With the announcement of the royal commission into child abuse, we can expect many more victims to speak out. One who has already done so, the broadcaster Eoin Cameron, feels that by the time the inquiry is over we will all know someone who has been abused. Sadly, he may be right. Last week I heard of another who’d recently told his family the horror that happened when he was seven. As people are given support and encouragement to come forward it’s going to be extraordinarily confronting, upsetting and difficult.
It’s also going to be scary.
When I watch, read and hear about abuse, a part of me wants to home school my children, keep them away from any religious institution and never let them be alone with another adult. Of course I know that would be a massive over reaction but I’ve already heard parents express concern about letting their children go away on school camps. While such panic may be understandable, we need to stay calm. Because the truth is, we should be able to keep our children safe while letting them lose.
I’m with Hilary Clinton and the African proverb she borrowed ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
As children grow up we cannot possibly be everything to them. Even near-perfect parents (if they exist) are simply not able to fulfil all a child’s needs, answer all their questions or be able to encourage each and every interest. A child is not a carbon copy of its mother or father, so we need to accept the help of others to help them follow their interests and abilities. My daughter is artistic and into craft. I am so not. If I don't find others to teach her to sew and help her nurture her interests, her talent and passion will wither.
We first glimpse this in kindergarten as most kids fall rapidly in love with their first teacher. My daughter was so enraptured and adoring of hers I initially felt hurt. For a few weeks I felt replaced in influence. Then I realised I welcomed the slight lift in the often heavy load of responsibility and began to use the kindi teacher’s power to my advantage. I’d ask Miss Wonderful to tell her to drink water at lunch and go to bed properly at night. It worked.
My son adores his first teachers. He is so attuned to one that he can name her children, their ages and hobbies and is desperate to travel to her favourite holiday spot. I welcome her influence, input and skill but have passed on Fiji.
As the years go, by other adults are becoming increasingly important to my children.
My daughter is rather dreamy, vague and out there. Yet her netball coach bought out a competitive side I never knew she had. At the end of season, it amazed me how much this volunteer parent knew about each child on that team – she’d worked out who they were, what motivated them and honed in on definitive character traits. I was touched that someone would get to know my child so well. She’d worked out how to motivate her to stop doing cartwheels on the court and actually chase the ball. I was glad my daughter had a sporty sort to look up to.
A talented parent who started a drama class has also become a highly valued mentor. She has helped build my daughter’s confidence, capacity and flair while directing her inner drama queen. As a passionate, artistic and creative woman she’s another powerful role model. I wrote last week in this blog of crying at the Year Six play – another reason for the tears was because this teacher had not only directed a musical but helped each child show their inner light. All were enriched by that experience.
Tutors in music, dance and pottery also influence my son and daughter. All provide potential role models and show the possibilities and different ways of earning a living. They expand my children’s rather small world and their somewhat narrow life experience. We don’t want our kids to be too sheltered and assume their own way of living is the only way. Staying with other families can show our children other faiths, rituals, interests and activities. I wouldn’t have ever seen or appreciated movies if it wasn’t for a neighbourhood best friend. I wouldn’t have stepped foot in a church if it wasn’t for a primary school mate. Other families sparked my love of live music and taught me to surf. My daughter has a best friend who went to live in the country – it thrills me I can drop her off for a three day retreat where they can offer her a totally different experience of life. She now wants to live on a farm one day.
We have to be vigilant about who we bring into our children’s lives. We have to be wary. But we also have to trust in others and in society to help us raise our children. Once the checks and balances are made, the safety parameters are installed we need to make a leap of faith.
When my first child went off to a first camp I waved her away with a lump of pride in my throat. I had faith in those I’d entrusted with her care. She came back exhausted, exhilarated, enriched and made more confident by being part of something bigger than herself. A community. A country. A world.
Let us punish those who abuse our trust. Let us expose those who protect and harbour criminals. Let us open up institutions to the light to learn how we can keep children safe. And let us learn from those who speak out about abuse. Let us be cautious. But let’s always remember that our children need others to help them grow up and flourish.
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