“Mom, why did you leave my dad, why!” My eight year old demanded of me yet again. It was not uncommon for him to ask me such a question, and I knew whatever I said would go back to his dad. We were driving home from the gym, it was dark and rain sprinkled the windshield as the wipers sloshed back and forth. I pursed my lips.
“Why”?!? he repeated.
My mind flashed back across the things I had told him, ‘you’re not old enough, I’ll tell you when you’re older’ resulted in him pressing me over and over until one night I was tired enough to give in and tell him the basics, that his dad did not know how to treat mommy right, that he would hold me down and not let me up and a few other things, and I prayed and prayed about it and felt that leaving was the best choice for me and for him. Ever since then, my sons inquiries changed to include ‘dad wasn’t holding you down, not all of his weight was on you, you could have gotten up.’ which was one of my ex’s favorite things to tell me, so I knew my son was telling his dad these conversations. I knew I needed to tell him what he needed to know in a kind and loving way.
When my son first began asking me he would say ‘Mom, why did you take me and run?’ My mind flashed back to the months right after I had left my ex, he had filed a protective order on behalf of our son, against me, and the order started off with his statement that I had ‘taken our son and ran.’ I knew that’s how he perceived it. That I was suffering from postpartum depression and that my actions were a result of that and my mother telling me what to do. He didn’t understand that I had told him several times he could not and should not treat me the way he was treating me, that those actions were abuse. It’s so interesting to me that people who have never experienced abuse often say ‘I would never let someone treat me like that.” Yet, when you are in that situation, when you feel your well-being, and your life is in danger, you would do just about anything to get the other person to settle down, to calm their actions. I told him, what he was doing was abuse, I told him it was not okay, I went to his parents, I prayed, I did everything I knew how to do, and none of it mattered. I still lived my life in secrets and fear.
Nearly eight years after leaving my ex though, I have a different viewpoint on what that experience was for me, my ex, and even my son. I know my ex was raised in an abusive home. I know his parents were also raised in abusive homes. I know that his parents suffered from just wanting to be loved and to do what is right, they are normal people, they want to live normal lives and have normal things. They are all kind and good-hearted people who are actively involved in their community and church, who love to help and to serve their fellow-man. They are just living out cycles they don’t know how to fix. And for me, it was a cycle I refused to have continued in my home and with my son, and that is why I left. I used to think ‘it’s okay, I can handle this, I can love him and teach him what love and a happy home is really like.’ I would put up with the days of abuse with that thought running through my head until my son was born. Until the day I was standing in the kitchen cooking dinner with my infant son playing in the bouncer while my husband played video games in the front room, my son began crying as I was tending a boiling pot and my husband saying from the front room ‘I know, I know, mommy doesn’t love you…’ when my husband would smack our 5 month olds hand for taking a beanie off his head to teach him he needed to keep the beanie on his head and that ‘daddy knew what was best for him’. When those things began happening I knew I could no longer stay in that home. And how could I tell my son all that? He loved his dad very much, and his dad really did do his best to take care of our son, I didn’t want to start a war, I didn’t want our son to think badly of his father, after all, I had been told by adult friends who grew up in divorced homes, to never speak badly of the other parent, and that as children grow up, they learn the truth on their own. I believe childhood should be a world of wonderment, magic, and discovery, I did not want to ruin that for my son. I knew he wanted a good, solid answer, and that ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older’ wasn’t cutting it anymore. So I told him the truth.
I told my son that his dad was not always nice to me, and that he did not always treat me the way I deserved to be treated, so after lots of prayer and meditation, I left, and after leaving, I knew it was my calling to help others experiencing domestic violence to make it through and to heal. I knew it was my calling to help the women and the children who were affected, and there was no other way for me to know that’s what I wanted to do, or that’s what I would do had I not experienced it myself. I knew I would not be able to understand how to help these other women if I had not been through the challenge of leaving, of running, of fearing, of court and custody battles and single parenting had I not gone through it myself. I told my son, someone had to teach me what all that was like, someone had to play that role for me, and it was his dad, I told my son that I am grateful for his dad for teaching me what I learned and that I could not have done it without him. ‘So, my dad helped you?’ my son exclaimed. “Yes,” I replied. “You’re dad helped me. And I am grateful to him for it.” Which for me is true. There is always a silver lining in each and every experience we go through, finding that silver lining and living by it makes life worth living.