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What about the custody arrangement?
" And I said Bullshit, I can provide just as much as you can. What makes you think that youre any better than I am? And what makes you think that youre a better parent than I am? I gave him this big struggle. Now its a month apiece. I must say that David calls me at least five times a day, at least, when hes at his fathers. And its very hard for me. I think, Im just waiting for the right time. His girlfriend is moving in. Shes in Washington in another PhD program. And I think once she moves in for good, shes not going to want to have those kids around.
This womans child, David, expressed his feelings through art. The message that this mother gets from her childs art is sorrow over a broken family. She said about one drawing: David says Im the one in red. Interesting, Im the only one without a smile, and note the position of the hand (reaching out to strike) on the gentleman with the tie! The evidence from this affluent family supports what every social worker and child health worker knows from clinical experience: that education, financial security, and social status are weak hedges against the damage that can be done to children if violence between the parents is observed and children are used as bartering points.
evidence is similar in a poorer family.
However, as the woman said: What do you mean he cares about the baby? He just about killed both of us. Finally after several weeks of legal negotiations, a visitation agreement was worked out for all the children. Each visit, however, was fraught with tension for mother as well as children. The mother complained that the father did not feed the children or change the infants diapers. The oldest child, age 5, said simply: He makes me cry. Also, in a most blatant display of using a child in parental battles, he said to the child:
Tell your mother I dont want her anymore ... I want her to die (although he continued to test every avenue through relatives and a pastor to persuade his wife to come back). Say to your mother, I dont love you. Tell your mother shes got money and I dont have any, to give me some. (This mother was being supported on Aid to Families with Dependent Children AFDC.)
This case suggests that the efforts of child advocates to influence divorce and custody decisions to assure the welfare of children are by no means sufficient. This fathers treatment of the children suggests that he might not have visited them at all if he had not entertained the hope of getting his wife back through this mechanism. While he did not openly express hostility about the mother to the children at the beginning of the separation, as his hope for her return dwindled, his visits became increasingly irregular and his barbs at the mother through the children more pointed and vicious.
The mother was explicitly advised by her lawyer and by the researcher when appropriate not to discuss negative things about the childrens father in their presence, nor to question them in a way that would leave the child in a conflicted position, except to ascertain discreetly if any physical abuse had occurred. This was another of those instances where I felt an ethical obligation to depart from the research role and intervene for the sake of the children.
After this mans divorce from his previous wife he never visited the three children of that marriage, although they were not far away. His former wife and the woman in this study met periodically in order to provide the half-siblings from these two marriages an opportunity to visit one another. The two women were also friendly and exchanged stories about the similar pattern of abuse in each of their marriages.
How do these examples
illustrate the childrens suffering?
Currently, this process is accomplished largely as an individual matter between her, her husband, and the respective lawyers whose tendency is to handle these cases in the general adversarial framework of law practice. Through contemporary rites of passage, this process would be extended to include other concerned members of the community. Thus the parents changed roles and responsibilities could be redefined and publicly supported to reduce the possibilities of parents and children alike becoming scapegoats for a problem that extends beyond the immediate family concerned.
But as one woman said after months of homelessness with two young children: Its the pits. Today Im number 11 on the emergency housing list. Here I am scrunched in one room, the babys clothes in a bag, no room for a crib, and theres rats here. Ive lost hope in the housing authority. The effect of such housing crises on children is bound to endure, though its full dimension may only be revealed in the next generation (Kozol 1988).
Because of the life-threatening nature of the crises it deals with, the battered womens movement has, of necessity, focused on refuges to protect women and children from immediate danger. As an unintended consequence, less attention has been given to what happens after resolution of the immediate crisis. Follow-up programs for women and children after they leave shelters are rare or their services quite limited.
This situation presents a sober reminder of how very new the battered womens movement is and of how much work remains to be done. It also underscores the irony of the fact that women and their children, the victims of violence, must struggle to re-stabilize their lives in home and school, while their assailants enjoy the comforts of the marital dwelling.
In fact, the womens fears and anticipation of the
struggles of single parenthood and establishing a new household are well-founded.
Their sharing of these struggles is not intended to suggest in the least that
they would prefer the horrors of living in a violent relationship. Still, the
price some women pay for freeing themselves of such violence is very high. The
experience of some battered women and their children for months after leaving
a violent mate presents poignant evidence of how little the womens movement
has touched the lives of many battered women. More importantly, the long-term
effects of violence on the children are yet to be revealed.
Reflection Exercise #2
Others who bought this Domestic Violence Course