This is What They Want

Speaking of the lost years after her sexual assault, one of Jeffrey Epstein’s many victims offered a haunting recollection. She’d struggled to get her life back on track. She’d struggled with shame and grief and fear and depression and anger. But just as difficult, she said: “What I really wanted was my parents to come and ask me what was wrong.” 

Of course, no parent is to blame for the crimes of a monster like Epstein. And this woman isn’t blaming her parents for what Epstein did to her, just to be clear. Nonetheless, this poor girl’s words are devastating because they could so easily apply to even the best parents, whose children are suffering silently from things their parents couldn’t guess were going on in a million years. 

What’s so difficult, from a parent’s perspective, is that we believe we’re on top of this stuff. We’re on the lookout. We think we’re paying attention. We think we know the signs. We’ve read about the dangers. 

And yet, we’re busy. So, so busy. If we’re being honest, our attention is divIded. And because of that, we miss the rhythms of the day to day, where the life distribution that comes from suffering is most likely to present itself. Instead, we focus on outcomes—school, grades, sports, whether they’re getting their life together—because as long as the games are played and won, and the tests are taken and aced, then we can reassure ourselves that whatever little stuff we’ve been missing is, on balance, can’t be that bad. And of course, if something was truly wrong, they’d come to us, right?

This is what we allow ourselves to assume. And when we do, we miss. We miss that something has changed, for the worst. We miss that something is wrong. We miss all that is actually being said in the silence. All our kids want is for us to ask. All they want is for us to notice. Or maybe they don’t want this. They are kids after all. 

As we’ve said before, the language of children is behavior. They can’t articulate everything with their words, certainly not unsolicitedly, so we have to pay attention to what they are saying with their actions. And then we need to follow up. We have to ask clarifying questions. Hard questions. Deep questions. We have to be curious about why they do what they do, when they do, where they do, and with whom. We can’t just rely on words either, we have to read between the lines. We have to hear their quiet screams. 

They need us to be this way. Don’t let them struggle alone. Don’t let them suffer in silence, or in anxious anticipation. Help them, in the ways only you, as their parent, can.

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