As a teenager, I worked in an upscale nursing home. The facilities were modern, the work-load reasonable, and the patient care was excellent. I felt lucky to work in such a clean and well-run place. Yet my time there was marked by a very dark spot.
One of my residents was a sweet elderly lady with a terminal illness. Her middle-aged son came to spend the last few weeks of her life by her side. As I cared for the woman, her son started making passes at me.
“You’re so cute,” he said, “you look like you’re about ten years old!”
I blushed and kept adjusting my patient’s pillow.
“Want to have lunch with me at the cafeteria?” he asked, watching me carefully as I took care of his mom.
“I brought my own lunch, thank you,” I replied respectfully, scribbling down the notes I needed to save to put in the computer chart later.
Leaving the room, I sighed with relief, and went on to the next patient.
The silky-voiced harassing went on for days. Asking me out to lunch, saying I was cute, ogling me from head to toe, profusely complimenting me on the excellent care I was giving his mom. The flirting got to the point that I dreaded going to work. One day the harassing got to me so badly that I locked myself in the staff bathroom, shaking with fear and praying for God to take that man away.
But this is the strange part. I never consciously thought, “This man is a creep. I don’t have to put up with the way he is treating me. I should tell someone what is going on!”
I never once thought of telling someone, even though my spirit was screaming “You are not safe!” My sense of duty to work hard without complaining was so strong that I could not hear anything else.
Raised in a culture that highly valued obedience without question, I felt a huge responsibility to be kind, to accommodate, to listen to others, and most of all to not hurt anyone’s feelings.
Those are wonderful traits to have, but in this case they trumped the fact that this man made me feel very unsafe. I never thought I had a right to stand up and say I would not tolerate that kind of treatment.
That happened years ago, but I still struggle to assert myself when I should. Living in a healthy tension between rights and responsibilities in a Christian’s life is hard for me, even though I have a good husband who gently pushes me toward more independence. How does a person undo what has been wrong for so long? And how do I learn to parent in a way that teaches solid values while enabling my children to resist abuse?
I don’t blame anyone for the way I grew up. I believe the people in my life did the best they knew, just as I do now, and I love them dearly.
But I can’t deny that many times I was unprotected, and I’m still dealing with the aftereffects. The next post describes a shift in my thinking regarding parenting, and a caution about certain child-training methods.