I had a big realization recently about my teenage daughter and what I still need to teach her. My daughter has sensory issues and has since she was little. Part of her sensory issues include tactile issues with clothes and too much noise and visual stimulation. We really haven’t had any major issues since she was little, but it remains a part of who she is today. Recently we were at a concert with fog, lasers, flashing lights and quick moving images on the big screens. It was a lot. We were barely 60 seconds into the first song when she leaned over and told me that she was nauseous, her chest was hurting and she was having trouble breathing. There was no doubt that she was not in a good place and that we needed to leave. Song ends and we leave.
As we’re climbing the steps of the Pepsi Center and the only people leaving, she apologizes to me for not being able to see the show. I reassured her that my concern was for her and not missing a show. What came to me as we climbed into the car was how proud I was of her. She had advocated for herself and made it very clear that something wasn’t settling well with her. I explained in the car ride home why I was so proud of her and why it’s so important that she advocates for herself. Then I took it to a new level and told her that anytime something doesn’t feel good or right to speak up and know that she can leave any situation. No explanation needed, just leave.
It was an a-ha moment for me as a mom and woman. Many of us were told as teens that if there was drinking at a party to call home and our parents would come and get us. No questions. What was missing was talking about other circumstances where we felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. What about a date who wasn’t treating us right? Maybe it was a friend that was being unkind or dishonest and causing us to want to go home. I’ve talked to my daughter a lot over the years about what healthy relationships look like and should feel like. I’ve talked to her about standing up for herself and speaking her truth. What I had not said was that sometimes you just need to leave a situation or person. There will be times you will feel uncomfortable in your gut for no known reason and you need to listen to your gut instincts and leave. You may find yourself wanting to explain why you’re leaving, but know that you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
During the last couple of years I shared with my counselor the story of a really uncomfortable dinner party I was at and how anxious it made me. For more reasons than I can share, It was not a good situation for me to be in. Yet,being the polite Midwestern girl that I am, I stayed through the whole painful night before deciding to go home. My counselor asked me, “Why didn’t you just leave? If someone treated me that way, I would have left before dinner.” What? What do you mean leave? I said I would stay for dinner, how do I leave? This was totally foreign to me. Leaving a situation that was extremely uncomfortable never entered my mind. It’s called manners in my world. To me, leaving would have been rude and I might hurt someone’s feelings. So instead your feelings and integrity were hurt, she said to me. Ouch. It had never occurred to me that I could politely excuse myself and leave that dinner party. Later that week I was telling another girlfriend of mine the same story, ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ she asked me. OMG- does the whole world know this lesson and I somehow missed it?!
Maybe you can relate to my polite, Midwestern don’t rock the boat upbringing, maybe you can’t. What I’ve learned is that I can leave any situation – any person and I don’t need permission. This was a powerful lesson to finally grasp in my 40’s. This is also what spurned our car conversation about self advocating and leaving uncomfortable and unhealthy situations. It sounds basic, but I truly believe it’s a lesson we need to tell our girls. I believe my daughter knows this, but I also want to make sure she KNOWS this lesson and has put it into practice. In the most simple and basic terms, it’s called boundaries. Knowing your worth and protecting yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually is a foundational boundary for me and one that I will keep teaching her and myself.