Watching my son cry crushed my soul. It wasn’t the first time he or his brothers have cried over the years. This wasn’t the first argument we’d had, but it was the first time, during reconciliation, my youngest two sons and I had spoken about our solidarity. My middle son tends to hide his pain in anger, which in turn manifests in the form of shutting down. He usually won’t speak, but this time he, his brothers, and I had a real conversation about why we’re all so emotional and angry. We showed our understanding and support for one another in the healing process of divorce and abuse.
It’s hard not to blame myself for our experience with their father—I should have, and probably could have, just left him years before. While I’m in no way responsible for his actions, I do blame myself for not being strong enough to leave. It’s a manner of displaced blame society has taught me to shoulder, I suppose. Though it’s not really my fault at all.
The main issue is teaching my sons they hold no responsibility for any of this. Their father chose his own path in life. Unfortunately, that path didn’t include being a father in earnest. He was neglectful and mentally and physically abusive. It’s hard to teach a child that it’s not their fault their parent is crappy. Parents are supposed to love you, right? To be honest, I haven’t yet found a way to articulate that to them other than just saying “some people are assholes who shouldn’t have children.”
Of course I should point out my sons are all legally adults, so the language of the conversation is much different than when they were small. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the tears and hugs. Nothing can cure their pain but time, I suppose. I hope they find peace and understanding concerning their father, and maybe even the ability to forgive him. Not for his sake, of course, but for their own good—to let go of the pain, and to let him shoulder the weight of what he’s done. They should never carry his burden for him. I think they’ve done that long enough.
When people ask me why I stayed, I barely know how to answer. He was even more abusive to me, and so I know one element was fear. The other part was not wanting to take my children from a two parent home. Not only was I afraid of the huge stigma, but I had hoped he would decide to be a father to them someday. I kept waiting for him to decide to go play ball or go to school events, to tell them he was proud, or to tuck them in at night. I thought one day he might stop yelling and realize how important these little guys were in his life. He never did, and his abuse was sneaky. He wasn’t beating my children, although spankings weren’t unheard of. It was more of the “kids should be seen and not heard” variety of abuse—they were sent to their rooms or ignored. Somehow, when I was lost in this bad marriage, it was difficult for me to recognize it as abuse, as horrible as that sounds.
Once the boys were older and the abuse escalated towards all of us, I was able to see it for what it was, and my kids started voicing to me their desire for their father to be removed from the home. After he was gone, we were changed people.
I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true. Their demeanor and level of happiness changed nearly over night once we were no longer treading on eggshells. We’ve been happy, with only a few upsets, ever since. Of course we argue, but as I mentioned before, the manner in which we argue has changed. Now, we voice our issues, and we talk about how to make improvements. More importantly, we support each other and if someone does lose their temper, we give them time to cool off, and then we talk about that, too.
Living with an abuser brought us even closer together, as we always had to protect one another. Talking about our individual experiences during that time helps us to empathize and sympathize with one another. We foster a level of understanding so that we are not doomed to repeat the past. We don’t blame, hate, or punish one another. Rather, we offer support, a shoulder, and an ear, and sometimes even a solution. We are our own support group.
Staying “for the kids” was the worst decision I’ve ever made because, in the end, my kids paid the price, too. We’re making it, but I wish I’d never believed the “he’ll change one day” lie. He showed me through his actions who he was. I should have recognized that and listened to my gut. The important thing, though, is people can survive abuse and be happier people than ever before. It’s sad so many people stay in bad relationships. Maybe one day society will recognize the pain suffered by those smallest victims of domestic abuse, and remove the shame of being a single mom.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!