I am a fiercely protective Mama bear. I insist on holding my children’s hands when we cross the street. I keep my eyes on my children at all times in public places. I do not like them to play in the front yard without an adult present and my younger children have never had a sleepover at a friend’s house without me present. Yet, I unknowingly allowed a child predator into my life.
This predator worked with children every day as a teacher. This man was unassuming. I felt sorry for him because he seemed so lonely. He did not have many friends and never had much luck getting dates. He was a little awkward. He seemed to miss social cues. He never knew what to say and always came across as a little strange, but sad and non-threatening. The caretaker in me thought he just needs a chance.
I was always taught to treat everyone with politeness and kindness. So, we invited him to a few social gatherings. He even went out to dinner with our family once. I ignored how he made me feel.
Then came the bombshell. Everything we believed was wrong. He was not just some lonely innocent who needed a break. He was a man with a problem. A sick depraved problem. I will not go into the details, because it is in the hands of law enforcement. He is also no longer teaching and I hope will never be allowed to work with or near children again.
He fooled everyone. In a million years, I would not have guessed his secret. I ignored how awkward he made me feel because I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to dismiss him simply because he was a little different. I take solace knowing that he never hurt my children, but that is not good enough for me to reconcile the fact that I allowed him into my life, even for a moment. It is not enough to reconcile that I was wrong. So wrong.
You never really know anyone and a true Mama Bear cannot ignore that little voice for fear of being rude. What is more important: Being seen as a perfect host or keeping your children safe? This experience has taught me a lesson about who I let into my life. While it’s not okay to intentionally be rude to someone just for being different, it doesn’t mean you have to bring them into your life, into your home, or near your children.
I have been asked before about the best way to balance teaching our children about stranger safety, while also teaching our children to use their manners and interact with adults. In other words, how to teach naturally shy children who are uncomfortable with adults they do not know well to be “polite.” My answer now is clear: NEVER force your child to hug, kiss, or even shake hands with someone they do not want to be near. Our children’s instincts are better than ours. If your child doesn’t want to, then why force it? Do you really care that much what other people think? Who says that good parenting means teaching our children to hug long-lost Uncle Joe? That Uncle is still a stranger to our child. A wave and a quick hello should be enough for everyone.
Your child will not grow up lacking the ability to socialize, network, or interact with others just because he/she does not want to shake hands with your neighbor at four-years-old. This will come in time.
What is most important is protecting your child because you can never be too vigilant. I believe in the goodness of people and will open my heart to anyone in need. But this does not mean taking risks with the safety of my children by allowing a wolf in sheep’s clothes into my life again.
Have you ever been surprised to learn that someone is not what they seem? Are you concerned with teaching your child to be polite? Does your child shy away from adults they don’t know? Have you ever forced your child to hug or kiss a relative? This is an important discussion. Please leave a comment or visit the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page to continue the conversation.
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