While the statistics surrounding reported cases of Domestic Violence are frightening enough, perhaps even more concerning is that 90% of domestic abuse is seen or heard by children. Witnessing such violent parental behaviour on a regular may sadly convince children that this is a normal pattern of family life and that this must be the way that they behave in when they themselves become parents. And so a cycle of abuse is repeated.
In years gone by, when marital separation was scarce and divorce even rarer, couples stayed together for the ‘sake of the children.’ Today, thinking has changed. If two adults are grossly unhappy in a relationship, surely it is unhealthy for children to be caught in the middle of all the arguments. It is far better to have two independent happier parents than a warring couple. Improvements in the welfare system may have also made this more possible and empowered families to be able to survive as lone parent families.
As a father and victim of domestic abuse, I knew that there was nowhere I could flee to with my children. There are plenty of Women’s and children refuge places available – there are few, if any, for males in similar instances. I therefore had to cope as best I could. I never wanted to be an absent father. I didn’t want my children to be in a position where their father disappeared at an early stage in their lives, and they consequently blamed themselves for what had happened because they were too young to understand what had happened.
I never believed my children were at risk from my ex’s temper. Physically, she had never threatened any of them in the same way I was victimised. Verbally, she would lose control and rant in a fashion that I would question to myself, just who the adult and who was the one was behaving in childish manner. Most of what happened to me, my children witnessed. They heard more than they should have and they saw things their young eyes should not have had to see. As an abused partner, my priority was the safety of my children. If I could absorb all of the anger outpouring, then the children would be safe and I would still be protecting them as a father should.
After a violent episode, either physically or verbally on me, I would talk to the children trying to rationalising what they had just witnessed. I would assure them that I was okay. I would then explain to them that their mother was unwell but it was difficult to explain because their mum didn’t realise how ill she was and the best that we all could do was to try and keep calm, hopefully not causing any stress that would trigger an aggressive reaction. Even at this point, it had an effect on the children. It wasn’t just myself that became very cautious in what I did and said at home. The children became very sensitive and fearful of upsetting their mother. The slightest childhood misdemeanor would cause them great anguish because they did not want to face the verbal tirade from their mother.
I’d convinced myself that I was protecting the children. It was a long journey coming to the point where I knew I had to get out for my own survival. Bit by bit, my reasoning for staying, was stripped away. The biggest wake-up call I received was a couple of days after the children had witnessed two hot dinners being thrown over me. I was in the kitchen clearing up after a family dinner when the youngest child came in and without any warning, threw the remainder of his dinner over me. I was extremely angry with him and shouted at him, only to see a rather baffled expression looking back at me which then transformed into an upset look once he realised how distraught his actions had made me. On reflection, I realised that all he was doing was reproducing what he’d seen his mother do a few days earlier. Behaviour is learnt and the last thing I wanted was a cycle of abuse to continue in future generations.
Very soon after this, I left the martial home never returning. The full story is told elsewhere in this blog ( ). I had nowhere to go, and absolute nothing. I ended up sleeping on my parents’ sofa in their bungalow for nearly two months. I couldn’t take the children because there was nowhere I could take them. All I could do was make sure that they were safe and knew that I would always be there for them.
I encouraged the children to find someone that they could talk to independently. The school they attended was very helpful in this regard and understanding. I continuously assured them that I was always there for them and they could always talk to me without reproach. Their young lives had been so traumatic that I wanted any stability they had to remain. That stability was their schooling.
The impact of witnessing Domestic Abuse remains and will always remain with them. As soon as I could, I found a house to rent as close to their school as possible. While I was trying to rebuild my life, the children remained with their mother, but I was continuously in contact making sure everyone was safe. The eldest child was often picked on by her mother verbally, but as the years went on, was more able to stand up for herself. The middle child is a pacifier by nature, trying everything to keep the peace. The youngest child was extremely upset (as were all three) when I didn’t return home, blaming himself for what had happened but I was quick to let him know that it wasn’t his fault and that I loved him. Once I was able to build up from nothing, the children felt they could take no more of their mother’s mood swings and choose to live with me.
The ongoing impact on them is that they want as little contact with their mother as possible. I know how they feel as I felt the same way for years. However, as I consider myself as a reasonable and responsible parent, I am encouraging them to build bridges with their mother, but only on their terms. I can do no more. Sometimes, children are more resilient than we think and I hope that by being honest with them about all that happened will minimise the long-term impact of them seeing and hearing Domestic abuse.