It seems like every day we are being bombarded with stories in our newsfeed of situations occurring regarding "strangers" and moms with kids. It seems to be becoming a more and more common trend. I have always tried to avoid places that make me feel uncomfortable and have always felt like Target and Publix are "safe" places to go, especially with my children. But now these are the very same places that I keep seeing pop up in my newsfeed where moms are having to take a stand against men who appear to want to potentially harm them or their children on some level. Clearly the "creepers" have gotten smart and realized Publix and Target are "the" mom places to go. Ugh.
Just a couple weeks ago an acquaintance of mine (a friend of a friend type thing) had such a situation happen to HER. She was with HER three precious babies at HER favorite Target. Y'all. This freaks. Me. Out. You can watch the news feature of her story here: http://kfor.com/2016/06/29/police-investigating-suspicious-men-at-yukon-target/
So what can we do? Part of me sees that story and just wants to stay my butt at home with my babies and buy everything online. Avoid going to stores unless Zach is home to keep the kids. But we also can't live in a constant state of fear. There HAS to be a balance! Here are some of my personal strategies to going out and about while dealing with "stranger danger" fears:
1. Do Not Live in Fear: When I feel anxious I remind myself that God calls us not to live in fear. Fear is of Satan, not of the Lord. (I love Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”)
2. Be Aware: When I attended an open casting call to be on The Real World (remember?) one of the biggest things that stood out to producers about me was that when they told me to come back with them b/c I'd been chosen to go to the next round of auditions, that I didn't trust them. They weren't wearing MTV attire. They didn't show me any id. Why the heck would I follow some random dude to some back room at a random restaurant in downtown Atlanta just because he told me to? No sir!
It's SO important to be aware of our surroundings at all times. Being a shorter female I think I've always been mindful of my surroundings because I know how easy of a target I'd be. I am careful and mindful and am not ashamed to ask for a security guard to escort me to my vehicle if needed. Add kids to that mix and it's even more important to constantly be looking around and just generally be cognizant of the people nearby.
Notice if someone is "shopping" without a cart or at the check out without purchasing anything. Notice if people are watching you, or your kids. Notice where you park and who is parked near you. Notice surrounding vehicles, if anyone is sitting in the vehicle. Awareness is so crucial!
3. Be Strategic: It's not just important to be mindful of what is going on around you, it's also important to have a game plan in place. I know that I'm not only an easy target because I'm a smaller female, but I'm an even easier target when I'm wrangling my three children. Especially when getting them all buckled into the car. I've trained my kids to buckle quickly when they get in the car. If I feel uncomfortable with a situation I will get in the van with them and go ahead and lock the doors then buckle and climb over the seat to drive. We don't take a long time in parking lots. I do my best to park near the cart return as I'm then able to return the cart right when loading up the car and not have to walk away from my vehicle to return it. Adding simple steps to your routine can make a difference!
My kids also know that we all go to the bathroom together. We share a stall (turning away to give privacy as each of us goes). I know it's hard on Kye especially but I'm sorry he's not going into a bathroom on his own so we make it work! They also all know that it's an "eyes on me" situation when we are out and about. If they can't see me, then I can't see them. Long gone are the days where kids can go play in the toy section of the store while Mom does her shopping (weren't those days fun though y'all?). We stay together!
4. Communicate Clearly: I think it's important for children to understand the why behind our parenting decisions, when possible. I don't ever want to scare my children but I also want them to learn to be aware as well. I have explained to my kids that there are some people in the world who make bad choices and that we just have to be careful sometimes to make sure we avoid those types of situations.
We had something happen recently at our local library where a man watched us walk to the bathroom area and when we got close he got up from his seat and followed us. I was mindful of him and had been on my way to the bathroom with the kids. Instead I stopped, looking him in the eye and said "oh were you going to the water fountain? You go ahead of us as we take awhile!" I then walked back into the open library area and waited. He got water (I don't think that was his original plan) then walked back and sat down. I immediately left the building and got into my vehicle rather than go use the bathroom as planned. I told the kids that there was a situation that was making me uncomfortable and that we were going to go straight to the car. None of them pitched a fit or cried or got upset. They understood that we needed to go ahead and leave and they understood when I told them to buckle up quickly that they needed to do so. I remained calm and they were not afraid, but they did know that I meant business.
5. Be Prepared: It's important to be able to protect ourselves and our children in the event that something were to happen. I first took a self defense course a few years ago and gained SO much confidence from it! I would think through the motions of different techniques while walking so I'd be ready if I needed to use them!
Since then I've gotten Mace and a Stun Gun. I love love love the stun gun. It's a flashlight/stun gun combo and it fits in my purse. I carry it in my hand and have it on and ready when walking. I don't care that it's a huge pink flashlight looking thing haha!
I had a situation happen where a lady was being very strange towards my children in the bathroom (this was when I stopped letting them go in alone, I was at Kohl's and returning things and the bathroom was RIGHT THERE so I let them go in together and shouldn't have). She didn't speak English and I was unsure if they were doing something wrong or what was happening. I tried to ask her and she was just being odd towards me. I noticed that there were two men that were in the store and not buying anything and one of them appeared to know the woman. As we were leaving the store one of the men came out directly behind us, without any purchases. I did my quick walk to the car but still had to load up the kids and stroller so I was kinda stuck. I had my stun gun and held it up and hit the button and that sound is a sound anyone can tell means business ;) He straight up turned the other direction! I'm not saying he was planning to do anything to me or anything, but if he was then it worked and if he wasn't then at least he knew I wasn't messing around :)
Zach and I recently got our conceal and carry licenses and I purchased a gun to carry with me. We are going to take a course to learn all about gun safety so I can be prepared and know exactly how to use it and carry it safely. The peace of mind I have with the stun gun is great, but I want to be able to fully protect my children if needed at any time, from a distance. (Speaking of guns...this is such a great post about what to do if ever in an active shooter situation. Something we hate to think about but it's good to have knowledge of strategies!)
6. Trust Your Gut: I have always gotten teased about my hyper-awareness in public settings. Zach jokes that he's worried some random guy will get shot for looking at me wrong in a parking lot. But I don't mind the teasing, I'm thankful for my strong sense of awareness. I'm thankful that friends I'm close with have become MORE aware of their surroundings due to my diligence with it. I believe strongly in trusting my gut. If something feels off, I don't question it. I'd rather look silly and be safe than be sorry.
Do not EVER hesitate if you feel like something isn't right. Ask for help. Get someone to walk you to your vehicle. Take a different route. Avoid the aisle or parking spot or wherever you are feeling uncomfortable. The sad reality is that these situations are becoming more and more frequent.
While it's important to be mindful and aware and prepared, it's equally important to remember not to live in that fear! Most people are good. Most situations are fine. Most outings, even with kids, can be fun! By having a plan and trusting your gut you can find that balance of experiencing life (and simple errand running) while also staying safe!
Be sure to visit all of the Babywise Bloggers this week for more on this topic:
Monday: Valerie at Chronicles of a Babywise Mom
Tuesday: Emily at The Journey of Parenthood
Wednesday: Kimberly at Team Cartwright AND Natasha at Let's Be Brave
Thursday: Carrie at Wiley Adventures
Friday: Katrina at Mama's Organized Chaos