When the kids blame the victim too
When the victim’s children blame the victim for breaking up the family, it’s doubly painful. And really tricky to navigate because the survivor has to try to speak the truth without unduly denigrating the abuser, and remain a good parent who loves, nurtures, educates and appropriately disciplines the kids — all things that the abuser won’t be doing when the kids are with him, because his love is manipulative and selfish, his education is full of lies and half-truths, his nurture is absent, and his discipline will be heavy-handed or non-existent.
Here is vignette, reproduced with permission from a survivor’s email:
I was in an abusive marriage for fifteen years, and I have two children under nine. I have been separated for over a year and am soon to finalize my divorce. The children see their father, and he & I are on “friendly” terms, but he still tries to manipulate me and my daughter to take him back. I am not convinced he has had a heart change, despite his seeing a counselor. It is really hard for my daughter, he has her convinced he has changed and she now blames me for the divorce.
My response: My ex had our daughter wrapped round his little finger for years after separation. She blamed me for the separation and divorce, and was very loyal to him. She used to accuse me of heaps of things with venomous unfairness, especially after an access visit with him. When she came back after visitation it was like hearing his abuse but it was coming out of her mouth rather than his.
The peak age for this one-sided loyalty to occur is (so far as I can remember from my reading) about 8 to 11, when, because of their developmental stage, kids tend to see moral issues in black and white. As they grow into adolescence they begin to see shades of grey in moral issues and to form their own opinions, so they are less malleable to the manipulations of one person (the abuser). Unfortunately for you, you are just at the start of this developmental stage with your daughter. Hang in there! And don’t blame yourself!
And tell her the concise truth, like: “I left dad because I didn’t feel safe with him.” That is true, it’s talking about your opinion and your feelings, without denigrating him. She may not fully believe you, but she will partially hear you.
Keep asserting to your daughter your right to have your own views and feelings, and to make your own judgement calls which are different from dad’s. Assert it gently and firmly, like a stuck record. She will still be manipulated by him, but at the same time she will be quietly (subliminally) aware of your solidity in maintaining your own identity and prioritising safety and life-affirming decisions for each member of the family. You are modelling healthy living to her, which she will realise in time, even if she doesn’t realise it yet.
This post was first published Jan 11 2012 at my notunderbondage blog. [Internet Archive link from Barbara’s old Not Under Bondage website. Editors.]