straits.
When I think of these two ladies, I often wonder what the hot button was that triggered their futures. Was it something that could be foreseen? Is there a lesson here that will help me raise my girls? Do I even have a right to expect mine to achieve some standard of success that I think is appropriate? One that validates me as a parent over them as humans with choices?
One of my favorite passages in any book is the section in the Prophet by the remarkable Kahlil Gibran where he discusses parents and children. Gibran reminds us that our children are their own people. That our job is to safeguard them until they are ready for the world, or until the world is ready for them. Then it’s our job to stand back and see what happens. Wait for the results of our most important worldly test.
I’m a big believer in letting my kids make mistakes they’ll remember and learn from. Especially in cases where their father and I offer them advice to avoid the mistake, and they don’t take it. Within reason, of course. They are still young.
But I picture this day when I, like a mother bird nudging her young from the nest to fly, or like a parent letting go of that bike for the first time, release them into the world with my fingers crossed behind my back and a tear in my eye. And I’ll be hoping beyond all hope that they have that angel on their shoulder as well, guiding them from lawyers who tell them I still owe them and the myriad land mines and pitfalls of the first few steps into adulthood.
Like my mother, and I bet like New Jersey girl’s mother, and the mothers of those other two young ladies, I’ll continue praying that God’s paid the electric bill on those lights guiding the way to fulfillment.

Family First

Since childhood, I’ve always been encouraged to put family first. Now that I have a “nuclear” family of my own, that sentiment has come to have new meaning.

I realized this specifically last March when I found myself in the hospital, having a heart attack as a result of neglecting my diabetes. The only time I ever really took diabetes seriously was when I was pregnant with my girls. I was the lowest risk patient in my high-risk obstetrics practice. My sugars were in the perfect range through both 9-month periods. I exercised. I ate right. I was a machine. I thought of them, not me. That all changed when they were born healthy and happy.

Seeing those beauties at 6 and 7 staring back at me through the lines and equipment in cardiac intensive care took me back to those pregnancy days. As I sat in the hospital for the next few days, I realized that the “mamma bear” attitude I had in pregnancy was supposed to live on. It was supposed to become my new MO.

Family, I should have seen long ago, has more than one person in it. It has multiple – who have, or should have, a sort of symbiosis to them. Of course there are families, or parts of families, that have never realized this idea. And for those, I truly weep.

Families who allow the members in less than arms distance experience a world where the needs and desires of one are the needs and desires of all. My health and well-being isn’t about my lack of motivation or even my desire to look good. Its about being available to two girls growing into young ladies, who need to know to button their jackets in the cold and to sit with their legs together and their dresses pulled down. Its about illustrating that no matter how good that cupcake may be, you might want to put it down if you want the pretty princess dress to fit.

But its more. Its about being awake enough to support my husband after a long day of work, even if he is going to fall asleep in his favorite chair right after dinner. It’s about reminding him, when his mind is at the office, not to criticize the girls too much when they hate dinner or spill ice cream on their clothes.

My husband and my girls do the same for me – they remind me of the greater world of the family, and set me on course to play the roles and meet the needs within the family God intended me for.

All of this came back to me again today, as I was explaining to my 7 year old that “it’s not all about you.” She had been promised she’d share in whatever treat her older sister would take to school for her birthday, which apparently meant she now had the right to choose what said treat would be. We delved into the conversation about how she needed to stop passing on her chores, because having them done was important to everyone in the family.

Being a stay at home mom was not what I imagined God envisioned for me when I became a parent. I saw the Wonder Woman working in fabulous clothes by day, bathing and reading stories by night. Yet looking back, I see He has gone out of His was to place obstacles to working outside the home in my path. He was telling me “it’s not all about you.” I get it now, maybe. So my resolutions are:

Be a better house keeper

Get all of the laundry done at one time

Know which child has which activity which day

Recognize my husband’s contribution to the family

Be healthy so I can be available for my family

Thank God for the support and love in a family

Keep my glucose in check.

A family has many moving parts. I promise in 2014 to keep mine oiled and working for the good of us, not me.