A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Holiday season means more stress for victims of abuse, especially in visitation

As we round the bend of Christmas, many of our readers are facing the more than usually intense anguish of having to interact with their abuser. Those who are still living with an abuser often find that holiday seasons are the most difficult times to get through. Trying to keep the kids happy and reasonably well behaved in the strong undercurrent of materialism and hedonism that imbues Christmas celebrations, while the abuser indulges his (or her) rank selfishness even more than usual, and plays covert aggressive games behind the veil of the nice guy image that he puts on for the extended family. . .

But in this post I want to focus on the particular plight of the survivors who have left their abusers, and have to interact more than they might normally with their abusers because of child visitation and handover arrangements. The pressure is on, from the abuser and from the kids. Abusers play games to avoid making firm arrangements about handover. They prevaricate, make agreements and then deny they made those agreements; they attend social and church functions and play the loving parent while simultaneously violating custody and access orders in subtle “mild” ways so that only the victim can see the boundary violations and bystanders think she is over-reacting to be upset. They create situations that stress their ex-spouse and pull marionette strings on the kids’ loyalty. Custodial protective parents often have to hand kids over to abusers for longer than usual periods over holiday times. Handover is always tense, but how much worse is it when you are afraid that the abuser might seriously harm your kids while he has them?  Those who have walked this tightrope know how nail biting it can be.

Let us contemplate this by comparing the parents of Jesus, and a parent who is a victim of domestic abuse.  

Luke 2:41-52 (The Message) —

Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn’t know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors.

Mary and Joseph were not worried that Jesus wasn’t right alongside them as journeyed home from Jerusalem. They thought he was with others and they weren’t anxious because they trusted all their fellow pilgrims. We get the feeling that everyone in the group looked out for each other. Unlike victims of domestic abuse, Mary and Joseph didn’t have remote officials from Child Protection or the Family Court scrutinizing their every move as parents and labelling the protective parent as psychologically unbalanced. They weren’t terrified of losing custody of their kids if they slipped up for a moment and failed to be squeaky clean and perfect parents every second of the day. They could relax and be themselves, they didn’t have to worry all the time about how haughty officials might assess their parenting.

When they didn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him. The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.

Unlike a victim of abuse and her abuser, Mary and Joseph were united in their care for Jesus’s welfare, and they were both upset and hurt when they found he hadn’t even left with the pilgrims but had stayed behind to talk to the teachers in the temple. Mary was not afraid of Joseph, they had each other’s trust and confidence and they were united as parents.

His mother said, “Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.”

Mary expressed her emotions freely. She did not fear Joseph’s scorn, she did not expect him to deride her for being ‘too sensitive’, she didn’t fear being labelled as crazy, nor did she seem apprehensive that Joseph would blame her for losing Jesus. She seemed to be quite confident that in expressing her feelings she would not have her head bitten off. However when victims of abuse are anxious about their kids’ safety, are too often told they are exaggerating, silly, crazy, too sensitive… and anyway, it’s probably their fault, because they should be more gracious. 

[Jesus] said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” But they had no idea what he was talking about.

So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.

Jesus admonished his parents for their anxiety. This reminds me of all those times in the Bible when angels or prophets tell people not to be afraid. Jesus never sinned, so it must not have been a sin for Jesus to stay back with the teachers in temple, or for him to gently rebuke his parents for their lack of faith or understanding of his mission.

And Mary held these things dearly, deep within herself; she treasured up all these things in her heart. It seems to me that she was able to ponder and treasure these events because she was not afraid in her marriage. She was not holding these events in a sequestered place of her brain or body the way victims of abuse hold memories that are too acutely painful to process. She didn’t hold them in the way a PTSD sufferer holds memories, keeping them at arm’s length because they are too painful to process. She treasured them, mulled them over in freedom and liberty of spirit; she was able to taste and savour them and learn as much as she could from them, enlarging in her spirit thereby. Victims of abuse, however, can find it quite difficult to learn because fear inhibits learning, fear shuts down growth.

Blessings to all who are finding this holiday season difficult because of  an abuser’s behaviour.

27 Comments

  1. joepote01

    Very good post, Barbara! I love how you have unfolded this simple familiar story with fresh insight.

  2. Barbara, your sensitivity to the issues of protective parents (usually the mother who has left an abusive partnership/marriage) is more appreciated that I can say. I just received a heart-breaking letter from a grandmother in Calgary whose grandchildren are being forced into visitation with their biological father at Christmas, although there is extensive documentation from hospitals and mental health professionals showing sexual abuse of the two little girls, 2 and 4. Do you have contacts with those in Canada engaged in efforts to bring the plight of protective parents and their at-risk children to light? The “every child needs two parents” philosophy would work beautifully if all parents were as loving as Mary and Joseph. The presumption that this is true is out of touch with reality, as you know. God bless you this Christmastide and keep you healthy and strong as you do this work.

    • Rhonda, I shall email you later today in answer to your Canadian question. I don’t know people who are for sure working on that issue front and central, but I do know someone who might be able to help a little or put you on to others who could help.

  3. fiftyandfree

    Thanks so much for this very insightful and empathetic post. It’s so good to feel understood and validated. Christmas was tough this year. It’s our second Christmas post divorce and it amazes me how much I’ve healed, but also how much I still need to heal. The fear is better – I don’t cringe every time the phone rings, but I do still shudder every time I hear his voice, and the blood still runs cold in my veins when I open my email and see a message from him. No one understands this except people like you, Barbara, and Jeff, and Jeff, and Joe, and the wonderful survivors who post here.

    This year he took them to his new girlfriend’s house for a holiday meal. They came home full of stories about her and how much they like her. They insist that I would like her too if I knew her, and I don’t doubt that; she sounds like a lovely lady. My eldest asked me if they don’t get married or if they end up getting divorced if she could still be friends with the girlfriend. I don’t even know how to feel about this. I feel sick about what’s ahead for this poor woman. She tells the kids they are so fortunate to have “such a wonderful Christian father.” She’s so deceived, just as I was. I have so many fears and worries about what will happen if they get married. Will he try to get custody so he won’t have to pay child support anymore? Will he move far away and ask for more visitation? Will my poor children have to witness another woman suffer at his hands. I will never stop worrying until my children are grown. Oh, how I wish I could live without the fear.

    • oh oh oh fiftyandfree, each of your questions and laments I understand. And there is no real let up till the kids are grown, as you point out. All we can do is be gentle on ourselves and not blame ourselves for feeling the fear when it rises up and snags us. It is real fear: we have realistic grounds to feel it. Hope you can ride the waves.

      Even though I have not seen my daughter’s father since 1999, I can still be triggered. It happens much less often than it used to, but it can still come up unexpectedly ± but at least I’ve stopped berating myself with “Why didn’t I see that coming?”.
      My daughter (she’s now adult) saw her dad a few days ago and the very thought that I might see him (I was staying in the flat she lives in) was triggering. My being triggered and speaking it out to her meant she got triggered by my tone of voice. … what a mess. sigh. But we got talked it through and got over it.

  4. Anonymous

    It’s great to find a site that recognizes what really goes on. In a world where so few understand our added burdens and distresses at this time of the year, it’s a solace to read such words as these above. For that, a big thank you to Barbara, and the administrators of this site!

    • Hi Anon, welcome to our little blog family 🙂

  5. At least the holidays are just a week or two. I’m still dreading the summer 6 week trip. I get through each summer and then I spend the next 9 months panicking over the next one. He is determined to get all of my kids on the roller coasters this year, just because he knows I’m nervous about it.
    It’s been two years since he dumped them on a playground by themselves and my daughter broke her elbow and strangers found her. By the time they are all finally 18 I will have so many wrinkles my face will look like the grand canyon.
    I’m just praying that Jesus will give me relief from this stress and stop all this horror sooner than that. 😦
    Praying that 2014 will be better for everyone here on ACFJ. Love you all!

  6. Brenda R

    I am truly thankful that my children are all grown and feel the pain of those who have to send their children off to a person who they cannot trust with them. I spent several days this Christmas season with my youngest daughter in her tiny apartment. My other children live in other states. I was so glad to be out of town and away where X wouldn’t know where I was. It was refreshing. No television or internet, (withdrawal!!) but I was able to do a lot of reading and spend time with my youngest when she wasn’t working.

    • Brenda that sounds like such a lovely holiday. 🙂 Someday I want that, too. ((hugs))

      • Brenda R

        I want that for you and your children, Katy. I have been there and know what it is like. I had to send my 6 year old, at the time, to a wretched man who could be physically violent one year. I had to take the police to get her back. She was scared and had bad dreams for some time.

  7. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    Can I share a Christmas memory? Just to share with people who can affirm it was so wrong. One Christmas we were snowed in and I was shoveling the driveway. (The ex-idiot couldn’t shovel because of back issues that never affected his ability to do anything he wanted to do) and I sliced my hand. Badly!! Bad enough that I knew it needed stitches. I wrapped it and asked the idiot to back his truck out of the driveway so I could go to the ER. He was mad at having his computer time interrupted and got the truck stuck in the snow so I ended up walking to the ER in a foot of snow. Glad it was only 2 miles away. When I got home I found that my 3yo daughter had been left sitting on the toilet for an hour because he refused to wipe her.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Still Scared – I think that in hell, he will spend eternity sitting on a toilet alternated with dragging himself through a blizzard. Or worse. What kind of a person would do these things? As Paul said, even the pagans treat their families better. When you see the scar on your hand, remember that it takes a pretty tough and courageous person to do what you did.

    • your ex is a stellar example of a man going straight to hell. I could not always see that so clearly, but hey – we once were blind but now can see. 🙂

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      What is worse is that to me that was normal. I did not see the wrongness of it that is so clear now. Thanks!!

    • BeginHealing

      So very wrong Still Scared. I am sorry you had to endure that kind of ambivalence to your needs.

      It hits close to home for me as well. My husband moved out right before the first snow storm here. Every time he had to shovel or plow it would result in a tantrum directed at anyone that was in his path. He would be in a mood all day from it. If we tried to help him he would bark at all of us while we were out there. Shoveling the snow with my boys after he moved out was actually fun 🙂 It was such a relief knowing that no tantrums were coming our way and we didn’t have to walk on eggshells at the mere thought of a pending snow storm.

      My husband was a computer addict as well. NOTHING could interrupt that time without a consequence and he was on it ALL THE TIME!

      Sending you lots of love. I hope that your Christmas this year was peaceful.

    • Brenda R

      Still Scared,

      He was/is truly an idiot!! I am so thankful for your deliverance.

    • SS,

      I dislike your x immensely.

    • fiftyandfree

      Dear God, what is wrong with these men? I could share many stories like yours, and I definitely understand why you feel compelled to share these things. We were treated as if our normal human needs were excessive, and like we deserved nothing but contempt and indifference for so long. Now we long for someone to understand what we endured because it was so incomprehensible when it was happening to us, and we need someone to extend some sympathy and empathy because we never got any from the abuser.

      I’m so sorry you were treated that way. I truly know how it feels.

  8. Rebecca

    Barb thank you for this wonderful, insightful and compassionate post. I’m dealing with this very issue ….an abuser who pushes the boundaries and creates his own time exchanges for visitation to accommodate his own schedule. He is perpetually late. My children are anxious. The visitation is very restricted anyway, and he still pushes. I’ve made it clear what the tiime for exchanges actually are per Order. Will see today, actually, if he chooses to cooperate.

    The only way to deal with this issue is with strong perseverance which comes only from Christ…and a community who gets it and will be supportive! So many thanks to you all for understanding and being the voice, providing a platform. They expect us to back down. While being on the receiving end of flack, lying, etc, is very difficult at times, I find it ultimately empowering to stand firm.

    Rebecca

  9. Rideshorses

    I’ve just stumbled across your site and when I read this post, I had tears streaming down my face. You get it. You know. I’m sorry that you know because it means you’ve lived it too. Oh thank you, thank you for this. I’m not crazy. I’m not alone. It helps.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Rideshorses – wonderful that you found us, and welcome! Yep, we get it for sure and we get it for the very reason you mentioned – we’ve lived it. Stick around with us and join in the community. No need to be alone:)

    • Rideshorses (((hugs))) and welcome to the blog. We are so glad you’ve found us.

    • Hi Rideshorses!

      Yeah, stick around. 🙂

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Yes, welcome and yes, everyone on this site has walked a similar path. It is so nice to know it’s not just you!!

    • Brenda R

      Rideshorses, You are never alone, God is always with you and now you have all of us who come to this site. There is a lot of love here.

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