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I struggled with how to write this, but I feel I must.
There are children suffering abuse at the hands of their caretakers now, and these children cannot speak for themselves. With shelter in place, domestic violence has surged, and the thought of it makes my heart ache.
“As a matter of fact I had a terribly traumatic childhood. But afterward I sort of reraised myself.” ― Michael Gruber, The Good Son
I speak from experience.
Growing up, my narcissistic, controlling father abused my mother and their three children viciously and violently (see my childhood here if you are interested). My siblings and I suffered not only directly at the hands of my father, but we also had to bear witness to our mother's and our siblings' abuse.
As a result, to this day, my siblings and I suffer from Complex PTSD.
Throughout our childhood, my mother made us believe that the only reason she is not leaving our father is for our sake.
"If I leave," she said, "the law will grant custody to your father."
From time to time, she would suggest that we commit suicide together, again for our sake. "If I die,” she said, “your father will remarry, and your stepmother will abuse you."
She told anyone who would listen that my father is a monster, and he ruined her life. She wanted people to know how much she suffered and that she is the victim.
She lived for the "poor thing" people threw her way - the attention made her come alive.
From time to time, if we did something she didn’t like, she will call the monster home to beat us. If things got out of hand, she would open the door, so we can run for our lives.
She iced our bruises after a beating.
“It is not the the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.” ― Aisha Mirza
I didn’t realize it then, but my mom created the perfect environment for us to trauma bond with her. She was nice to us most of the time, and much her abuse is emotional, it took us kids a long time to see the damage she did to us.
In my late twenties, my mother asked me to help her immigrate to the United States. By that time, her children had all moved out years ago.
I agreed but asked that she divorce my father first. I did not want him to immigrate to the United States through family-based immigration.
I remember her response like it was yesterday. "I can't do that," she said, "Your father will find someone right away, but I will be all alone."
Until then, a part of me still wanted to believe that her staying with my father was for us. Now I know, without a shadow of a doubt, her reason for staying was for herself.
“The person portrayed and the portrait are two entirely different things.” ― Jose Ortega Y. Gasset
She was and still is, infatuated with a monster.
I also found out that she never reported abuses to the police or discussed separation options with a lawyer; She never took even the smallest step to get us out of harm's way.
She sacrificed her children's safety to stay with my father.
The Toxic Dance
My parents are the classic tale of two low self-esteem people involved in the codependency dance. They don't believe they are unlovable, so they feel the need to manipulate people into staying - my father overtly through violence and domination, and my mother covertly through guilt-tripping and victimhood.
They also used their kids as pawns in this game. My mom would lie to us to turn us against my father, and my father would hurt us to retaliate against my mom.
By waving the victim flag, my mother cleverly satisfied her need for attention, while simultaneously relieving herself the duty to protect her children.
“But that’s the thing about narcissists. They can try to fool you, with all their heart, but in the end, they’re just fooling themselves.” ― Ellie Fox
Children raised by abusive parents feel a deep sense of betrayal, and we harbor strong resentments towards them. Our lack of respect for them renders a healthy relationship impossible.
In my case, all three of us cut ties with our parents.
Children are the real victims caught in the middle; Children did not choose their parents, and they cannot leave. And like prisoners of war, they are helpless to defend themselves.
Why People Stay?
There are reasons behind every human behavior. People stay in abusive relationships because there is a payoff; Usually, it is to satisfy an emotional or financial dependency on the abuser, sometimes both.
Almost always, it is the fear of the unknown and the fear of being on their own that keeps people stuck.
Some parents believe that they have to stay to protect their children. The reality is, sadly, that children born to an abusive parent are traumatized anyways. By staying, the parent enables the abuse to continue, and children additionally have to suffer the trauma of witnessing their parent’s abuse.
“What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own. What you tolerate, you deserve.” ― Michelle Malkin
My childhood friend Annie told me that her parents, along with my parents' other friends, staged an intervention during my childhood where they asked my parents to get a divorce. Annie said my father stormed out, and my mother, "seemed upset at with my father, but did not want a divorce." Annie, a devoted Christian, believed that my siblings and me would have been better off in the orphanage.
Call to Action
As parents, if we want our children to grow up and become self-loving individuals, we must set the example of what treatments we will and will not tolerate. Children do what we do, not what we say. A responsible parent knows that boundaries are not real unless it is enforced by action, which in abuse situations often means leaving.
By leaving, the non-abusive parent has the opportunity to create an independent life, and the means to actually “save” their children for good.
“Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is brave even if you stumble a little on your way out the door.” ― Unknown
If you have children and you are in an abusive relationship, do whatever you need to do to get your children to safety. Children by design love their parents, and if you correct the situation early enough, they will forgive you.
Had my mother tried her best and failed, we would still admire her for her courage, and we would love her as our mother. Instead, we all left her.
Now she lives alone with the monster.
If you know someone that needs to hear this message, please share. If you see abuse, report it. Give our children a voice.
P.S. For more discussions, join us on Facebook at “Life Is Love School.”