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Parent Perspective: What I Say (And Don’t Say) About Violence Speaks to My Kids 

I want to believe that some good that came out of the pandemic was a collective humbling.

Among other lessons learned during the global lockdown (like, don’t let your toilet paper stash low-fuel light come on before you refill), one of them should be that “this would never happen to me” could be any of us. And while that reality came in an abrupt and halting way for us all, I hope it resulted in having a little more empathy and understanding for those who have already found themselves confronted by a circumstance they never anticipated ending up in.

With that said, domestic violence/intimate partner violence can happen to anyone.

It’s really not always as straightforward as just being physically or sexually assaulted by a partner and it is not as obvious as being with someone who relentlessly rages and criticizes all day long. It could be happening to someone and they truly have no idea. It could be happening to someone–a picture-perfect couple outside of closed doors–and you have no idea. It could be happening to you.

And unlike what you’d think, the deeper you’re in it the less likely you are by the day to know what is going on or how to get out. Whatever you’re experiencing becomes your new normal–for safe or worse.

As a parent, I know despite my best efforts to shelter my littles, we are connected. They feel what I feel whether they can name the emotions or not. They know when Mommy is off – tired, disappointed, impatient, etc. They know if dinner is rushed and bedtime comes sooner. 

What kids don’t know – thanks to developmental stages and their sweet innocence – is that it’s not their fault. And so my emotions become their emotions. My fear and worry become theirs.

Even if my children never visibly witness me as a physical target of violence, all that rest that comes with domestic violence–financial loss, destruction or theft of property, uncertainty from day-to-day about what to expect, loss of confidence in reality and self, isolation from others, law enforcement and social services involvement–could affect them. My kids rely on me to be the best, most capable version of their Mommy that I can be. Children need caring adults in their lives, and those adults need to be safe. 

My children are too young to be taught what domestic violence is directly, but every day I am their model. I show them what unconditional love looks like. What it means to put someone else’s needs above your own. What it means to be there and be present with them. What it means to continue to give without receiving and treat them like their own people. I teach them what healthy love looks like by loving them through tantrums, bedtime protests, slime-gone-wrong disasters, other general mess-making, sibling rivalry (why my kids squabble over the toilet seat is beyond me), big emotion meltdowns, and after-school restraint collapses

I also remember their favorite color when I shop for school clothes, display their artwork on our walls with pride even if they still color outside the lines, and give in one too many times to requests for cake pops from Starbucks (sometimes even before dinner!). 

And when they get old enough to have these talks, I want them to know how valuable they are, just as they are. To pay attention to actions, not words. And that love doesn’t hurt – bodies, hearts, or minds. 

And if they ever wind up in a situation that isn’t love–if they ever land themselves in a “this would never happen to me”–they know they can always come back and find it, safe in Mommy’s arms. 

If you or someone you know has questions about domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799- SAFE, or find local resources here.