Healing Touch

We cannot protect our children from everything,but we can make them aware of the existing circles of trust

Published: December 15, 2013 5:52 am

By Genesia Alves

What is gang rape,mama?” My eight-year-old asks as I frantically change channels. A year since the Delhi gang-rape case sickened and horrified us,as a nation,the news isn’t getting better.

Just weeks ago,I upped the ante on our ongoing “how babies are made” discussion. Every now and then,I remind them,“honey,people kiss and hug because they love each other,it’s NOT ewww!” Having grown up around our friends,some of whom are gay,the kids know falling in love is not exclusive to boys and girls.

My mother-milestones were hitherto met. So I am furious,and again,full of a sense of parental inadequacy,as I google,“How to talk to your child about gang rape?” I read psychologists,newspaper articles and personal blogs. Nothing resonates. This goes beyond the usual good-touch and bad-touch or “tough” subjects like death,racism,terrorism or natural disasters.

How do you explain extreme sexually motivated,male mob violence against a woman,to a child? “It is a very bad thing a group of men did to a young woman.” Is it possible to answer the follow-up questions? “Why? Can women do it to men? What exactly is the ‘bad thing’?”

The Delhi gang rape crystallised the anger of a city,notorious for its disrespect of women. And the media headlines brought the discussion about rape and violence against women into every home. While the relentless,detailed coverage is important for our society’s evolution,as a parent,it is a very challenging time. At an age when we were walking to school on our own,our children are now chaperoned and obsessively watched over. That toddler milestone,Stranger Anxiety,is being re-activated.  

All parents I know have talked their children through the varying risks within the sexual-safety paradigm. “If someone makes you uncomfortable,you have to tell me.” “Don’t talk to strangers on the internet.” “You’re not allowed to use Google or YouTube unsupervised,you may see something that you will not understand.”

The tougher conversation is about the threat from people you know and trust; that over-enthusiastic uncle,your neighbour’s teenage friend,the swimming instructor. But even here the rules apply,“If someone says,‘don’t tell your parents’ it is very dangerous. Come to us immediately.”

Violence against women is as old as mankind. The intensity of the protests for the Delhi gang-rape victim came from years of being told that “this is the way the world is”; a world that allows women to be subjugated,to be perceived as “possessions” or “unclean” or just an opportunity for a “good time”.

But how much “careful” is “too careful” in the current milieu? How do we find the fine balance between keeping our children safe,giving them the tools with which to navigate away from harm and not turning them into paranoid wrecks?

It may come down to facing the

fearful truth,that we cannot protect them from everything.

Our building caught fire three Diwalis ago. On holiday,we were spared the actual trauma but we came home to the aftermath. The garden in cinders,the fire-damaged building and cars,terrifying stories of the eight fire engines it took to quell the flames.

We had had no preparation. We worked through it. We leaned on each other and our friends and neighbours. There were lessons in there for the children and for us. That no matter how safe you think you are,something can go wrong. But if it does,you must also know that there are people who will come forward to help.

While we try our best to navigate the shifting sands that responsible parenting has become,I have to remind myself every day to focus also on the good. That more news about sexual harassment means more women are standing up,kicking ass and taking names,helped by a society that is moving away from victim-shaming. There are heartening stories of families — fathers,brothers,husbands,lovers — standing by,shunning regressive notions of “lost honour”.

I point out to my daughters and my son the “good” men in our lives. An old tuition teacher who criticises entrenched patriarchal beliefs like men should not cook. Or the sports trainer who pits girls against boys and treats both with equal respect. We need to acknowledge these men,even if they do not all fall within a metrosexual,urbane definition of “feminist”. They are vital to the wellbeing of our children.

In my experience,mothers seem to have most of the “difficult” conversations with their children. Fathers are sometimes left out of the micro-parenting especially as the girls get older. Perhaps,it is time to bring them in and let them speak as well. About how they worry for the women,how they feel failed by their gender and are filled with a determination to change what is wrong.

One year on,the headlines haven’t changed much. But as parents build higher walls of protection for their children,they have also begun to draw attention to the existing circles of trust. And that is pretty good news for us all. n

Genesia Alves is a writer and a mother to three children

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