We are all taught that Honesty is the BEST policy. With that thought, I have long thought about posting on the issue of domestic violence and how it affects children. Unfortunately, for a long time, I have been embarrassed (one of the effects of DV) to speak on this subject from my own horrible experience with domestic violence, and of which, I feel that I am still struggling with 14 years after my divorce. Before I begin, I do want to acknowledge that during my divorce, my ex-husband was ordered to and did attend and complete domestic battery counseling and anger management courses, and through that experience, and from what I am told, has never violently abused anyone else and has asked my forgiveness, of which I have given and daily ask God for strength to continue my forgiveness. It is very hard to do. We have one son together and I had a child prior to our marriage; they both experienced watching their mother repeatedly beaten, bruised, intimidated, torn down and shaken to her core. They are almost 20 and 21 year old men now. Over the years since our divorce, we have had, fortunately for me, to parent our son from a distance , but even the raising of his voices still frightens me to this day.
In my own healing, as Robin Roberts often says, I have tried to make this “mess” into a “message” for others. Through working in the family law field and having researched this topic of how children of divorce who have experienced domestic violence feel about themselves and their parents’ marriage, I give you the following:
Most children who experience DV (mostly on the mother) want their mothers to LEAVE and divorce their fathers. Most children who experience DV in their lives end up with serious effects going into adulthood. My boys were 2 and 3 when it started and 4 and 5 when it ended and were able to communicate to me at 2 and 3 that they wanted to be away from daddy. But, for me, I was scared to death — literally. One day, a neighbor called the police and my ex told me that if I told them that he hit me, he would get out and kill me, and I would never see my children again. I was scared, humiliated and lost. So, I spent the following two years being further abused. I was afraid to tell my family and often told my children to be quiet about it as well. Then, the beatings got so I didn’t have to ”tell” anyone, it was made very apparent by my black eyes, busted lips, etc. It wasn’t until my oldest son was in Kindergarten and I was called to school for an emergency meeting that the I had my “light bulb” moment. The principal and the teacher sat me down and said that during recess, my son was sitting in the sand box with another student and was discussing with him how badly his mom was being beat up by his dad (which was actually his step-dad) and how he was afraid his mom was going to die. I knew that day would be my last in that house because the school told me that they had to notify the authorities if I didn’t get my son out of that situation, immediately. They were right, and it was what I needed to hear. Fear can ground us and make us deaf, and I was on the path to my children not having a mother; which was my biggest fear. I immediately filed for an emergency court hearing and the rest is history. The court granted a restraining order, no overnight visitation, sole legal and physical custody, etc. etc. To this day, that order remains in effect.
I always say, children live what they learn. In my reading and research and through my own counseling, I have learned that one-third of the children who witness the battering of their mothers demonstrate significant behavioral and/or emotional problems, including psychosomatic disorders, stuttering, anxiety and fears, sleep disruption, excessive crying and school problems.
Those boys who witness their fathers’ abuse of their mothers are ten times more likely to inflict severe violence as adults. Data suggest that girls who witness maternal abuse may tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not. These negative effects maybe diminished if the child benefits from intervention by the law and domestic violence programs. One third of all children who see their mothers beaten develop emotional problems. They feel shame, confusion, stress, fear or think that they somehow caused the problems that are causing their fathers to abuse their mothers.
Through my boys’ counseling, even up to the age of 12, my older son told his counselor that he was worried every single day that I would die. That was his constant fear even years later after I was out of that situation. My other son told the counselor that he had feelings of guilt that he couldn’t protect me and that he was angry that I didn’t immediately get divorced. Of course, they didn’t understand and probably still don’t understand all of the feelings one goes through, but they knew enough to know that they wanted us to divorce.
There is another stunning statistic; the rate of child abuse is 6-15 times higher in families where the mother is abused. Children with these experiences are more likely to run away, be suicidal and are at a greater risk of committing criminal acts as juveniles and adults. Children do not have to be abused themselves in order to be impacted by domestic violence.
So, part of making my “mess” into a “message” is to tell my story in hopes that any of you readers who might be experiencing this yourself or who may know a close friend experiencing this can know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that finding the strength to face the fears we have as victims of domestic violence. Our children do not deserve this tragedy and even though it is hard to put that first foot out there, it is the first step toward a more healthy life for you and, most importantly, your children. Some women will do anything to keep their families together for the sake of their kids. But I urge you not to stay in this type of marriage for the sake of your kids; instead, get a divorce for the sake of your kids.