I was involved in an abusive relationship. Before I was able to get out, I became pregnant. I haven't had any contact with my ex since my child was born, but she has so many questions about him. I explained domestic violence to her when she was eight, and it was really hard for her to hear. I could tell it hurt her heart to know her father was like that.
I feel like I am walking a fine line between being honest with her and scare (ing) her. I would love some advice. So far we have talked about my wanting to protect her and keep her safe. She knows domestic violence involves hitting and yelling. She knows her father never actually hit me, but threatened to. But there were many other scary things that happened that she is too young to know about. I feel like she wants to care about him and doesn't like it when I tell her he isn't a safe person. She knows it is ok to feel however she feels about him, but I feel like she wants to let him off the hook so to speak.
She thinks that because he was raised in a culture where domestic violence is ok, that it isn't her father's fault that he was abusive. I explained that when someone becomes an adult, they have to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, and how they want to treat others. I explained that the way we are raised does play big part in it, but each person still has a choice.
How do I instill a healthy caution in her in regards to her father, but let her feel how she needs to feel?
When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse by Lundy Bancroft (Author)
That book has lots of good advice to help children deal with abuse in the family. Even though she never witnessed it, maybe the book has some tips for how to talk to her about it. Now might also be a good time to involve professional help, like for example a clinical counselor or child psychologist. You can for example go by yourself first and see what tips he/she has. My brother and his wife did that a few times with my niece because she was self-harming at a very young age. They said it was very helpful.
You did and do the right thing by protecting your daughter. He will abuse her and use her if he gets the chance to interact with her. My mother protected me from my father. I haven't seen him since I was 4 years old and it was for the better. She did share the things he did and said when I was old enough, and even though it was not easy, I understood it eventually and it instilled a healthy fear in me.
It may be important to acknowledge and allow her need to grieve that she did not get to have a father. And that you see and hear her sadness over this. A therapist would be able to help you exactly with how to navigate those waters. It is possible and often very small changes in how we talk and listen can do magic. Therapy changed my life and has been such a lifeline in dealing with an abusive father, and later on an abusive boyfriend.
It is tempting for a child to idealize the parent that is unknown. It's a fantasy because that safe loving daddy does not exist. She may need professional help herself at some point in life, like I did. But that too just means "healing"...it does not mean there is a "problem". It's not your fault he is abusive, and it is not her fault.
Hang in there. It won't always be like this. I am 33 years now and my father will go to his grave without ever seeing me again. He is not a parent, he is an abuser and therefore dangerous. Life without him was richer and better than life with him would have ever been.
Janine- Thank you so much for your reply. It helps a lot! I think it would be good to consult with a clinical counselor-I will do that. I hadn't thought about her needing to grieve before. I think that might be something we can talk about-that it is ok to be sad about someone even if their behavior isn't safe.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. It means a lot to hear from someone who experienced something along the same lines as my daughter, but is now an adult and doing well.
Anytime! You're very welcome. It only shows how compassionate and loving of a mom you are. Give yourself lots and lots of credit for saving not only yourself, but your baby's life by leaving him and staying away.
Just this week it seems to have been all over the news- men killing their partners. It's an epidemic.
Hi Bambi..Janine gives really good advice. I read some of the book she suggests and it helped me. I have 2 daughters, they are 22 and 17. I was married to their father for 20 years and with him for 26 years. They are beginning to understand what abuse looks like, yet they don't want to believe it. My oldest is seeing a therapist as I believe the divorce and all that happened caused her to be borderline eating disorder and depression. She is doing very well now, but she and her sister both had to grieve how they saw their Dad.
My ex's abusive tactics were very subtle at times and the abuse was mostly directed at me. He paid a huge amount of attention to my kids and if there was any good that came out of it..it would be that he encouraged them to be focused on school and learning. He was the "fun" parent. He never disciplined them, but would criticize me for the way I did. He wasn't always nice to them, but there were enough "fun" times, that they overlooked the abuse.
I guess what I would suggest is helping your daughter to understand that grown-ups can hurt each other and that some people are not sorry for doing that. That is the focus I took with my girls. I tried to help them see that he was very hurtful to me emotionally, not kind and loving and supportive. BUT I had to do it by focusing on ME..that this was MY reasons..they could form their own reasons. He was very good though at making me look bad to them. So maybe a counselor will help her to see that some grown ups are not always nice. She may not ever completely understand. Perhaps when she is an adult..she may seek him out herself and have to see for herself to understand. My girls see it now. They still have a relationship with him, but it is on their terms, when they want, how they want, and if they want. They want their Dad to still be the fun parent..and now they see how he uses people to get what he wants and plays a game of him being the "victim".
It is a difficult position to be in. I still struggle even 4 years later. Protecting your daughter is the most important thing. Is there a male..positive role model for your daughter? Like an uncle or trusted friend who can kind of fill that role for her? When it feels right, that may be something to think about.
I don't talk about my ex to my kids anymore. It causes a lot of tension and ends up pushing them towards him. My ex is really skilled at making people feel sorry for him. My kids fall for it too. I have set rules..my ex is not allowed in my house, I prefer he not be in my car (although I can't always enforce this if my daughter borrows my care and is with him), and my girls know I am not going to socialize with him. I maintain "no contact" for the most part,,and I am civil if our paths cross. At this point..my goal is not to bring any more tension into my children's lives. I will answer any questions if they have them, I will tell them whatever they want to know. I am working very hard at being the solid role model in their life. I am responsible, dependable, flexible, I set limits and I budget my money (he doesn't). I am there for them emotionally. BUT they know I will never let him hurt me again or give him an opportunity.
Try not to make her feel one way or the other. Yes, she is too young to decide, but as you and Janine said, it is ok for her to feel what she feels. I tell my kids, "It is my job to protect you from anything I perceive that can hurt you, him included". They respect that I am trying to do my job.
Sorry so long winded, this topic is still a tough one and has no easy answers!
Hi Karen- Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me! What you said about focusing on "MY" reasons made a lot of sense. I think that speaking to her from that perspective will be kind of like modeling for her how I stepped away from an unhealthy relationship, how I respected myself, and how I set boundaries for myself-all things I am trying to teach her. But at the same time, I am not telling her how she needs to feel. She can kind of draw her own conclusions from my actions.
Thank you for your encouragement. Reading your post gave me some more "tools" to use for my "toolbox" of how to talk with my child about the experiences I had.
It sounds like you are doing such a good job of talking/explaining things to your daughters while in a difficult situation. Best Wishes for you.
Thanks Bambi..and you are welcome. What you mentioned about being a good role model for your daughter is really a great thing! When I went through counseling..after all this happened, one thing I learned to focus on was helping my daughters to see what a healthy woman looks like. To show them that I love myself enough not to stay with someone who didn't respect me, who made me feel less of myself and who basically was disrespectful of women. I really tried to take a really difficult situation and turn it into something positive...like there is always hope when in a bad situation, that loving yourself and respecting yourself is a good thing and an important thing for girls and women in todays' world. My girls had asked me a few times when they were younger if I would ever get a divorce. And it was because some of their school friends had parents who were divorced. I remember telling them that I loved their Dad (this was a long time ago) and divorce wasn't something I was wanting at that time. I remember not using the word "never" or "I promise to never get divorced". I didn't know what the future would hold, but something must have made me have a gut feeling that I potentially could. I also tried to help them understand that even though I made a promise when I got married to love their Dad..I really tried to help them see that he promised to love me and he broke that promise. That the LAST thing I wanted was to change our family. That I would have never left if I truly did not feel I had any other options. I think I also explained that I needed to be healthy, and the stress and all that was going on was taking a toll on my health. I explained it to them in very general terms, but I wanted them to understand that I truly believed in marriage and the vows I made, but I was not going to sacrifice my health any longer for something that wasn't working.
I basically rebuilt my life and started over. I hope someday, they realize the courage and strength it took for me to leave their Dad. I think they are starting to get it, but I also think a part of them will never really understand. I am a huge supporter of women's rights and fight against Domestic Violence. There is a group that is local and in the US called "One Love Foundation". I believe in the work this group does, which is to educate teens and young women about DV and what unhealthy and healthy relationships look like. My girls know I am willing and ready to talk to any woman about it and to help them leave if that is their desire. So..that is what has worked for me. I am not the same Mother or woman I was 4 years ago..when I left their Dad.
My oldest is in a very good healthy relationship with a young man whom I adore. They love each other and I am so thankful that she loves him in a very good way. She didn't "inherit" the abusive tactics that her Dad used towards me. I worry that my younger daughter has some of his tendencies and there are times when she treats me like he did. It is really hard to stand up to her. She is only 17, but I had a lot of anxiety about losing her to him. She can't live with him as he lives with his sister and sleeps on her sofa..he has been there for 3 years..was only supposed to stay for a few months. I had to learn how to basically get my 17 year old to stop abusing me. She is better..some of it may have been the anger she felt for me leaving (I had to leave her and her sister with their Dad and they are only just beginning to forgive me for doing that. I had no choice, he wouldn't leave our house and I needed to get away from him). It is a very long story, but there is a light at the end of what may feel like a dark tunnel.
I can tell you love your daughter very much and that love will help her to grow into a beautiful woman and have healthy relationships some day. Your daughter is very blessed to have you in her life. I believe she will see what a strong, brave, healthy woman you are and want to be just like you. Showing our daughters how to find their own happiness and to love themselves, that is the best gift we can give them. Best wishes to you and your girl!
Any time you need to post, feel free. I check in here regularly, if I can help I will! Karen