I think back to nights when I am sure they heard every word and when they were suddenly taken from their warm beds. I worry about the lasting affects and scars they might have due to the abuse. Recently, I read that “Boys who witness their fathers’ abuse of their mothers are more likely to inflict severe violence as adults” and that scares me.
As the boys got older their father would degrade me and tell them “See why I do this? I do this because I love you boys.” During the abuse I attempted to shield the boys from their father’s rants and rages.
After the divorce, everyday life seemed overwhelming, trying to keep my fears and anxieties in check. I had so many emotions and challenges to face and at times I felt weak and unable. On many days, the boys were angry with me and would talk to me very disrespectfully. I would retreat to my bedroom crying and feeling like I had let them down, but not knowing how to change the situation.
My ex-husband was asking the courts for the boys to live with him. He was telling the courts “the boys want to be with him” and “she was not trying to work this out.” At the request of my ex-husband and his attorney, we were directed to attend counseling as a “family.” His attorney chose a faith-based, family counselor who had no experience with domestic violence situations. His opinion was that the husband was the head of the household and we had our roles to play. At no time did he acknowledge the domestic violence issue and did not make it feel safe for me to opening discuss the situation.
My “ex” always wanted the boys to ride with him. Most times he arrived ahead of me and talked about our situation with the counselor. The office was small and in the basement of his house with only one way in or out. I was given the seat at the back of the office, which meant I had to walk across the room passed my “ex” which made me very uncomfortable.
During family counseling, I felt ganged up on and pressured by my “ex” and children. I would leave the room and try to regain my composer. The counselor did little to redirect or make me feel at ease.
I asked if I could meet with the counselor alone to explain how and why I was feeling this way. I told him I was scared and didn’t feel comfortable or safe. He reported to the courts that I was not trying. This went on for months and even though my “ex” was no longer living with us he was still controlling us all.
I finally found a counselor who helped me understand the “Cycle of Violence” and how changing little things would slowly change our lives. She was experienced working with not only victims, but the domestic violence abusers. She helped me find words and actions I could use when I felt I had nothing. I learned I didn’t have to react or answer immediately to the craziness my “ex” was inflicting. I found that by not engaging or reacting, in turn, had an impact on the boys. I finally saw the boys were in fact, relieved that there was nothing to report to dad. But I was not fooled into thinking it would just stop and life would be great!
When he was not getting the response he wanted, he would ramp up the pressure or change his tactic. But I was prepared, I was still attending counseling and getting stronger every day. I was learning a new way of life after 18 years and it was scary.
I still had to safety plan and at times felt like a prisoner in my own home. I knew I had to be strong and pick my battles with my sons. I knew I had to show them they were safe and it was going to be okay. I began to realize they were in the same position I was and they were just trying to get through. This broke my heart and made me rethink everything. Should I have stayed so I could protect them and be the buffer? How would I protect them now?
In those times, I knew I needed to give them understanding and try and remain a safe harbor for them. Eventually their dad could not hold it all together anymore and the boys were ready to make a change. They finally revealed what was going on while they were at his house. Like how their dad would send them over to spy on me and have to report to him what I was up to or how they were kept up for hours listening to his rants and rages. They just simply could not handle it anymore. Changes were made in custody and as the stress lessened they started to talk about their experiences.
Even though part of me wanted to shout from the roof top and say “see I wasn’t crazy, he really did do all of that…and more!” I knew I couldn’t. I knew I had to just let them trust me enough to talk about it so they could start to heal and understand. I wanted them to know they didn’t need to feel ashamed and it was not their fault.
It was important for them to determine how and when they spent time at dads. My hope was to show them other ways to handle differences and that anger is a part of life, but it’s not what defines you. As my sons face the highs and lows of life, they know they are not defined by the abuse they witnessed but empowered by their experiences.