‘Mom, You’re Too Much:’ One mother’s story about keeping her kids safe from sexual abuse
posted by: Mile High Mamas
Working in the field of sexual assault prevention can make a mom a tad neurotic. When my three were babies, I added anatomically correct body parts songs – think “Head, Shoulders, Penis, Knees and Toes.” My spouse would shake his head and laugh, “You’re too much!”
As they grew, I reviewed safety guidelines with them so often that would sing them back to me. I persisted. They knew that their private parts should not be touched or viewed by others, and that they should not touch others’ without consent.
They understood that sometimes other kids and adults break the rules. They knew that abuse was never the child’s fault—at least they repeated back to me. They knew it takes courage to tell. “Mom! Stop! You’re too much,” they told me. I worried that my neurosis would translate into heightened anxiety in an already anxious world. I wanted to protect, not frighten. It’s a fine line, and I was never sure how elegantly I walked it.
When they entered middle school, I taped up articles to “Mom’s Hot Topic Board.” The nature and substance of the articles changed as they grew older. Articles about kindness turned to anti-bullying. Articles about empathy turned to consent. Eventually, the science behind the risks of vaping and marijuana made an appearance, as well as the risks of anal and oral sex. I was met with eye rolls, shocked faces. They couldn’t believe I would broach such sensitive topics. They shook their heads at me and felt sorry for themselves. Their friends’ moms weren’t so weird.
In high school, our conversations focused on gender roles, identity and consent. We connected bullying with sexual harassment and assault. We talked about why some survivors would choose not to disclose, why people enduring abuse might not seek help. My law-and-order one was mystified, my secretive one nodded, my contemplative one asked questions about systems. Sometimes their comments gave me a stomachache. This wasn’t easy. They often ended the conversations with “That’s enough!” or a child walking out of the room. I continued to worry.
Now they are all in college. As I hear about parties, dorm life and the Greek system, I wonder – did I teach them enough? Are they equipped? Are they kind and socially adept? Are they confident upstanders? They have anxiety related to academics, and sometimes social situations, but that’s normal, right? They seem well adjusted, but did I go too far?
Questions about whether I’m too much ran through my mind until one of them called me from college. A friend had been sexually assaulted at a party. I was devastated to hear it. I asked what they did. My adult child had told the friend, “This is not your fault. It doesn’t matter that you were drinking. We can go to the doctor and you don’t have to report to the police, but I’ll help you if you want to. We can also call the Title IX office or an advocate if you aren’t feeling safe here. You get to control your story. I am here to support you no matter what you choose. You were brave to tell me.” I teared up with pride. They were listening all this time. I’m not too much. I am just enough.
Margaret Ochoa is one of the chairs of the Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition and the child sexual abuse prevention specialist at Colorado Department of Public Safety. The Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition exists to promote effective and comprehensive education, advocacy, and communication to prevent child sexual abuse and protect children. In partnership with Mile High Mamas.