Hi, I’m going to rant a little bit today. If you’re looking for cute dog anecdotes or funny kid stories or scrumptious recipes, you might want to come back later.
I lied. It’s going to be more than a little rant.
I’ve not always made the *best* choices when it comes to relationships. I didn’t really kiss a lot of frogs….I kissed a couple of sociopaths. (Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to my ex-husband, the father of my children. While he’s a doofus, and we were the most amazingly mismatched couple in history, he has never been in the category of spouses that I’m going to rant about here.) It was a life altering experience, and one that left a trail of ugly consequences. From loss of self esteem, to battling shame, to explaining black eyes, I looked around one day, fully ensconced in a world that hadn’t even been in my peripheral vision previously. I had no idea how I’d gotten there, and even less idea how I was going to get out.
But get out I did.
I can’t tell you how, exactly, but I know at one point as I was swirling around that vortex of weirdness, I spotted an escape route from that ugly hole, and I sprinted through it. It wasn’t due to super strength, or someone coming to my rescue, or any other Lifetime Channel Movie of the Week plot twist….it was a collaboration of circumstances that resulted in a moment of clarity.
Not everyone makes it. Either mentally, emotionally, or physically, they lose the battle….or surrender to it. I have seen it all: the ones who come out victorious, the ones who accept the dysfunction as their new reality…and the ones who tried to escape, but didn’t make it out.
The abused are not the only victims in these wars. There are so many soldiers…..friends, siblings, parents, co-workers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins….they all fought the battle, too.
Then there are the children.
Whether the abused makes it out or not, the young lives that were thrust into that maelstrom are the walking wounded. They didn’t choose this dysfunctional place. More likely than not, they love the combatants equally. They are assaulted with fear and guilt and desperation and confusion.
In many circumstances, that moment of realization, that burst of momentum and determination that ends the cycle….it’s from seeing the scars on the children. For those that make it out, they will be eternally grateful to that child…and will never truly forgive themselves for putting that innocent life in the battle. The good news is that once you get it, you really get it; you look backwards and forwards with such clarity that you never miss the signs again. You vibrate at a different frequency and clarity moves back through your past and into your future. You recognize the signs you ignored and see the patterns you participated in.
Congratulations, you made it out! Now what about those little casualties?
Every child is different, and each one needs to be responded to individually. There will be no blanket approach to helping them heal and minimizing the scars. The one thing that must be adhered to: Don’t give in to the delusion that they didn’t know, or that it didn’t effect them, or that they understand. Children are intuitive and intelligent…but are still children. They noticed. They heard. They saw. They felt. But they didn’t understand. They don’t have the filters, maturity, or distance to understand. I know how tempting it might be to soothe yourself with the fantasy that they are unscathed, but it’s like letting a cut get infected….cleaning that up later on is going to be uglier than it needs to be, and the scar may never go away.
So while you’re figuring out what to do to help the little munchkins, keep in mind that there are new mine fields to maneuver now that you’ve made it out. Your progeny may have been removed from the abusive environment, but there are still traps that can hurl them right back into the mental torture.
- It’s not ok to bad mouth the other parent. Maybe she’s a slut, or a drunk, or a gold digger, but she’s his mother and he loves her with his whole heart. He may be a violent, manipulative, drug dealing thug, but you chose him to be the father of your child(ren). Now he’s your daughter’s Daddy, and she thinks the sun rises out of his left ear. SHUT YOUR MOUTH ABOUT THE OTHER PARTY. This also goes towards extended family and friends. Don’t be hatin’.
- It’s not ok to undermine the other parent. “Well, that consequence is ridiculous. Your Dad is too strict.” “If you lived with me, I would let you (enter bait item here).” Don’t criticize the other party’s parenting.
- It’s not ok for the kids to be your messenger or carrier pigeon. There should be no “Tell your Dad that he better get that bill paid” or giving your kids a packet of documents from the lawyer to hand over when they visit. Grow up. This is your situation, not theirs. If it’s a volatile situation and the two of you have no contact, then enlist the assistance of a level headed adult to be a go-between.
- It’s not ok to use your kids for reconnaissance. “Who else was there when Mommy took you to the park?” “Where was Daddy last night?” “Whose car was that I saw in the driveway when I dropped you off?” If you can’t or won’t ask the other party directly, then you don’t need to know.
- It’s not ok to make your kids choose. “Well, if your Dad is going to your ball game, I’m not going to be there.” “I’ll throw you a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, but your Mom can’t come.” I’m not saying you have to pretend to be one big happy group, and those initial birthdays or special occasions may require separate celebrations….but if you’re not able to sit on the other side of the bleachers and concentrate on your child’s performance in the school play just because your ex is somewhere in the vicinity, you need a kick in the ass.
- Non-custodial parents: It’s not ok to see your visitation schedule as an option for your weekends. I am amazed at the number of parents who coordinate visitation around everything else in their life, and not vice versa. You dug in your heels on demanding 1 night a week and every other weekend visitation because your kids mean the world to you. Remember that? Now suddenly, it’s your weekend, but you got a better offer so you’re going to skip it. Way to make your kids feel like a priority, you jackass.
- Along those same lines, it’s not ok to ignore that your children have lives. Just because it’s your visitation weekend doesn’t mean that little Lisa has to miss her best friend’s birthday party. TAKE HER! It doesn’t mean that Joey should miss his soccer game. Visitation means you get to parent that weekend, not that you get to trot your kids around like trophies to your friends’ football gatherings. Oh, and canceling your visit (see #6 above) because you want to go to a party instead of staying home with popcorn and the latest Disney movie is a jackass thing to do as well.
- It’s not ok to whine to your children about the financial burden of single parenthood / divorce / alimony / child support / day care. Again, that’s an adult problem, your babies didn’t ask for any of this, and saddling them with that guilt is inexcusable. Check yourself before you say “If your Mother didn’t take me for every dime I had….” or “I can’t buy you those shoes because your Father isn’t paying child support”.
- It’s not ok to ask your kids to lie for you. “Don’t tell Mom” or “Let’s not bring this up to Daddy” is wrong. Yes, there needs to be discussion about privacy within families, and how not every detail of your lives should be shared, but don’t ask them to lie. Having trust in parents is so important for every child, and it’s just not worth it…even if you started smoking cigarettes again, or are dating his former best friend.
- You’re not the only parents in the world that have split. While it’s uncharted territory for you and your children, there are resources out there. Join a support group or online forum, read a book or two, seek advice. “I didn’t know how to handle it” is a poor excuse for bungling your responsibility to give your kids a solid foundation again. If you’re wounded from the demise of your relationship (and you most likely are), you have an obligation to get yourself some help and coping mechanisms so that you can be supportive of your child’s readjustment. “I didn’t know” or “I wasn’t thinking” isn’t an acceptable long term strategy.
What’s the most important thing you can do after getting yourself and your children out of an abusive relationship?
Make sure you reached that point of REALLY GETTING IT.
Make sure you don’t get into a new one.
That sounds like such a “well, DUH!” statement, but look around. How many people do it? Same relationship, different face & name. Over and over and over again. Why do they do it? You could write a book on the myriad of reasons, and several people HAVE written books. Often, though, it’s that they don’t recognize the warning signs until they’re already wrapped in the cocoon of crazy.
Please know that if you were in an abusive relationship, you were not just a victim, but a participant. Ouch. I know. That sucks. You already feel guilty enough, and it’s not my intention to make you feel worse. You know those people who catch colds if they’re anywhere near someone who has one? Yeah, you’re like that, but with bad relationships. Just accept it, and take precautions. The links below are ones that I’ve found to be a really good start.
It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence ~ authors Meg Kennedy Dugan & Roger R. Hock
The Cardboard Box ~ author Stacy Killian