You never know the impact a single sentence can make in a person’s life or how long they will carry it before integrating its full value. A counselor once told me, “We cannot protect our children from the things we deny.” That statement would become one of the most influential concepts of my parenting philosophy. I’ve resisted, unraveled, accepted, and applied that comment to my life at various times, both in small doses and in all-consuming waves.
As I watched the videos of numerous gymnasts and Olympians confront their abuser, I wept with shaking shoulders and a shuddering heart. I know all too well what it is to live with sexual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We cannot quantify, en masse the depth of shame, fear, and distortion that ripples years beyond the physical acts of childhood sexual molestation and emotional abuse. However, there are some overarching themes.
Minds gaslighted, safety threatened, sexuality mistreated and unwrapped, adolescence and adulthood develop but do not flourish. Innocence and self-worth become replaced with PTSD and self-doubt.
One gymnast spoke of her struggle in parenting two young daughters. Her words described fears and challenges that I could relate to, in fact, I was afraid to have daughters at all. When the obstetric sonographer excitedly said, “It’s a girl!” I sobbed. What should have been a moment of joy was instead a triggered event that opened scar tissue and exposed deeply hidden wounds that unleashed fear and self-loathing.
What I could not have known then but would eventually understand, is that mothering my daughters would yield many gifts of healing and empowerment in my life. Advocating on their behalf taught me to speak my truth. In preparing them to own their bodies, I learned how to love my own. I can say without hesitation or doubt; I would not be the woman I am today without the fierce love born of mothering these young women towards adulthood.
My daughters know my story. In sharing my personal history, I’ve created an environment of open communication. I taught them both early on that secrets hurt innocents and empower the depraved. They understand that no one; parent, adult, educator, coach, doctor, family friend, or relative has the right to any part of their bodies, their sexuality, or their peace.
I believe, that illuminating dark, uncomfortable truths reveals fact and dispells fiction.
It is the culture of secrecy that perpetuates hospitable environments for sexual molestation in families, churches, athletic organizations, schools, and communities. But it’s not just the secrets kept of the lascivious acts that hurt the youth of our society. Timid communication, the avoidance of painful topics, and desensitized interpretation of media recounts are also part of the problem.
This weekend, I had conversations with both of my daughters about the Olympic gymnasts. And while it was stressful and depressing to reveal the trauma, it was also empowering to speak about the courage and community of women who stood up to speak their truths.
These women are more than Olympians; they are heroes. Real, raw, bold, and honest, heroes. They have modeled for our children the value of sharing their trauma, owning their stories, and taking back their worth.
They have shown courage and self-love, running towards fear armed with sisterhood as their shield and truth as their swords.
Through their actions and words, they have expressed appropriate anger. They have returned the repugnant, predatory cowardice to their abuser. It was always his to own.
They have also shown our children that sexual molestation and emotional abuse knows no socio-economic boundary. Sexual predators don’t only prey upon the weak; they create weakness through gaslighting any resistance and misusing the trust of parents, community, and their victims.
In speaking their truths, expressing their anger and facing their abuser, these courageous Olympian women have brought us a profound interruption in the misguided societal modalities of denial.
They are teaching our children that even the most successful, award-winning champions can believe the worst about themselves through the manipulation of those who hold power over their dreams and careers.
I remember being a young girl in awe of Olympic gymnasts and how I would dream of being just like them when I grew up. When they were little kids, my daughters held the same fascination and reverence for these powerful women.
After our conversations this weekend, they recognize reasons beyond Olympic triumph to admire these athletes. They are witness to the collective power of owning their voice and speaking their truth. They are learning the virtue and value of their youthful trust, and we are talking about how to maintain this aspect of self as they grow up.
My daughters are also processing some vile truths of humanity. I wish these were not lessons I had to teach, but whenever possible, I hope to support their understanding through the wisdom of uneasy conversations, rather than have them learn at the hands of a predator.
Imagine the collective wellbeing of our society, if we as individuals could sit in the discomfort of ugly truths, talk with our kids, and empower their perceptions through our own stories and the stories of their real-life heroes.
I think about this often. I no longer dream of being an Olympic gymnast as I did when I was a girl. Now, my wish is that my daughters, your daughters, and sons will own the courage, wisdom, and power being modeled by these Olympian gymnasts.
They have reclaimed their worth, and in doing so, they are lighting the path for other athletes and young people.
Now, my reverence and awe are held close to heart for their courage of voice and support of one another. These are the heroes I want my kids to emulate. Their words will impact us all for years, and if we open up the dialogue with our youth, these women will influence emotional health and well-being for future generations. Because they have shown us, we cannot protect ourselves or anyone from that which we deny.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith.
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