I am a 38-year old woman, married with two beautiful daughters, and a house in the suburbs. I am certain that we share some common interests and hobbies. I might be your neighbour, best friend, acquaintance, relative, or a complete stranger. I am also a victim of domestic abuse.Abuse is an intentional act that can be physical, verbal, emotional, or even financial. It often stems from the abuser’s need to control one or more aspects of a relationship. The victim typically feels ashamed, scared, and possibly even guilty. Although they know that they need help, they may continue to tolerate the abuse in fear of further consequences. In an ideal situation, they courageously walk away.
So what happens when you absolutely CANNOT walk away? What happens when YOU have created your abuser? What happens when the abuser is YOUR OWN CHILD?
Rare is the child who does not argue with their parents when they do not get their way. This is to be expected at the various stages of the life cycle – especially in the toddler and teenage years as they struggle to exert their independence. But what happens when the intensity and frequency of these episodes surpass the norm? What happens when on most days of the week your child hits, threatens, mocks, and insults you? What happens when fear replaces the joy that should come with parenting? When the sound of doors slamming replaces that of laughter? What happens when your family spends so much time in crisis mode that the fragility and innocence of childhood is lost?
THIS is what happens.
While some parents dread the morning rush, I dread just getting out of bed. My first thoughts upon awakening are: “I better not do or say too much. I might upset her. Will she yell at me? Will she be loud enough to wake up the rest of the house? Have I done anything in the past 30 seconds that might set her off? Will she complain that I am not in the car fast enough? That it is my fault she is having a bad hair day? Or could not find her school bag?”. If things go smoothly and uneventfully, I feel like I have dodged a bullet. If it does not, then armageddon sets in. Regardless of the outcome, by the time she leaves the house, I am a shaking panicked mess.
After school is no better. As her arrival time approaches my heart starts racing. So many variables in the past 8 hours could have contributed to her mood. “Did she get any tests back? Were her friends nice to her? Do I have the proper snacks or will she yell at me for not finding the food she wants? Is the house too hot? Too cold? What will she criticize me for?”. Any type of interaction is a potential disaster. Sometimes all it takes is for her to lose during family game night (which we have sadly eliminated from our repertoire) or the imposing of any type of reasonable boundaries (i.e. curfew, no television until homework is complete) upon her to throw her into crisis.
When she gets into “abuse mode”, everyone tries to take cover. Her sister runs up to her bedroom crying in fear, and hides until it is safe to emerge. My husband and I try not to engage with our abuser but she craftily finds a way to invade our personal space. The insults and threats begin: “You are ugly….lazy…useless…. nobody likes you, B@#@h”, “I want to kill you”, “Why don’t you just disappear forever”. Shredding papers, destroying art work and family portraits, throwing and breaking things ensues. This is typically accompanied by being spit on, or her punching, hitting, and kicking either my husband or myself. I once had her approach me while wielding a hammer. Things eventually subside when she wears herself out. It usually takes a good 24-48 hours to recover from these episodes – just in time for another one to begin. At no point does she show any remorse for her words or actions. If you try to revisit the incident, it just sparks a new one.
Parental abuse is, not surprisingly, a very under-reported problem that affects 10-14% of households. Living with the daily threat of this type of abuse leaves you humiliated. Your self esteem plummets. You blame yourself. Your marriage weakens, siblings suffer, and grandparents miss out on bonding time. You isolate yourself because after all, what would others think if they knew what went on in your home. Everybody lives in fear. Everybody misses out on happy times. I miss the enjoyment that should come from parenting. I miss mother/daughter shopping and lunch dates. I miss quality family time. Most of all, I miss my first born, amazing daughter.
Rest assured, she has many redeeming qualities. Underneath it all she is charming, creative, funny, sensitive, and talented. So why does she behave like this? Is it poor parenting? Is it something I have done? Well, I can confirm that I am not the perfect parent. On top of the standard parenting difficulties, our family faces many unique challenges. I can also confirm that in our house, there is absolutely no name calling or blatant abuse of any kind.
Unfortunately, my daughter suffers from several psychological ailments. Her abusive behavior is likely the result of these diagnoses and inability to properly control and express her emotions. Does this make it acceptable? Not at all. Do I still love her? Although I despise her actions, my love for her is eternal and unconditional. A fact which makes our situation harder to bear.
For years we have tried finding the right combination of medications and treatments for her. In my quest to regain control of our situation, I have read books upon books and implemented a variety of advice. Nothing seems to be working and the problem is worsening.
Seeing as we are in the public system, the delays are endless. Community resources are limited, at best. I am told to be patient, but I do not know how much longer I can wait. With each passing day, happiness and peace seem more unattainable.
The constant stress is destroying our physical and emotional health. My husband and I spend a significant portion of our lives frozen in a catatonic state, unable to physically move or speak. We have become victims of her untreated mental illness.
I want to receive the proper help. I want to help my daughter feel better. I want to look forward to seeing her each day rather than secretly (and guiltily) preferring when she is out. I want her to have a loving and meaningful relationship with us and her sister. I want my marriage to regain stability. I want the threat of abuse to be gone from our otherwise loving home.
Quite simply, I want my dreams of a happy family to finally become a reality.
Wise Women Canada, by Liz Wiener and Lisa Brookman, is a lifestyle blog that aspires to bring the community together by sharing the stories that make us human.