Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Colossians 3:21
In the U.S., approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually (American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, 2011). Given many of these adults have children, it is said that over 7.5 million children are living in violent homes annually (www.doorwaysva.org).
Over the years, I have seen the various ways children impacted by domestic abuse attempt to deal with the emotions that are associated with violence in their homes. Some children, striving to move past the shame related to the chaos in their home, put on a mask called perfectionism. These children are high achievers and often excel in academics and/or sports.
Some children are confused by the fact that the very people tasked with the responsibility to protect them, are the ones who make life seem so uncertain. These children may then go on to rebel against all authority. Many do poorly academically, and have an increased chance to become victims of abuse themselves. Others, repeat and take learned behaviors into their adult relationships. Thereby bringing violence in to the next generation.
Often, we are sympathetic to children who attempt to dismiss the real impact of living with a violent parent. Most people understand a child’s need to place the battered parent on a pedestal and their attempts to protect the image of that parent. What many don’t understand is the extreme anger children harbor toward the very parent they’ve placed on that pedestal.
It has been said that most abused partners leave and return to their violent partners on average seven times before leaving the relationship for good. Even if the victim never leaves, parents report 87% of the time the children witness either the actual physical attack or the aftermath (bruises, holes in wall, staying/hiding at relative’s homes). Staying in a violent relationship can leave children questioning the safety of their world.
Our opening scripture reminds us of God’s heart toward children. We’re reminded that, as parents, we are not to discourage our children. To embitter a child means to make them bitter, resentful, aggravate the child to a point of hostility, or to put them in a difficult situation; such as choosing between two parents. For sure, domestic violence can sour a child’s view of intimate relationships.
We as parents have a responsibility to shield our children from the pain of violence. Married parents are called to demonstrate love toward each other. This not only keeps peace in the home, it also assists to guarantee the success of future generations.
Maintaining healthy boundaries, could mean leaving unhealthy situations. Unmarried parents are not exempt. Respecting former partners includes respecting our children’s relationship with both their parents. All of this helps teach our children they are loved, lovable, and of value.
If your child has witnessed violence in the home, please consider enrolling him/her in a program designed for child witnesses of domestic violence. Teens, because they are at a greater risk for unhealthy relationships, also benefit from joining groups focused on healthy relationship skills.