When my daughter Alexandra was about 7 she got in trouble while I was at work for not following directions. Her caregiver locked her out of the house on the front porch and showed her pictures of missing children and told her, “This is what’s going to happen to you if you can’t behave in my house.” She begged to go home and the caregiver said, “OK, start walking!” At the time I lived about 20 minutes away by car. When the caregiver walked into another room Francesca (who was 5 at the time) unlocked the door and let Alexandra back in. Would you take your child back to that caregiver? Would you call Children’s Services or the police to report this behavior? Is it criminal?
Once when the girls were about this same age they got in BIG trouble at my house for cutting their own bangs. When I was at work they told their caregiver why their hair looked funny and how mad I had been about it. Later that day Francesca got in trouble for something minor and the caregiver FORCED her to cut her own hair so that I would get mad when I saw it. Another time she was forced to cut Alexandra’s hair because she had gotten in trouble for something. Again, what would you have done?
And another time that year when Alexandra was doing her homework after school, her pencil rolled off the table a few times within 10 minutes or so. Her caregiver told her, “If you drop that pencil one more time, I’m going to stab you in the leg with it.” Does the consequence fit the crime? What would you do if your child told you this happened?
Are you angry with me for sending the children back to this same caregiver year after year? Are you angry with me for not calling the police? Have I failed them as a mother? Should people leave nasty comments that berate me for neglecting my children?
Before you judge me, consider this--I was court ordered to send the girls to this caregiver. This particular caregiver is the girls’ biological father, and at the time of these events he was working as a Certified Nurse Assistant caring for other people’s loved ones at a nursing home. At the time we had been divorced for three years and he had 50/50 custody of the children. He had his CNA license AND 50% custody of our girls after being arrested, charged, and found guilty of domestic violence against me. He spent 1 day in jail and 3 years on formal probation. He was arrested for knocking me unconscious, and for the 45 minutes that I was unconscious he continued to beat and rape me in front of our children who were 4 and 2 at the time. When I regained consciousness and tried to leave the house with the children, he slammed the door shut and would not let me leave. I was holding the 2 year old in my arms and the 4 year old by the hand as he shoved me against the wall over and over. He was found guilty of all of these things, and he STILL maintained his professional license and 50% custody of our children.
The family courts have failed my children. Each time something atrocious happened at their dad’s house I reported it to CPS or filed a police report, or reported it to their doctor as I requested counseling or psychiatric help for them. I reached out to non-profit organizations and attorneys who may be willing to take on my case pro-bono. I pleaded with court appointed mediators and judges to remove the girls from their visitations with their father until he was able to get counseling. Never have I wanted to cut him out of their lives 100%, only temporarily until he could parent without abuse. I thought I was doing my job as a protective and loving mother.
Instead, I was painted as the vindictive and bitter ex-wife. I will admit to the bitter part. Yes, I was bitter then, and am less bitter almost 10 years later. However, I am not vindictive. If I were a vindictive person I would not have helped him obtain the medicine he needed to fight cancer when he had no insurance (read that blog here). If I were a vindictive person I would have made calls to his employers to notify them of his violent criminal history that he has somehow been able to hide. If I were a vindictive person I would not notify him of the girls’ progress in school, doctor’s appointments, dental appointments, accomplishments. I may be bitter, but I am not vindictive.
A CPS Social Worker once told me that I should stop calling CPS to report these types of emotional abuse because they will open a case and “You don’t want them to open a case.” What? Yes! I DO want them to open a case! My children are being abused and you are Children’s Protective Services! Isn’t that EXACTLY what you are supposed to do? She told me, “No, because when we open a case it is under the mother’s name for failure to protect the children from abuse.” OK, let me get this right…I can’t keep the children from visiting their father because that is in direct violation of a court order, but I will be held responsible for the abuse the endure while they are there? OK, that makes sense…at what point is the father held responsible for his own behavior?
I hope this article is shocking. I hope it shocks you SO much that you reach out to your local community leaders in family court and ask them about their policies on protecting children who are witnesses to domestic violence. Ask them what they do to help children who may not be suffering from physical or sexual abuse, but are still being abused emotionally. I hope this article shocks you into taking action on behalf of the thousands of children who are enduring this type of trauma.
And perhaps you shouldn’t judge that single mom with an exhausted look on her face and children who are acting out in the grocery store. You have no idea what they are going through—maybe you should offer to carry those groceries to her car, instead.