By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
This is a reprint of a blog post I wrote during Spring semester, 2008.
Today in psych class the prof mentioned in passing that childhood depression often does not manifest like it does in adults with feelings of sadness, crying, etc. In children, depression often is expressed as aggression. My heart fell to my toes. You see, I’m dealing with a precious 5-year-old daughter who is as sunny and outgoing as the day is long, but she is aggressive. She comes home from school with notes for hitting at least once a week.
I have wondered if there could be a genetic predisposition toward violence since there is violence and/or rage for at least 3 generations before her on her father’s side of the family. But the explanation of depression would make more sense to me. Every once in awhile she says something about wishing “we could all live together.” She adores her daddy and I go out of my way to foster that relationship, hoping that somehow he will never violate it since his exposure to her is limited now to every other weekend, holidays, etc. Her times with daddy are special and I hope they remain that way.
I know that eventually her parents’ divorce is going to be an issue for her. If nothing else, about the time she hits teenage hormones she’s going to start to wonder and be upset about it. And what can I say to her when that time comes? If she does not observe her father behaving the way he did during all the years of our marriage, she will not be able to understand how the mom she loves and the dad she loves can’t love and live together. Even her next-older brother (now 18) can’t accept it. Though he observed the violence, he cannot accept its reality (even testifying in court that it didn’t happen) and, though he’s “forgiven” me, he believes it is my fault. And he was there to see it happen on a daily basis and remembers that it happened but doesn’t connect with the significance of it. How can this little girl who has not seen the abuse in her memorable lifetime accept her parents’ divorce?
She actually started with the aggressive behavior as an infant. She would bite, hit, kick and pinch me – far more than normal. I also know that as an infant she was exposed to the violence in our home. I vainly tried to reason with my ex about his screaming, swearing rages and about the fist-fights with our oldest son which my ex provoked but viewed as our son’s fault because the son – following his father’s lifetime example – would eventually respond physically to his father’s incessant verbal haranguing (the fist-fights continued until our son won a couple times; then my ex finally found the self-restraint to walk away instead of swinging). Even as an infant, when these outbursts would occur she would scream and cry in terror; not anger, terror. I would take her to the other end of the house or take her away in the car to get her away from it. But now I’m wondering if she was more affected by that violence when she was an infant than I realized at the time.
This pattern of violence and rage which existed in our home throughout the 20 years of our marriage would have continued for the rest of her lifetime in that home had I stayed in it. I got out before it turned on her — which her daddy swears would never happen, but in the weeks right before I left I observed him screaming at her outside because she walked left around the car parked in the driveway instead of right. She had just turned three years old. It was one of the events that affirmed to me I was making the right decision.
But the church says I should have stayed in that marriage. Yes, my daughter is probably dealing with depression; and I don’t know how to help her. It breaks my heart and I’m going to be doing a lot of praying for direction and insight. Later she will deal with significant emotional trauma attempting to process, accept and understand her parents’ divorce. I know that. But is that worse than what would have happened if I stayed in this Christian marriage since there was no known sexual adultery? (Though I know he “could” have had an adulterous relationship because after our daughter was born he swore in one of his rages that he would have nothing to do with me -and he didn’t for about 2.5 yrs. until the weirdness right before I left him – I still don’t think he committed sexual adultery.)
I tried and tried and tried to get help. Christian counselors wouldn’t believe me about the severity of the situation. When he was reported to the authorities for child abuse he convinced the social worker that it was somehow my fault he punched his 13-year-old son (J) when I wasn’t home. If any counselor get anywhere close to seeing through him, we suddenly couldn’t go back to that person. He’s very, very, very good. If you met him, you probably would wonder what my problem is. He’s not just very, very good, he believes himself so he is absolutely convincing, because technically he isn’t lying; he believes whatever he says.
After he was reported to the authorities he never initiated physical violence again, though he would provoke J for hours, cornering him in his room and yelling at him until J made the first twitch. J might only throw a pencil but it was an excuse to launch into fists – for my ex to defend his honor and manhood. When I dared to question him I got to share in the screaming rage for “castrating him” (though he used far cruder language). And until J finally established his own relationship with God at 18, he was a very angry and bitter boy -since he got the brunt of his “wonderful Christian” father’s violence and anger ALL his life. After that, J learned to walk away and not engage physically – an accomplishment his father never recognized. Not to say J doesn’t still have some serious issues with his father, and in fact, refuses to visit him and his new wife, but he has been the one to make the changes.
After the abuse report to the authorities my ex never initiated physical violence again. And he believed that made him a changed man. The screaming, swearing rages didn’t stop. The constant verbal barrage of reasons why I was wrong, a failure, and a “rebellious, unsubmissive, ungodly wife” never stopped. It started on our honeymoon and it never stopped except for the brief periods during our two separations when he was convincing me he had changed and was repentant. I was somehow deficient for every reason from running the water too hot in the shower, to washing the dishes from right-to-left instead of left-to-right in the kitchen sink, to liking white rice with butter as a side dish. The biggest reason I was a wicked pagan scum was because I didn’t agree that it was my Christian duty to be actively involved in far-right Republican politics. For this one he literally told me he didn’t believe I could be a Christian.
He screamed at me for over an hour in the last few months before I left him because I walked in while he was “cleaning” the bathroom just in time to see him go from washing the toilet to washing the sink with the same rag. When I (carefully neutrally and without any heat) asked him to use a clean rag on the sink, it set him off. I had to sit there and take it, let him finish “cleaning” and then clean the bathroom again after he left.
How can the church justify in any way consigning spouses and children to that kind of existence? Fortunately in most cases an abuser also has extramarital affairs, giving an allowable “out.” Even in the face of persistent abuse and adultery churches will try to “save the marriage.” Some churches will even deny that a divorce is an allowable alternative, regardless of sexual adultery.
And for every day, month and year that churches try to “save” that marriage, the abuse goes on. The wounds get deeper and the damage increases. I ended up with cancer after my health broke down during our second separation. I have fantastic kids; my boys are super-responsible, hard workers and don’t get into trouble. But my oldest son (turning 21 in a few weeks) has issues with anger and bitterness, though he is actively working on them. And he really wants to get married to his serious girlfriend (a precious Christian girl that I like alot!), also from a severely abusive background. That’s a recipe for disaster as it stands now, unfortunately. My second son is in complete denial – which is scarier than my older son’s issues, quite frankly. My baby who is too young to understand is dealing with depression and will have more to deal with as she gets older. It’s the “gift” that keeps on giving. And the church is not only negligently oblivious but pats itself on the back for its heroic efforts to save marriages. The sanctity of marriage is not more important than the sanctity of life.