Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence in our Children

breaking the cycle of domestic violence
Marin Dahl

By Marin Dahl | Oct 2nd, 2019

When you’re a single mom, some nights are tougher than others. There’s no spouse to pinch-hit when you need a break, and giving in to temper tantrums just creates a worse problem down the road. You’ve just got to soldier through it and pray they go to sleep in time for you to down a large glass of wine.

It had been one of those nights. School just started back up, and our school-year screentime rules were in effect. My son wasn’t pleased with hearing “no,” when he asked for my phone to watch YouTube videos. He was even less pleased when he tried to sneak screentime behind my back and lost it for three days.

“I hate you!” he yelled. I’d expected that, but what I hadn’t expected was for him to haul off and punch me in the stomach.

I grabbed his wrists and tried to hold him off, repeating calmly, “We don’t hit in this family.” 

He shot back, “Yes, we do. Daddy hit you!” 

That moment will be forever etched in my brain. As a survivor of domestic abuse and violence, I’ve worked hard to put my life together and raise a son with emotional intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify your emotions rather than be controlled by them and choose healthy outlets to express them. We’ve talked about anger, and how he could punch or scream into a pillow instead. I’ve told him I go running when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my emotions. But, in that moment, he chose to hit me.

I’m proud that I kept calm and didn’t hit him back. Prouder still that I didn’t give in and let him have screentime. Later that night, he asked me to cuddle with him in bed.  I laid beside him, gathered him into my arms, and rocked him while he sobbed. “I’m sorry,” he cried. “I didn’t know how to make it better.”

I struggled for words, defaulting to telling him that I loved him and coming up with an action plan for how he could better express anger next time.  Again, I explained to him why what he’d done was wrong. Since he showed remorse, however, I didn’t belabor the point. 

That moment will be forever etched in my brain. As a survivor of domestic abuse and violence, I’ve worked hard to put my life together and raise a son with emotional intelligence.

The next day, on the way to school, I talked about it again and set the expectation that there would be no screentime for a week. He quietly acquiesced.

The reality is that perpetrators of domestic violence were often victims first. It’s a cycle that repeats itself, particularly if your children are old enough to remember what happened. I am the mother of a son, and while men are abused statistically, it’s more common for them to engage in physical violence against a domestic partner, it’s my job to break the cycle. 

If you’re a survivor, you carry a massive weight on your shoulders. You must put yourself back together and get healthy and whole while also raising children who don’t perpetuate the cycle. It’s been a few years since I left my marriage, during which I’ve learned some tricks to manage my son’s anger.

READ MORE: They Survived Domestic Abuse. Now They Dedicate Their Lives To Helping Others

If I’d responded with violence, it would have escalated the situation. It also would have undermined my words that we don’t hit in this family. Instead, I acknowledged his emotions as valid, reiterated our boundaries and the consequences for violating them. When correcting poor behavior, it’s vital to connect with our children. That way, they know they can make a better choice next time and won’t lose the relationship. 

Because I’m divorced, I have one thing on my side. It’s easy to differentiate between my house and his father’s house. “In my house, we don’t hit,” creates a clear separation.

I get my son back this week, and I’m already planning to work more on emotional intelligence. It’s an ongoing process, not a one and done conversation. If you’re also trying to break this cycle, make sure you get all the support you need to maintain a level head. Practice meditation or yoga, go to therapy and read books such as The Whole-Brain Child or The Whole Parent to learn more about raising children after abuse. 

And, finally, show love. My child is the best thing that came from my disastrous marriage. Every day I shower him with positive touch – pats on the head, half-squeezes when I walk by, or kisses dropped on his forehead – and remind him that he’s my world. Yes, violence has marked his young life, but I’m a firm believer that I can drown it out with love.


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