From NOPE to YAAAS!

2016 has been rough. So when the calendar reminded me that I had to work on a Saturday, I wasn’t too psyched. It had been a long week, which was attached to a long month, at the end of an even longer year. But because of our partnership with Goodwill for our Refuse To Abuse 5k, I was scheduled to  give a talk at Goodwill’s Youth Aerospace Program about healthy relationships. So, even though my vibe was NOPE, that’s how I found myself driving up to Marysville on a Saturday at 7am.

As soon as I got there, I knew I was going to leave happier than I started. The room was full of young people and their parents, all of whom had come together to talk about healthy relationships and their hopes for the future. So that’s what we did.

We did In Their Shoes: Classroom Edition. I encouraged the parents to let the youth lead, and they did (even though it was sometimes hard). It was remarkable to watch the youth in the room take charge, make decisions, and go boldly forward. Each group walked through the story of one of six characters who experience unhealthy and violent relationships. And then we talked about it.

yaaass-horseYouth shared their perspectives and their desire to create new ways of doing things. Their parents listened and then shared their hopes and fears about letting go and standing beside their beloved teenagers as they enter into their first relationships. We talked about the things to look out for and the things to celebrate. And then we reminded each other to continue to ask questions, listen up, and stay connected no matter what.

There was so much love in the room that Saturday afternoon, my NOPE attitude turned into YAAAS! And as I look forward to 2017, I am heartened that although there is still a whole lot to feel down about, talking with young people about their relationships will always be a YAAAS!

Doing nothing is the worst choice

Someone asked me if the current national conversation about sexual assault is helping our organization with increased interest or support. The answer is, not really. And I think the reason is that it’s hard for human beings to connect individual responsibility with community responsibility.

Often, I get supportive comments when I say that I am employed at a non-profit that works to prevent domestic violence. The term “domestic violence” can have different meanings; but usually people tell me that they believe that violence is rooted in individual behavior and poor choices. They don’t see what I see―that preventing violence requires, in part, government policies that support safe, affordable, accessible housing, child care subsidies and a livable wage for everyone. I guess it all sounds too impersonal and far away from daily life. And, yet, it matters. And it follows then that who is on the Supreme Court matters also. And who is in charge of Health & Human Services. If how you treat people does matter, than our leaders’ behavior and ideas matter.

I hear people say it is hard to vote at all with two imperfect presidential candidates. But this election reminds me of the importance of voting. People who came before me literally died for my right to vote. And, the right to vote is facing increased restrictions across our nation. Maybe your ability to vote isn’t restricted, but it could be happening to someone else in your community.

This October is Domestic Violence ACTION Month. Having a conversation with my children about the potential for abuse happening to them or their friends can be overwhelming. But, just like with voting, doing nothing is the worst choice. It is always harder to make things better after the worst happens. Exercising your right to vote and starting a conversation with your children about domestic violence are actions that matter. Your actions can be part of preventing more bad things happening and creating a world we all want to live in.

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Good talk

My kids are at that age where they are starting to have playdates, so I’ve had to figure out how to ask about guns in their friends’ homes. Ohmahgah, it’s so hard! I mean, I’m socially awkward anyway. And an avid conflict avoider. (I’ve had decades of practice with my very conservative family). So when it came time to ask, I was terrified. But I had to do it. My experiences growing up in a house with guns and the constant news stories about kids being killed gave me the courage I needed.

This is how I do it. “So, do you keep your guns unloaded and locked away?”

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

Yikes! It’s hard every time. Responses so far have ranged from a calm and understanding “Nope, we don’t have any.” to “What!? We don’t have guns in our house. Do YOU?” to “Actually, we have one that is dismantled and unloaded and locked in a storage unit that the kids don’t have access to.” So far I haven’t gotten a response that would make me feel like my kids couldn’t play at a friend’s house, but I’m sure that will happen at some point, because I’m going to keep asking. My kids’ lives depend on it.

So now I’m inspired by my new found bravery to dive into other tough conversations, like talking about relationships with my kids. Not just the birds and the bees, but age-appropriate ways to talk about love, consent, and bullying.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month, I’ve decided to have at least one conversation a week with my kids about this stuff. Here are some things I will be asking them:

“What does it mean to be a good friend?”

“What do you do when you don’t like what a friend is doing?”

“Who do you play with on the playground? What do you like about playing with them?”

Hopefully it will become a habit that lasts. One more thing I’m going to do—talk to my parent-friends about talking to their kids. Hmmm, that sounds hard too. Maybe I’ll just show them this blog post and say, hey—wanna join me? That’s doable. Because the more the merrier when it comes to helping kids learn how to be respectful, kind, and loving adults.

Fire Drill

I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.

Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.

I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.

What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.

duck-and-coverWhat tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.

I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.

Fire drill: unintended pregnancy

I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”

“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?”  And the conversation unfolded from there.

We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.

Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?

No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.

Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!

Fire drill: gun violence

I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.

And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.

Fire drill: rape and domestic violence

Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.

And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.

But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.

Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!

Take a deep breath and take action

You know those days (or years — I’m looking at you, 2016) when you have a hard time being positive and remembering that there is good in the world? Well, I am having one of those days. I was supposed to be writing about October (right around the corner!) being Domestic Violence Action Month and instead I found myself reading article after article about how messed up the world is. I couldn’t stop!

But then I took a breath, called my beloved coworker for a reality check, and was reminded that all my ruminating and ranting and despair are not for nothing. Because it only takes a minute to understand that all of this violence is connected. And it takes just another minute to realize that all of our liberation is connected too. So when it feels like we can’t do anything to make a change, know that we actually can. And the opportunity is right around the corner. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month (DVAM). And action is a good thing. Action will propel us forward. Action will make us feel better. Action is what it will take to end the violence.

So next month, let’s work for justice. Let’s take a stand when we can and kneel when we must. And let’s also take action to end domestic violence. Let’s work for relationships that are loving and safe. Let’s do it together.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Get together

  • When you have dinner or lunch with friends this month, try out and practice having the conversations modeled in our How’s Your Relationship? Conversation Cards.

Get down to business

  • Find out what businesses in your community are taking a stand against domestic violence and offer your support. Or if you are a business owner, you too can get involved. Check out our DVAM sign you can put in your window and reach out to your local DV program to connect customers with resources and information.

Get social

  • Post DVAM-related content on your social media pages. Encourage conversations in your circle about ending domestic violence.

Get real

  • Talk with the people in your life about their relationships. Find out how things are going with friends, family, and partners. Learn how to support those in relationships that aren’t going well and celebrate when things are good. Set high expectations for those around you and love fiercely.

Get giving

  • Donate to your local DV program with money, time, or access to resources.

Whatever you do, know that you are making a difference. Together we can end domestic violence and create a better world!

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Talking to someone about their abusive behavior

Let’s be real, most of us think of an abuser as an easy-to-spot evil monster. So it’s hard to admit or even recognize when someone we care about is being abusive. When we do start to see it, some of us want to vote them off the island and some of us want to stick our head in the sand.

But what if we want to continue to be in community with folks who have done harm? What if they are our family? What if they are our friend? What if we love them?

How do we convey that we won’t tolerate this behavior while staying connected and asking them to change?

We believe the answer lies in having conversations and being real. We hope to encourage you to talk with a person in your life who is struggling in their relationship, who maybe isn’t their best self, and who has the will to change.

It might seem kind of scary and it might be uncomfortable, but YOU CAN DO IT. Think of yourself like a farmer; no matter what happens, you planted the seeds and gave it your best shot.

Here are some strategies that will help you to have the conversation that you want:

  • Address their behavior privately. Be direct but loving as you challenge their actions, words, or violence.
  • Focus on the behavior. Talk about the behavior and how it impacts you. Be clear that you don’t think they are a bad person.
  • Ask a question, listen up and stay connected: “Hey, I’m worried about you… is everything ok?” “Things don’t seem right in your relationship. What’s going on?” “Sometimes I’ve noticed… How do you feel about that?”

Remember, it’s not your job to change someone. You can’t make someone change, but you can hold up a mirror and support them. You can also get help! Talk to your trusted people and reach out to experts.

You can do it!