What is the best way to be a good parent when your spouse is spinning out of control, doing and saying things that are not good parenting? What do you do when your child behaves violently and justifies, "But Daddy/Mommy does it"? The other parent does do it, but you don't want your child to grow up like that other parent. You don't want domestic violence perpetuated down into the next generation.
I remember feeling so confused, once I realized that the children were being negatively impacted by my spouses' tantrums. I wanted my children being nurtured in a loving environment. I wanted them corrected in a wise and loving manner. I wanted our home to be a safe place. I did not want them being abused!
At the same time, I felt the pressure of conventional wisdom that good Christians never divorce. I believed that keeping the family together was of paramount importance, no matter what.
I spent years convinced that my husband and I must work through "our problems" and victoriously build a godly home, no matter what my spouse's problems were. Over and over I heard in my head "for better or worse" and "in sickness or in health." I reached the point of knowing I was experiencing the worst part as emotional abuse became daily and physical abuse was peppered in here and there. So how was I supposed to fulfill my marriage vows and be a good parent? Due to domestic violence, the two goals were not compatible. They simply were not.
It's a difficult place to be in. Between a rock and a hard place doesn't do justice. It feels like being crushed between a mountain and a huge bulldozer. My heart goes out to anyone who is currently wrestling with the painful pressure. I urge anyone who is currently being abused (regardless of whether or not she/he believes the children are also being abused) to seek help from a domestic violence organization ( National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 ). Children cannot rescue themselves from abuse or from the negative effects of witnessing abuse--they need adult help.
For those of us who have been there but now live abuse-free lives-- we have guilt issues to deal with, don't we! No matter how we resolved the conflict, we struggle with or have struggled with self-incrimination.
I realized that the most loving thing I could do for my spouse was to confront all the abuse with a non-verbal ultimatum, moving away from our home with the children. It was also the most loving thing I could figure out to do for my children. I left with the children to keep them safe and filed for a separation, and then later filed for divorce. I did it all hoping with all my might that my husband would get the help he needed--so we, eventually, could be a family under one roof again. The doors to reuniting, however, repeatedly closed and we divorced. The marriage was not saved, but I created a non-abusive home for my children and a permanent restraining order worked to keep my former spouse from continuing to abuse the children on his parenting visits.
I am glad that I made those decisions. But when guilt attacks I feel regretful that I didn't take action sooner:
- I regret that I didn't leave the abusive environment in the six years before we had children. If I had only know how things would just keep on getting worse...
- I regret that one of my children had her arm injured by her raging father and that during the divorce process I learned that it had happened more than once. I felt horrible when I found out that she had silently witnessed spousal abuse while hiding behind a living room chair.
- I regret that another child was choked by his father, and again I learned that it happened more than once.
- I feel guilt that I suspected that someone at the daycare was mistreating him, when it was actually my spouse.
- I feel guilt that I tried to never leave my children alone with their father, but I did not succeed. Sometimes, my need to refresh overrode my protective instincts and other times they were alone with him during daily life when I was in the bathroom, when my back was turned at the stove, etc.
Reader, I'm guessing that you have your own list. I have shared mine not to air dirty laundry, but to help us all know that this is a normal part of recovery. Some of our guilt is because we did something wrong, but much of our guilt is about condemning ourselves for not knowing then what we know now.
Here are some ideas that help me sort through the piles of guilt I am capable of burying myself under:
- Whose voice am I listening to? Is it a former abuser or my conscience?
- What did I actually do? What did I believe or think?
- Did I know that it was wrong when I did it or believed it?
- If I did wrong and I have confessed it to God, then I am forgiven. I merely need to remind myself that I am forgiven and move on.
- If I did wrong, and just now realize it. I can confess it--and know God forgives me.
- If it was really someone else who did the wrong thing in the past, I cannot change what was done. I can give a child a healthy explanation of the truth when they bring it up. I can seek counseling if a child is haunted by past trauma.
- If I did wrong, but I was doing the best I could with what I understood at the time, then I need to forgive myself. I am a fallible human who makes mistakes and sins, just like everyone else. I must forgive myself so that I can graciously forgive other as well.