My house was recently robbed. As I heard the first sounds outside, I grabbed my kids, laptop and phone and bolted up the stairs. Tried calling the cops who didn’t answer, then made hysterical calls to colleagues and family to keep trying to reach the cops. I was scared, scared in a way I have never been in my life. So scared I could smell and taste the fear.
I told the kids to quietly pray and locked them in my son’s bedroom, thinking if the robbers were going to rape and/or kill me, I need to ensure it doesn’t happen in front of the kids. So when one of the robbers came to the stairs and called out, I responded. I told him that there are kids in the house and they can take and do anything, as long as they leave the kids alone.
He came up to me and with a security gate between us, I offered to let him in if he borrowed me his torch because it was dark (the electricity was off) and I couldn’t see the key.
A second man came up to him, while another stayed downstairs and they left only taking the television with them. The whole ordeal probably lasted for less than 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. A colleague who stays up the road eventually came by, the kids and I spent the night with him and his family.
The whole time my own children were just getting on with things and I knew I had to talk to them but wasn’t quite ready yet. The next day they went to school while I started the hard work of ‘picking up the pieces’. Although only one item was taken, there was a lot of damage to be repaired and cleaning to be done because they trashed the place.
As I soldiered on at work, my wonderful colleagues again came to the rescue taking care of things, getting contact details of service providers for me; cleaning up the place and making sure the house had security while things were still being fixed.
My kids would soon be home from school and I knew we had to talk. My initial reaction was to tell them how proud I was of them for being brave and listening to me, but something didn’t quite feel right about doing that. My feeling was by praising them for their ‘bravery’, I’d be suggesting that they always have to be brave; that there was something ‘wrong’ with showing fear.
And it’s also a particular issue for me because I am raising a boy child, who outside of the house, will constantly be exposed to the idea that it’s weak or unmanly for him to be vulnerable and express emotion.
Beyond that, framing the conversation that way felt like I would be burdening them with the responsibility to not be fearful, when they shouldn’t be put in that fearful situation in the first place. So rather than affirming them, I’d be unintentionally teaching them all about victim-blaming. And one day I will set out to teach them how wrong it is, after years of possibly reinforcing it in our household.
I spoke to some friends who agreed with me about needing to change the language and avoid using words like ‘brave’. My own thoughts coupled with the conversations made me realise that while there are lessons that I set out to teach my children, a lot of what they retain are the unintentional ones. Other times there are just huge vacuums between what I want to teach them and what they are actually learning. Innocent words used in banal circumstances, but still very harmful.
Like most parents, I love my children deeply, completely and always try my best to do right by them. And I also accept that I am not and will never be a perfect parent, which I can live with and it’s not even something I’m trying to do.
But in a new way, I have become very aware of how easily one can unknowingly reinforce toxic cultures in the home, whether victim blaming or others. These cultures, on which I myself was raised, can unnoticeably creep into my parenting – even in the most well-meaning of moments.
It was an important reminder that as much as I try to ‘check myself’ in other areas, greater effort is needed to ensure it also happens in my household, especially in my role as a parent.