Toxic Memory?

21 Oct

Dear LetterBalm: Years ago, when our daughter was only four years old, we left her overnight with a babysitter, a family friend we trusted. The next day, she told us that the man had exposed himself and had fondled her on top of her underpants. Our child wasn’t physically hurt and didn’t seem upset. My wife and I called the police right away, and they handled it remarkably sensitively. The man admitted his guilt and eventually went to prison for this and other similar incidents. Thank God our daughter didn’t have to testify in court. We never saw him again, nor did we ever talk about it. She’s now in her early 30s, married with two children. She told us that she and her husband have talked to them about “good touching” and telling an adult if someone does “bad touching.” My wife and I wonder if she remembers her own experience. Do we tell her, and how?

–Worried Father

Ms. L.B. commends you and your wife for your responsiveness to your daughter’s incident of abuse. You believed her, and you went to the proper authorities. And, you helped stop someone from harming others. Because your daughter is protecting her own children, her memories may be returning, and she may be showing subtle signs of distress. Or, maybe not. After all, she was so young when it happened that she may have no recollection. You might gently reopen her conversation about your grandkids, their development and what kids today need to know to protect themselves. This could give her an opening to talk about what she remembers. Don’t force your daughter to open up, if she has no anguish. Keep the conversation light and take your lead from your daughter. If she reveals her memories, you want to stress that her parents believed her right away and sought to keep her safe:

Ellie, you and Bert are doing a great job with your kids. You were telling your mom and I how you’re teaching Jesse and Lila about protecting themselves against bad touching. Boy, kids these days really need to understand a lot about the world at such a young age. How are they handling it? Is their school teaching this, too, or is it up to the parents? What do you and Bert think? Should schools even broach the subject?

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