Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re sort of uncomfortable but you don’t complain, don’t leave, don’t speak up because you don’t want to cause a scene or make anyone feel bad?
Even when we have concerns that are legitimate, sometimes we hold our tongues to avoid awkwardness or confrontation. We don’t walk away because we believe our departure implies criticism, judgment or lack of trust in another’s decisions or lifestyle. We take care not to step on anyone’s toes. We don’t want to be rude or offensive by questioning what folks are doing. Maybe we assume that the other person knows better – or knows something we don’t.
Of course we know just fine ourselves. Our little voices whisper to us, “Get out of here. This feels wrong,” or, “This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. We’re in danger.” And our little voices are usually right on target. Those voices become especially useful when it comes to our kids. But sometimes, just as we ignore it when it comes to our own safety, we ignore it when it comes to theirs.
Even though we like to think that we’d never put our babies in harm’s way, it happens to every parent at some point. That moment when we know we should be changing course but we stay put instead because we don’t want to make waves. At times like these it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rude or offensive about being a good advocate for our children. After all, our kids trust us implicitly and believe that when we send them off into the world that we are sending them off to safe place with responsible people. They never say, “Momma, will I be safe?” They move through the world with confidence, knowing for certain that we have their little backs.
We are our children’s best advocates. We are responsible for our children’s safety. And knowing about the world and how it spins in 2013, we can initiate some pre-emptive, full-disclosure conversations that will provide us with comfort and trust as our children explore the world independently. These are five “little voice” questions that every parent should be asking without hesitation or fear of imposition:
1. “Can you please not drive and text or talk on the phone while my child is in the car?”
We all know the stats. Distracted drivers hurt people. Carpools being a vital part of parenting, often times we toss kids into minivans assuming that the drivers are responsible behind the wheel simply because they are responsible for children. Do you know if the parents or guardians in your carpool are texting while driving? I admit, while I’ve asked this question to friends on occasion, for the most part I assume that people are doing the right thing. But there’s nothing wrong with asking. We have every right to protect our kids.
2. “Do you keep a gun in your house?”
The Newtown tragedy was not lost on anyone, certainly not parents of small children. Let’s use this tragedy as a lesson to us all when it comes to gun safety. A few weeks ago, my son was eagerly anticipating a play date with a new friend. The night before the big day, I received an email from the boy’s mom, “Don’t take this the wrong way. But in light of everything that happened this year, do you keep guns in your house?” I was so happy that I wasn’t the only parent asking that question. There is nothing intrusive about ensuring our children are playing in a safe environment. I assured her I don’t have any weapons in my house and we cleared the way for a terrific conversation about modern parenting.
3. “Will there be any other people in your home during the play date?”
Listen, I’m not a paranoid parent, but when I drop my kids at someone’s house, I want to know about older siblings, friends, visiting uncles or handymen hanging around. When we are alert, we pass this awareness onto our children and we give them a beautiful gift called confidence. When their heads are up, they are better prepared to protect themselves if placed in an uncomfortable position. Abusers seek opportunity.
I always tell my kids this: When you go to pick out a puppy, do you want to take home the puppy who is nipping and barking? Or do you want to take home the puppy that curls up in a ball in your arms? Of course they vote for the snuggly puppy. And then I tell them that abusers think this way when they pick out victims. They want easy prey. When we are confident, when we look people right in the eye and use our strong voices to tell them when we don’t feel comfortable, we are unbreakable. Knowing who is in the house, we can prep our kids with an easy conversation and remind them that if they are ever in a place where they don’t feel right, they should go to a parent and ask for help.
4. “Will the birthday cake have nuts in it? Will nuts be offered at the party?” or, “Does your child have a food allergy?”
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy – that’s about two kids in every classroom. With this in mind, the likelihood that an allergy sufferer attends your child’s birthday party is pretty darn good. Peanut is obviously the most prevalent allergy in children, though lots of other issues are out there – eggs, shellfish, gluten, dairy, soy… how can we do the right thing? Some kids know enough to ask the right questions. My son, for example, has been asking, “Are there nuts in this?” since he was two years old. He has a genetic allergy and knows to be vocal. Other kids might just trust that the food is safe. So it’s important for us parents to clear potential danger out of the way by asking about allergies ahead of time. This way the party host has a chance has full disclosure.
But even though the party host may not have an allergy kid, it’s also important for her to ask guests ahead of time. Because the last thing anyone wants to do is serve a strawberry cake with almond extract to a kid with a nut allergy and sit there helplessly while the child breaks out in hives and gasps for air. This is the world we live in now, and these are the precautions we need to take. We can no longer take the “I didn’t know better” approach. Because we do know better. Ask the questions. Protect the child. Protect yourself.
5. “Can you please not use your cell phone or go in my bedroom while babysitting?”
We may be comfortable assuming that our babysitters know better than to text, play “Words with Friends” and chit-chat on their iPhones while caring for our children. But most likely, this is not the case. Very rarely do teens log out. But it is absolutely acceptable to ask them to turn off electronics while watching our kids. We are paying them to give their full attention to our children, after all. And if there is an emergency, they can use the house phone.
We may also assume that sitters respect our privacy when they’re in the house. But I’ve been shocked to hear many adult friends confess that they used to rifle through bedside goodie drawers and personal spaces of parents for whom they sat as teens. If it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss casually, write down a short list of expectations for the sitter like this:
- chicken soup for dinner
- PG movies only
- no texting or phone calls while kids are awake
- be sure toys are put away and kitchen is clean
- kids in bed by 9pm
- my bedroom is completely off limits
- we’ll be home by 11 but call for any problems
By taking time to create clear boundaries, we are letting others know that we value ourselves and our families. This is a good thing. And really, when we share our expectations we are helping everyone by avoiding uncomfortable situations. It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to advocate for our kids’ safety. Safety is the last thing on their minds so it needs to be the first thing on ours.