In my last blog, I talked about the ways your kids have been affected by the abuse you’ve experienced, a difficult topic. Today, I will talk about how you can begin to help them heal from the domestic violence you have all experienced once you are no longer experiencing it. The first thing you will need to do is rebuild your children’s trust in you.
Rebuilding Your Children’s Trust
Helping your children will be easier if they trust you completely. However, your abuser probably spent a lot of time and energy tearing you down in the eyes of your children. He* made them believe his bad treatment of all of you was your fault. He may have also told them he loved them and you don’t, that you were stupid, and much more. By his actions, they realized he was the one with power in the relationship, and you were less powerful, so they may not believe you can protect them from him. You will need to rebuild the trust that he has torn down. How can you do this? I recommend you look at Ephesians 6:1-4, which says:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” —which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Here are some keys to practically live out these verses with your kids.
Children, Respect Your Parents
First, you will need to reinstate yourself as the authority figure in your home. This may seem strange since you have all recently left your controlling abuser. However, if your children do not see you as the loving leader of your home, they will never feel safe, nor will they trust you. If you are not the leader of your single-parent home, who will be? Your kids? Your abuser from afar? Either of these is a prescription for disaster. If your abuser was the main disciplinarian and now you need to fill that role in order to gain respect, let your children know changes are coming and why. Your children will adapt better if you tell them in advance. Also, work to change their hearts, not just their behavior. Let them know you love them, and that God’s plan is for families to work together, with the parents (you in this case) as the loving leader of the home.
Your kids may have begun treating you with disrespect, as your abuser used to. You will need to require respect from them. Don’t permit sarcasm, noises of disgust, or insulting hand motions or facial expressions. Also, don’t allow them to ignore you. If they do, give them a meaningful consequence. For example, if your child ignores you when you ask her to clean her room, she may not get to play when her best friend comes over. Explain to her in a loving way that each person in the house has to help each other, that it is disrespectful for family members to ignore each other. Then tell her that in order to help her remember this, you are going to ask her to spend the time she would have spent playing with her friend cleaning her room. Offer to help her. Then ask her to help you with a chore you need to do. My husband reminds me when I am frustrated with his kids to bring them close instead of pushing them away. What does he mean by that? When I am angry with my step kids, my knee-jerk reaction is to want to send them back to their mom’s house. He challenges me to push past this feeling and try to win their hearts. Yes, I need to require them to respect me as a parental figure in our home, but I also need to let them know I love them. If I know one loves quality time, I might ask her to bake cookies with me. If I know another appreciates words of affirmation, I will search for something I can compliment her for. You would be surprised what a difference this makes in our home.
Taking back the respect you deserve will take some time, and lots of energy, but it will be worth it for all of you. Tweet This
Parents, Don’t Exasperate Your Children
- Get healing for all of you. You have already started doing this by reading this blog. Seek counseling for you and your children if possible. Surround yourself and your children with healthy people who will enrich your lives.
- Admit when you are wrong, and apologize to your children. Be open with them, but don’t use them as your confidants. They are children, not your friends. Find friends to share your pain with. Let your kids be kids.
- If you are addicted to any substances, work hard to get off them right away. Then work equally hard to stay off them. You will not be able to be the best parent you can be if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol. In addition, your children will not be able to trust you or depend on you. Similarly, if you have any process addictions (anything done repeatedly and to excess; like shopping, eating, sleeping, watching television, staring at your cell phone), you will need to work to free yourself from these as well. Seek an appropriate support group, and begin your journey to freedom from your addiction today.
- Believe them if they tell you about abusive things your ex is doing to them, or has done in the past. You may be tempted to discount or ignore them when they tell you about further abuse they are suffering from him, especially if this happens on court-ordered visits, and you might feel you cannot protect them from him. You can consider reporting his actions to Social Services, the police, or a custody evaluator if you have one on your case. Sometimes these actions will be helpful, and sometimes they will backfire on you. (Check out this blog.) However, even if you decide reporting his actions will not help and you think you can’t do anything about his behavior right away, you should believe your children and give them your emotional support. They need to know someone cares about their troubles. Children can cope with many difficult things if they know they have at least one adult in whom they can confide and trust.
- Ask yourself how you can make your kids feel you are a safe haven. Think of yourself as having loving arms you can wrap around them at all times, even when they are far from you. Can you send a special toy, blanket, or picture of yourself with them when they are visiting him? Can you call them at the same time each day when you are apart so they know you are thinking of them? What routines can you instill in your home that can give them a sense of stability and peace? What prayers or songs can you teach them so they can comfort themselves when they are away from you?
- Don’t spank your kids. In many cultures, this is an acceptable form of discipline. However, spanking will only further traumatize children who have been abused or who have seen you being abused. It also tells them violence is justifiable in families as long as it is “for your own good.” You will want to do everything you can not to reinforce this belief in your family. Find alternative forms of discipline. These can include: taking away privileges; restricting movement (timeout for younger kids, or determining a “boring spot” they must sit in for a minute for every year of age); having them do extra chores around the house (join them in those chores for extra bonding); or docking an allowance. Try to match the consequence as closely as possible to the offense so the child can understand the discipline.
- Read books on parenting during your divorce, and join a support group with your children if possible. Many women’s crisis centers have groups for victims and their children. Or, join a divorce support group in your church or community.
Question: What can you do to help your kids feel safe in your home?
Picking up the pieces of your family life that have been shattered by an abusive partner can be painful, and may sometimes seem hopeless. It isn’t hopeless. You and your kids are worth the effort.
*Abusers and their victims can be male or female.