October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence Awareness is something I have spent years educating myself on, an now as an adoptive mother, I have the unique experience of parenting children who have been exposed to domestic violence while not being the survivor they witnessed being abused.
My two younger children were exposed to domestic violence in their first home. The amount and extent of that exposure is unknown, but it’s a fact that they saw physical violence. As a woman who has never been in that position, I was terrified of answering these questions someday, despite my intentions and education on this matter. As a mother, though, I knew upon hearing of this domestic abuse, this would be an important aspect of their lives as they grew and learned…and it would have to be taken into consideration every step of the way.
I wish I could look in the other direction and hope this never affected the love they accept or how they expect their significant others to behave or how they will behave in relationships someday. My background in domestic violence however tells me that’s simply not the case. Abuse becomes generational; studies have shown, multiple times, that exposure to abuse in formative years heightens the risk of abusive and aggressive behaviors in relationships as well as boys more actively becoming abusive as adults. I wish I could hope they didn’t notice the abuse, but studies have shown that over 90% of the children living in homes where domestic violence was present were aware of the abuse.
Therefore, the only logical step for me to take is to assume my children knew of the domestic violence, whether they are aware of it’s name or not, and move forward into the future being fervently aware and counting those long term effects. The correlation between trauma, childhood abuse and exposure to domestic abuse and mental and physical illnesses later in life is strong. My hope is to break the cycle of abuse they witnessed and raise children who understand what domestic abuse is, why it is not how we love our significant others or what we accept from our significant others, and give them the tools to escape domestic violence if they ever end up in a position where they are the victim.
What is domestic violence? For those who are unaware, domestic violence the use of behaviors, be they physical, sexual, economical, emotional, etc, to hold the power over your partner. The partners do not need to be married, living together or even monogamous for the abuse to occur. This happens across all races, socio-economical backgrounds, sexes and sexualities. There are many types of abuse but some include: physical, sexual, emotional, financial, digital, and reproductive. An abuser may use more than one form of abuse to control the victim.
My husband and I were not raised in homes where domestic violence was present. But, as I’ve stated, I totally think it’s something that needs to be addressed and actively a part of our relationship while raising our children. I don’t imagine by any means that no foster parent has ever been in an abusive relationship, but I do know that many of the adoptive parents I meet forget about the dynamic between the adults in their childs first home. I get it, it’s easy to forget about the domestic violence when you’re focusing on why your child was removed! It’s still a part of their lives though, and I hope some of the information I’m about to share gives you some ideas as to how to run head on into that lasting trauma.
So, how are we hitting their exposure to domestic violence head on?
We are being hyper aware. When our kids put their hands on other people, it’s not treated as “normal” kid behavior. We look at it immediately as copying unsavory behaviors they’ve seen. I’ve had a child barely 3 years old jump on top of and begin to choke another child. That’s not something they just do, like pushing when they want something back-that’s a learned behavior. We are very quick to correct and explain what is wrong with those aggressive behaviors.
We are intentional in describing and portraying healthy relationships. Josh and I are intentional in every part of our relationship. We are intentional in loving each other and we are intentional in showing our children the love we have for each other. We have been told we’re over the top…but I’m okay with that. We try to make sure they see two adults loving each other, in non threatening ways.
We are super intentional in trying to show them how to disagree and argue in healthy ways. When you’ve been exposed to domestic violence at such an early age, you can see conflict resolution as a physical aggression. This can lead a child to believing physical or emotional aggression is the norm; or it can bring them to the conclusion that any disagreement is dangerous. This simply isn’t true. When my children grow up, they must have the ability to have arguments, in the healthiest and safest way possible. Josh and I are by no means perfect at this, but we try to demonstrate how to control anger and have a safe, stable and healthy resolution.
We are factual and honest about it. I try to keep an open dialogue about domestic violence and abuse. I am honest that domestic violence happens between couples and I emphasize it’s never the victims fault. I also try to steer clear of blaming the abuser.
And most importantly, we keep the dialogue open! Domestic violence will always be in my children’s memories and their basic beginnings. Because of that, we need to be able to always allow them to come to us when feelings, memories and emotions come up. I want them to know I am a safe place to ask any and all questions they may have.
Domestic violence is something that many of our foster care adopted children have seen. I think it’s important to keep the conversation going with our babes, adopted, foster care, or biological. As a culture we must keep fighting to rid our society of violence between intimate partners and that begins with our youngest members of society.
Do you have a plan in place to talk to your kids about this?Have you talked to them about domestic violence?