Exactly six years and three weeks ago today, I made the painful decision to walk out of an abusive marriage. Mouthing words of “Girl Power”, “I can do it on my own” and my favorite, “Who needs a man anyway?” I took my two sons, my little daughter and a few suitcases of clothes and marched off into the future to start a new life of rainbows, sunshine, and blissful happiness.
I imagined us living in splendor, laughter would ring out every day, I would make giant leaps in my career and finances (more about that some other time), the kids would have the best grades in school and wouldn’t even notice the absence of their grumpy dad.
So I thought, at the time.
Why, you may ask, did I take this step? After all, this hell had been mine for about a decade and I already knew the streets well. I had learned to cope with the abuse and constant anger from my spouse. The fear of the unknown also held me bound.
You see, their dad had an issue with anger. He knew it. I knew it. The members of both our families knew it. Without going into too much detail, he would flare up at the most trivial issues like the boys leaving toys on the floor (when they were as young as four and two years old) and yell at them at the top of his voice.
Several attempts to get him into anger management or counseling failed. He just would not admit he had a problem. Like I said earlier, I still held on till I began to notice a more frightening effect on my boys and that was the tipping point for me.
Like most young children constantly confronted with an angry parent or adult, the boys began demonstrating these traits:
The daily fear of the reaction to their yelling dad made them constantly anxious and worried.
It broke my heart every time they did something wrong and they would run to me pleading for help and asking “will daddy be angry with me?” I began to notice they would run to their room once they heard his car in the driveway. The older boy was constantly confused. He found it hard to make the smallest decisions for fear of his father’s tongue lashing.
His teacher in school began to notice these changes too. For example, he was restless in class one day and his teacher in an effort to make him behave threatened to tell his dad. He was so scared that he began to throw up! His grades were falling and he was terrified of the dark for reasons we could not explain. Both boys also began clinging to me a lot which angered him more. They were lively and noisy outside, but once they came home; silence.
Low Self Esteem
Children continuously faced with anger stand a chance of having low self-confidence and self-esteem, I saw this first hand. The boys would not stand up for themselves or have a difference of opinion even when they were with their peers. I guess because they so used to their dad shutting them down.
My ex-husband grew up with an angry, military veteran father who took out all his anger and frustrations out on him, the first son. He also endured years of direct verbal assault and angry outbursts. He grew up to become an angry man. I’m no psychologist, but the boys also began getting angry, resentful and sometimes disruptive in school as they got older. I quickly made a connection, they were mimicking his attitude and this was one trait I didn’t want them inheriting.
I wanted out and I wanted it fast. Leaving looked like the best solution but not just leaving. I decided to limit them from any contact with their dad whatsoever.
In retrospect, I may not have made the best decision then, but hear me out before you decide. The boys spent about 18 months with no contact with their dad. During this time I began to struggle with raising them the “right way” as they entered their teen years. If you have ever tried raising teenagers all alone, you may be able to relate to what I experienced.
First of all, I overcompensated by trying too hard to be “nice.” I pampered them a whole lot. I gave them almost anything they asked for. As you can imagine, discipline quickly became a problem in the dream castle I was building for us. I would talk and they would talk back to me.
It didn’t help either that they were both now taller than me.
Next, I realized there was a problem. So, I enlisted my dad and my brothers to chip in and help me out. They tried but were too busy with work and life to make a constant impact on the boys.
I had to relax the restrictions on contact with their father, who had since agreed to take anger management counseling. I still have full custody but I let them go to him on weekends and sometimes I call him in advance to ask him to help me discuss certain “manly” issues with them. With time, I began to see improvements in their behavior but it’s still a work in progress.
Why am I saying all this?
I want dads to understand the unique place they play in their sons’ lives. A place a mom may never be able to fill. I knew I couldn’t fill it and I was not ashamed to admit it. To all the supermoms out there: great job.
For the parents reading this piece who haven’t separated yet: good for you. There may still be hope if you do the following:
If you find yourself modeling inappropriate behavior like unwarranted anger towards you children, it’s your responsibility to correct it before your sons (and even daughters), begin to imitate you. If you have to, get professional help.
Believe me when I say they will learn how to relate with other human beings based on how they see their parents act at home.
You face lots of pressure every day out there trying to keep the bacon on the table, but please drop that tension at the door once you walk into that home you’re building with your significant other.
In conclusion, I know that as a human being, you are bound to get angry from time to time, but if you want to help your boys, don’t let it get to a point where it jeopardizes the future of your home.
Anger has broken my home. Don’t let it break yours too.
A single mom trying to make it work one day at a time.
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