Before I begin, I want to warn anyone that might be sensitive to content mentioning domestic violence that I will be discussing both physical and emotional abuse situations.
My name is Chloe and I am a domestic violence survivor. There are very few people in my life that know this about me and I’ve kept it that way on purpose. But I no longer feel shame for the things that happened to me so long ago. Being a ‘survivor’ is not my identity. I am a marketing specialist, a wife, a baker, a business owner, an award-winning writer, and a bonus mom. What happened to me is not who I am, but it has played a part in who I am to others and now what kind of mother I am.
For two years I was in an emotionally and, eventually, physically abusive relationship. I met this person during an extremely low, traumatic time in my life and became sucked into a place I never thought I’d find myself. I became the girl who wasn’t allowed to spend time with friends alone. The girl whose boyfriend showed up at her work when she was too busy to respond and would scream at her, calling her slurs and verbally assaulting her until she did what she was told. The girl whose location was shared through her cell at all times – in three forms. The girl whose friends begged her to leave and offered her a place to stay. Eventually, I became the girl who hid bruises and told lies to protect the person she wished someone would protect her from.
Getting out of that relationship cost me almost everyone I knew. My entire life had been consumed by this person so fiercely that I barely had anyone outside of his approved circle. Which is exactly how domestic abuse, both mental and physical, works. With the help of my family and what little friends I left; I got out. It didn’t end right away; the threatening messages and attempts to break into my home continued for some time, but eventually I made it out.
Fast forward to my currently amazing life with my incredible husband and five-year-old stepson, Mason.
Last week my husband called me at work. “Mason hit a little girl at school today.” I felt my stomach leap into my throat. I felt anger and confusion. I told my husband this needed to be taken extremely seriously and that we would all be sitting at dinner to talk about how horrible this was. Later it was clarified that it was in fact another little boy our son hit and somehow… that made me feel better. I couldn’t explain why right away, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how much my past was playing a part in who I am as a mother.
Please don’t get me wrong – my son hitting another child of ANY gender is unacceptable but him hitting a little girl made me feel sick. I felt as though I had done something wrong or failed him in some way. Looking back, I realized that my past with domestic violence makes me extremely cautious of what kind of little boy I’m raising.
When he plays with other little girls and I hear a raised voice from his bedroom, I fly around the corner to make sure everything is ok. When he handles animals, I’m a total helicopter mom, saying things like, “Don’t be too rough; it’s delicate.” My son doesn’t have a single aggressive bone in his body, but I feel an incredible amount of responsibility to teach kindness and gentleness with purpose.
What if my abuser’s parents had taught him to be kind to animals? What if they had taught him what consent was when they gave him “the talk”? What if they had taught him that women deserve boundaries and respect and you don’t get to treat human beings like you own them? I don’t have all the answers to what they could have done differently, and I do not lay the blame of who their son became at their feet. What I do know is that I am making a promise to myself as a parent to this little boy right here and right now:
I will never say “oh he’s just being a boy.”
I will never let someone teach him toxic masculinity.
I will teach him to be vulnerable and express his emotions.
I will teach him that consent and boundaries are the foundation of every healthy relationship.
I will teach him that girls can be abusive too and there is no measure of toxic behavior he should accept.
I will be the mother that teaches my son to look for signs of abusive behavior in his friends, both male and female. I will teach him that you stand up for the people you see being treated unfairly, because it’s the right thing to do and because when I was being held by the neck, face slamming into gravel, and screaming for help, I wish the stranger I locked eyes with had done the same for me.
I am so lucky to have made it where I am today and I am even luckier to have this little boy in my life to remind me how important parenting with purpose truly is.