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.