Out of sight only allows for the mind to sharpen the hearing. Oh, and the things my children heard from the other room. I would often try to tell myself that it was just this one argument and they wouldn’t hear it. Or, they would only hear it this one time…except that it happened over and over.
I would feel bad because I considered what it might feel like for them to hear their mother scream and cry, sometimes lose control and shout obscenities at the man that supposedly loved her. I considered that the older two would probably be able to comprehend that my abuser was being unreasonable yet, ultimately, I would do nothing about it. I did not consider how vulnerable all of them might feel because I was powerless which meant they were powerless. We all had to comply to unreasonable “reasoning” and demands. I had to imagine what this might be like for them because I had never actually experienced it myself as a child.
I always thought that I would have a peaceful home, a loving home. I never thought I would have one of “those” homes, I would be a part of one of “those” couples. I thought I was strong enough to weather the storm and create a happy and stable place for my children, especially after dragging them through a divorce. It’s just that the storm didn’t get better. It didn’t level out. The storm only got worse. It didn’t just get worse for me, it got worse for the children as well.
They learned to keep quiet and navigate the same fragile eggshells I walked on. They learned unreasonable punishment like standing still against a wall for two hours if necessary. My then three year old learned the same discipline my abuser had experienced, three days in bed no books or communication. My abuser figured if he could survive his childhood, they could survive theirs. This sort of “conditioning” would make them strong. I tried to rationalize it as learning to be “tough” so they could handle anything that life threw at them.
Let’s be real. Let’s keep this 100%. I was justifying, excusing, and facilitating child abuse. How can doing the “right thing” be the wrong thing? I felt like I was constantly at odds with myself when trying to answer this question.
I was raised to believe that once one is married one stays married no matter what. Someone might argue that I had already defied that directive two times before. Someone could also legitimately add to that argument by stating that I was not legally married to my abuser. However it was exactly this belief that my abuser preyed on. He would constantly remind me of how I had already failed twice. He would reinforce that failure, with the potential failure for a third time, as we were “married without papers”. He made a point to live as if we were married until he was able to make it legal. It was just paperwork to him. What was important, he would say, is the commitment. Being an overachiever and perfectionist at heart, failure for a third time was unacceptable. No matter how violent and risky the relationship became, I stayed.
The night I left for the fourth and final time. It was brought to my attention by Child Protective Services, that if I didn’t “stay gone”, I would be brought up on charges of child abuse. That spun my reality. How on earth did I become the criminal when I was just trying to “follow the rules”? At that moment how didn’t matter. The reality is, my children were being abused, they were afraid, and I was facilitating it.
Everything in me would like to deny it, but the truth is, staying in a violent or abusive relationship with children is child abuse.