Domestic Violence can be a cycle. Girls who grow up with abuse are more likely to find themselves in relationships with abusers and boys who grow up with abuse are more likely to become perpetrators. It’s a case of the unhealthy narratives they’ve become accustomed to, their views and tainted understanding of what ‘normal’ relationships are.
During my abusive marriage I thought I’d hidden a lot of it from my children. After I left my abusive marriage, I realised that my children had seen, heard and felt so much more than I’d realised. I remember constantly thinking and praying. “I hope I left early enough that Domestic Violence won’t be apart of their futures”.
I hoped I had gotten out early enough that my daughter didn’t ever find herself being treated the way I was and I hoped I had left early enough that my sons didn’t think that was the way you treated someone you vowed to love and protect. Rather than sitting on my hands nervously wishing, hoping and praying, I made the decision to actively try to change their trajectory.
I’m honest with them. They have seen their father yell, rant, punch holes, grab me and I’m honest with them that his actions are not okay. I don’t belittle him by saying he’s a terrible person but I do acknowledge his actions are wrong and criminal. I have suggested to them that their father should speak to a mental health professional. That also opens the gates for me to explain how important it is to speak to a mental health professional if they find themselves struggling at any point in the future, just like I would take them to the doctor for the flu or a chest infection.
Reach out for help. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes some professional help to support a child through emotional trauma. Utilise your General Practitioner, local mental health support organisations, counsellors and child and family centres whenever you feel it to be necessary. Children who have lived in trauma may have triggers that spark huge responses, coping mechanisms for survival, unable to self regulate or various other alternate strategies that served them then but hinder them now. Do not be ashamed to seek help. It could save their lives.
I encourage my children to embrace every single one of their emotions instead of suppressing them. I acknowledge that the emotions they feel are valid. This includes anger, frustration, sadness etc but I encourage them to be proactive rather than reactive with their emotions. This means teaching them to self regulate or control their emotions. It is okay to feel angry, however, it is not okay to hurt someone or say something nasty because you are angry. You do this by role modelling to your children how to recognise, acknowledge, sit with and redirect your own emotions.
I provide healthy outlets for their anger, frustration and energy. My children have played team sport and other activities for most of their lives. It’s a physical outlet where they come into contact with other positive adult role models. They get to run, move, be active and also learn how to accept praise and support, take direction and respect their coach. My boys have found many positive male role models and my daughter other positive female role models this way.
My older sons have access to a weight bench, hand weights and various indoor gym equipment. My younger sons have access to a plastic, water filled punching bag which is in a bedroom. Before I bought the punching bag, they used a pillow effectively. I suggested screaming into it or punching it. It helped and so I bought the lightweight punching bag to add to the mix.
Again, the emphasis is on the emotion being valid but it never being okay to verbally or physically lash out at someone to redirect that emotion.
I have immersed myself in my own healing which directly and indirectly benefits them and their futures. Anne Lamott said “The most profound thing we have to offer our children is our own healing”. I practice meditation and mindfulness every day and I encourage them to as well. I have embarked on my own journey towards peace, self confidence, compassion and happiness. I’ve found our whole existence to be a little bit calmer and little more deliberate instead of just ebbing and flowing like being on the rollercoaster of life.
Above all, be kind to yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself for the past. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do from here that makes the difference. We do what we feel is best at the time given our specific circumstances, situations, abilities and capabilities. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” Maya Angelou.