Explaining Abuse to Kids.
“I heard on the radio that your husband choked you,” my ten year old daughter said yesterday. Not words I’d ever expected to hear as I imagined raising kids. But a decade ago, while on maternity leave taking care of my toddler son and infant daughter I began a book exploring my disastrous first marriage to a man who physically abused me. (I did not have any children with him; all three of my kids were born in my second, far happier marriage.)
So naturally I’ve been talking to my kids about domestic violence A LOT this past week. We’d talked about it since they were little, because I always wanted them to know (from me) the reasons why Mommy’s first marriage ended. But the talks have deepened considerably since they’ve watched me cry on You Tube and heard me open up on NPR. Not easy discussions – but important ones.
My kids – and all kids – are at risk for abusive relationships. I want the subject to be an open one in my household and among my children’s friends. So I tell my kids the truth – that they may already know a child who is being abused by his or her parents or by a girlfriend or boyfriend. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, one in five tweens – age 11 to 14 – say their friends are victims of dating violence and nearly half who are in relationships know friends who are verbally abused. Fifty percent of men who abuse their partners also abuse their children. With over four million reported adult victims a year, that translates to millions of children. I want my children to be able to avoid abusive relationships themselves – and to recognize and help the most helpless victims of domestic violence, other kids.
“I saw your book in People Magazine,” a mom from school said last week. “But of course I didn’t show my kids.” I understand her instincts – it’s hard to expose kids to the reality of domestic violence, and very painful to explain. But if someone had explained it to me when I was a child, perhaps I would have recognized what was happening to me before the abuse became serious. Perhaps I could have helped other girls my age avoid abuse as well.
So in some ways, I’m glad I have no choice but to explain my past to my children.