If you are looking at the title and wondering how anyone wouldn’t know the difference between love and abuse, congratulations! You have a healthy understanding about what it means to be loved.
A lot of us, however, are confused. Parents who beat their children, for instance, and tell their children they love them, could be raising children who equate love with violence. Would that not be a logical conclusion for those kids?
And what if those kids are criticized every single day? Wouldn’t they grow up to believe that criticism and love go hand in hand? They might look for a spouse who criticizes them – not because they truly believe they are loved, but because critical observations fall within their comfort zones.
When I was a young girl I asked my mother why my father didn’t love me. Her response was always the same – “He loves you, but in his own way.” I understood that “his own way” was relentless criticism, mockery, and humiliation. He would come home from work at dinnertime, climb the three stairs into the kitchen, walk around the counter, slap my mother on the butt, give her a kiss on the cheek, look over at the table where my two sisters and I sat, and say something hurtful to me. For some reason, out of his three children, my father chose me as the object of his torment.
I had to assume that my mother and sisters were oblivious to the perpetual torment. Over the years, my self-esteem shrunk to imperceptible. You wouldn’t have been able to measure it on any scale. At one point I asked my mother to pay attention to his daily rituals and I asked her not to say anything to him for a solid week, because I wanted her to understand how relentless he was. After two days, she mentioned to him his daily abuse of me. And he stopped. But only at dinnertime – he became adept at saving his abuse for when my mother wasn’t around.
What that upbringing did for me was to define a type of love for me that never made any sense, and yet I tried to duplicate it with the men I chose to date and marry. “Normal” never entered my vocabulary, so I looked for men who were sometimes so outside the boundaries of normal, they teetered on perversion. THAT was my comfort zone.
Not wanting to repeat that disturbing pattern, I somehow found myself in an unhealthy marriage anyway. While I raised my own children in an unstable home, I had come to a point where I had to look at my circumstances and ask myself, “Is this the type of environment I want my children to emulate?” Do I want my girls to seek out an emotionally abusive and alcoholic partner? Do I want my son to become one? If same-sex parents act as role models, what type of message am I giving to my girls? Do I want them to believe that an emotionally abusive relationship is what they should seek? Do I want my son to treat all the women in his life the way his father treated me?
The decision to divorce is never an easy one, but when children are involved, their best interests have to be of utmost importance. We have to be responsible for what we teach our children – not by what we say, but by how we act. You have to ask yourself if you want your children to understand what true love is or if you want their image of love to be intertwined with alcohol or drug abuse, physical or emotional violence, or abandonment?
What are you teaching your children by your actions and circumstances? Do you really want others to treat them the way you allow yourself to be treated?
Children might hear, “We love you,” but if your actions contradict those words, you are setting up your kids for a life filled with chaos and confusion. The questions we ask ourselves and the answers we receive could mean the difference between a miserable child who finds herself twenty years down the road in drug rehab – or dead – and a child who grows up to be a successful contributing member of society – happy and joyful.
Take a good long look at yourself and then look at your partner. Now look at your children. What kind of life are you teaching them to live?