One of my blog readers recently pointed me to a great website called HurtByLove. Here is the link. It is written by Cindy Burrell. The first article I read was entitled “What about the Children?” Here is the link for the article.
In this article, Cindy gives the story of her family’s experience with verbal and emotional abuse, and how it affected her children. She shares a quote she once heard a pastor say on the radio:
It is better to be from a broken home than to live in one.
She says she was surprised that a pastor would make a statement like that. More often, abuse victims who are considering leaving their abusers hear:
“But, what about the children?”
This statement implies that the children would be better off in an abusive home where both parents are present than a peaceful home with only one parent.
She says that before she left her abusive husband, she and her children, “. . . lived in a constant state of fear, and the children struggled with various degrees of depression, anxiety and anger, which was most evident in the two eldest. I had done what I thought was right to maintain some semblance of normalcy, stand up for the kids when I caught my husband being overly harsh with them, deflect his anger to myself, and try to create a ‘happy’ home. The abuse had increased so incrementally over time that I had a hard time seeing the magnitude of the dysfunction, the massive weight of oppression under which we strived to survive. ‘Maybe tomorrow things will be different’, I used to think. ‘Maybe tomorrow he’ll care.’ Tomorrow never came. All of my good intentions failed. Our lives never improved; in fact, they became increasingly worse.”
Cindy explains that for her family, life was so much better when she divorced her emotionally abusive husband than when he was still in their home. There were several things she was able to do for her children to help them get from a place of brokenness to a place of emotional health and stability:
First: She admitted to the harm that the children had experienced.
Second: She gave them a voice, i.e. she allowed her children to be honest about their feelings.
Third: She helped them feel secure and loved.
Fourth: They walked together toward a new and better life – talked about their future, did fun things together as a family, etc.
In conclusion she writes, “So, what about the children? That question caused me to doubt my instincts and live in fear of the future for too long. In hindsight, seeing what my children endured, I have far more guilt for the years we stayed than for the years since we left. In truth, once we left, we stopped living a lie and embraced the truth:
It is far better to be from a broken home than to live in one.”
Cindy’s article is long, but it is a very good read, and I recommend it. In the article, she describes how she had full custody of her children after her divorce, and how she and her children were able to talk openly about the abuse they had all suffered together. They were able to go through a healing process that bonded them together.
Unfortunately, leaving my abusive husband didn’t bond my children to me, and I didn’t get full custody of them. I have heard similar stories from many other abused mothers.
Why was my experience so different?
1. Abusers are very wily and manipulative. Especially if there has been no physical abuse, they are often able to deceive those around them. During divorce cases, judges and Child and Family Investigators can be tricked into believing that the abuser is the “better” parent, and the abuse victim is “crazy”, or a “liar”.
2. Worse yet, the children are sometimes equally deceived. Since the abuser has spent much of his* time and energy psychologically abusing his partner, making her believe she is “crazy,” he often convinces the children of this as well.
3. During the marriage, the abuser may save his abuse of his partner for the times when they are alone together, so that the children don’t often see it. If he is not overly abusive to the children, they may believe that he is for the most part a loving, giving person.
4. Because of the above, the courts may split custody between the partners, or even give full custody to the abuser. This leaves the victim in the difficult position of trying to explain to her children why she wanted to leave their “great” father. It also gives him full access to the children to continue undermining her influence on them.
Given this bleak picture, is it better for a victim to stay with her abuser?
I would say a resounding NO!
1. When a victim stays in an abusive relationship, and does nothing to stand up to the abuse, the relationship will not improve over time, it will only get worse. Her life and sanity will continue to be put at risk, and the quality of the lives of her children will also deteriorate over time.
2. When a victim stays in an abusive relationship, it basically tells the children that the way the abuser treats them is “normal” and “okay”. This passes abuse onto the next generation. Even if an abuser gets full custody of the children, the message the survivor sends to them is, “Abuse is NOT okay.” Over time, the children will become wise to the behavior of the abuser, especially when the victim is no longer there to take the brunt of the abuse.
I am in agreement with Cindy Burrell:
It is better to be from a broken home than to live in one.
This is a very difficult road for an abuse victim to walk. But abuse victims are already walking difficult roads. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And best of all, we are not alone. The God that created the universe is walking next to us during each step we take.
Psalm 10:12-14 says:
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Question: If you or your children have been living with an abuser, would you agree that it is better to be from an abusive relationship than to live in one?
Lord, please give us discernment and courage to do what is best for our kids. Protect them and us, please Lord.
Blessings to you,
*Abusers can be male or female, and so can their victims. In this blog, I use “he” for the abuser and “she” for the victim.