My formative elementary years occurred in the mid-to-late seventies. My parents were both mental health professionals–my father had a private counseling practice, and my mother was the director of a local mental health agency. It was a time when Transactional Analysis (aka I’m OK, You’re OK) was all the rage. My world was covered in bumper stickers, t-shirts and posters that said things like “People are not for hitting, and children are people, too,” “Have You Hugged Your Kid Today?” and “IALAC–I Am Lovable and Capable.”
I must have been around seven or eight when I heard my parents talking about someone we knew whose husband hit her. I got from the conversation that this had happened more than once. I was completely confused. “Why would you stay with someone who hurt you?” It seemed like the craziest thing I’d ever heard. Right up there with what I knew at the time about people who voluntarily quit eating.
My social worker parents tried to explain to me about women who didn’t have any means of support outside of a husband and those who felt so badly about themselves that they believed that it was their fault someone hit them. It still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. My mother was (and is) one of the most enterprising people I know. Of course she could make her own living. And who were these women who thought they deserved to be hit? What had happened to them to make them feel that way?
Of course the issue of domestic violence is far more complex than the conversation my folks had with an eight year old. Looking back, I find it interesting that I don’t remember asking questions about the person who had done the hitting. No questions about why he did it or why someone didn’t stop him. I was much more puzzled about the person who chose neither fight nor flight than I was the person who initiated the violence in the first place.
And I suppose I still react to incidents of domestic violence in that way. My first thought after seeing the Ray Rice elevator video in which he attacks his then-fiance was not, “How to we keep men from doing that?” but “How do I make sure my daughter doesn’t grow up to be that woman?”
Obviously, we all need to work to make sure that none of our children grow up to be part of a violent relationship–either as the perpetrator or the victim. Recognizing that we only have so much (or so little) control over who our children become, I believe there are things we can do to minimize their risk of becoming part of an abusive relationship.
- Support who your child is rather than pushing him/her to be someone else. Children who are confident in who they are are less likely to hurt others or to stay in a situation where they are being hurt.
- Don’t engage in physical or verbal abuse with your partner. If you call your spouse names or hurl insults in the midst of an argument, you are signaling to any child who is listening that abuse (which comes in many forms) is acceptable in a relationship.
- Demonstrate in your home how to resolve conflict without resorting to abuse or violence. Children who witness (and are involved in) disagreements that end in compromise and arguments that end with apologies are more likely to adopt those strategies in their own lives.
- Make sure your child (particularly your girl child) develops some marketable skills so that he/she is not financially dependent on a partner. (The other points have stats to back them up, but this one is just personal opinion.)
I am relieved that the Baltimore Ravens have terminated (albeit somewhat belatedly) Rice’s contract. Otherwise, I would have had to boycott the NFL. That might have been dicey at our house where my husband only recently (after over 15 years on a waiting list) became a season ticket holder of his beloved New England Patriots. Thanks to the NFL for sending that message to the world and helping to keep the peace in our home.