I am pleased to post this guest blog from a parent who would like to be known as Sam. Sam is passionate in her campaigning to get better understanding for women who have experienced domestic abuse. She is active on twitter, and has written previously for other people, as well as managing her own blogsite. Sam has a story to tell about the impact on children of living wth domestic violence, the way in which this can be replicated by children once the abusive parent has left, and the long term effects of this for all concerned. Her contribution is also pertinent because of findings across the world of the prominence of the experience of domestic abuse as a contributory factor in child to parent violence.
I am a parent who has been subject of child to parent violence (CPV) and a woman who is domestic abuse victim. I am not a professional, but have vast lived experience of abuse. CPV obviously has a number of roots and in this post I will explain from my viewpoint one of them.
So I am no expert, but I do have observations which I hope will add to the broader picture of CPV. I don’t actually want to talk about my family, but a compilation of families I know. Mum, Dad, boy, girl, married, home owners. Respectable on the outside at least. Dad, however is a drinker, Mum won’t use the word alcoholic, as they are down and outs (they rarely are, but that’s another post), who spends his weekends in the pub, he also likes more than a bit of pot, even though she wouldn’t touch drugs. She had a life event that led to low self esteem when they met and before she knew it he had moved into her home, and she barely knew him. Dad loves routine and will go ballistic if it is interrupted and he appears to be more attached to his belongings (some of which he has had since a child) than his wife. She feels as though she is a single parent with three children, the eldest being the most demanding. He has a range of behaviour that controls her, throwing better tantrums than the average two year old, if his dinner is not on the table on time or the children interrupt his favourite telly programme. He is a perfectionist at least when it comes to how she does the housework, which is woman’s work. He does men’s work, occasionally he will decorate, tinker with the car and will see this as far more important.
She starts to feel really scared of him and eventually matters come to a head and she manages to kick him out after a number of false starts. He further dominates through the divorce proceedings and she caves into his demands going against her solicitors advice, just to get it over with. Peace reigns, at least for months, then her son starts throwing his weight around. Of course she understands he is traumatised, however the behaviour seems frightfully familiar. Both herself, her daughter and her home are subject to violent rages and her life seems to revolve around meeting his needs. The daughter is a very different child, a “good” child who takes the strain away from the family, she becomes a model daughter, helpful and an excellent student. She is like a little mother.
Roll on a few years, Mum is still single and the son even more controls the household. He has got stronger, smashes through windows and household items, not just his toys. He goes to bed when he wants to and walks out of school regularly. He swears in front and at her, even though such language has not been heard since the Dad left the family home. He does not help around the house unless it involves using tools and just like his Dad, he deserves copious amounts of praise for his efforts. Still, praise and meeting his demands keeps him quiet, and propionately more time is spent on him than anything else (i). Daughter has taken over much of the housework as well as still being a model student. At 14 he starts smoking, it’s hidden for weeks and then he starts openly smoking and demanding money to pay for his habit. Mum moans but gives in, as if she doesn’t money goes missing from her purse. At 15, he goes to his first party, Mum is worried but pleased that he has friends as he has problems socialising. He comes home roaring drunk, yet on enquiring he seems to be able to hold more drink than would have had the average adult on the floor and doesn’t have a hangover the next day (ii). Daughter also has problems socialising, and seems to spend more and more time tidying and keeping clean than anything else.
Mum loves her children, but despairs at the way her son is turning out, but does not notice her daughter’s problems, which long term may actually be worse for her than him. Mum was not brought up in a violent family, but her Mum had “nerves” and deferred to her husband on important decisions, who after all had the good job that kept the family together whilst she was just a housewife.
I am sure if you have read this far, you will realise that I come at this subject from a feminist perspective. Feminism is not a swear word, it simply means equality. In both my personal experience and from now listening to many other victims, abuse is perpetrated because the abuser sees the victim as below them. Children copy their parents, many a pre-schooler loves to help with housework; unfortunately if they also see their parent verbally put down or physically attacked they may consider this is the way to behave. I am certainly not the only Mum who has been called a F…… mental B…. by my young son. Or like the daughter in the above illustration they find another way to deal with the trauma, and is well on the road to ending up in an abusive relationship as an adult.
Basically I am saying that in this scenario it may be intergenerational, which may sound surprising coming from someone in my position. I believe it can be stopped though, through education of women and children affected by domestic violence. I now know what a boundary is, as well as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Even through the limited contact I had with my son, when he was in care, I had to apply the boundaries even when it was difficult. At one point , I walked away after doing so, wondering whether or not I would ever see him again, with all the catastrophic thoughts that could possibly run through my mind besieging me. I am pleased to say I was backed by his placement manager, even though it caused him difficulties at the time. I also had back up from knowledgeable friends, who I could cry down the phone and offload to. For professionals, please ask the difficult questions and know how to phrase them . A woman may not be able to say she is a domestic violence victim, but ask her how she is physically feeling or how her partner drives (iii) and you may be able to start compiling the picture. Is her son’s behaviour anything like his Dad’s? No one actually asked me that question. Oh and start pulling any weight you may have for a more equal society!
Please give the birth parents knowledge, and in particular empower mothers to break the cycle.
(i) The makings of a King Baby https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201103/king-or-queen-baby
(ii) The ability to drink more than others is an early sign of alcoholism https://www.soberlink.com/recognizing-the-signs-of-alcoholism/
(iii) Every abuse victim I have ever spoken to, had an imaginary brake pedal as her partner was also king of the road.
I am struck once again by the importance for people of just having one person even, who is prepared to listen in a non-judgmental way, and to be present for someone as support. But in a situation such as Sam describes, we need agencies to work together to support families, as each has only part of the understanding and only part of the solution.
If anyone else would like to write a guest post, I am always happy to discuss how this might happen. Please just drop me an email!