Last week Dylan Farrow set off a fire storm when she penned an open letter about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Woody Allen. Woody responded with a letter of his own defending himself. Dylan responded with her response to his response. The he said/she said brought back memories of my daughter's journey five years ago after suffering emotional and physical abuse in her Dad's home. Although, not played out in the court of public opinion - who you believe becomes an issue in any accusation of abuse. You can read about Elle's by clicking here.
Children of divorced parents - perhaps living in one or two blended families have yet another layer of complication to navigate if abuse is suspected. It's sometimes harder to stop abuse - thanks to other adults (current spouse to your Ex, former in-laws) enabling - covering it up - attacking your child's credibility. Or as the parent left to pick up the pieces - your guilt and anger can lead to you making the abuse about you. Choosing to let hate take precedent over healing for your child - allows them to be revictimized over and over again.
I have no idea if Woody Allen is guilty or not. As per typical in our society we are focused on the adult in this matter. Debating about whether he did it or not. He wasn't prosecuted back then and he won't be prosecuted now. What anyone thinks is a waste of time. What has been completely overshadowed is a 27 year old woman still struggling to have a life that isn't consumed with the events that occurred 20 years ago and hate for the man she holds responsible.
Five years ago, my daughter could have been the one writing a letter similar in tone to the one Dylan Farrow penned. Elle longed to have everyone in her life - especially her Dad's family believe her. She was desperate for her Dad to admit what he had done - offer an apology. The harsh reality? Today some family members continue to question Elle's truth - diminish her emotional harm. Elle's Dad has never acknowledged what happened. So if it never happened there is nothing to apologize for! That merry-go-round is unlikely to stop anytime in the foreseeable future.
So why is my daughter not writing letters or making public declarations about her father five years later and yet Dylan Farrow is doing so twenty years later? I believe Dylan along with her Mother's misguided lead believe that focusing on hating Woody - punishing him by trying this case in the court of public opinion will make them feel vindicated. Hate over healing.
Even if every single person in the entire world were to jump on and support Dylan's truth at the end of the day it won't change what happened to her nor the emotional damage done. That was the splash of reality I had to give my daughter five years ago. If Mia Farrow had given her own daughter that dose of reality I doubt twenty years later we would be talking about Woody Allen - guilt or innocence. Perhaps we would be talking about Dylan Farrow the survivor.
There is no handbook to guide you as parent helping your child through to the other side after suffering abuse. Having been through it I can tell you it's a roller coaster of extreme emotions - fear - hate - rage - sadness - depression - self blame from your child. You are the parent left to pick up the pieces - the only parent left to take the anger - the blame because the offending parent is too busy defending himself to understand the emotional damage - left alone give a simple - I'm sorry.
Hating your Ex - giving him a dress down may make you feel better, but it feeds the cyle of hurt. Revictimizes your child over and over again.
What can you do proactively to prevent abuse:
- Talk to your kids often about what abuse is and what to do if something inappropriate happens. As well as what tactics abusers use to keep victims quiet such as shame - your parents won't love you, etc. Abuse thrives thanks to secrecy and shame in talking about it. Talking openly about it long before it becomes an issue - is the key to stopping it early.
- Hire a trained therapist who deals with divorced/blended families long before there is a problem. If both you and your Ex are willing to have an initial meeting with the therapist, they will be seen as more independent in crisis rather than one parent initiating therapy for your child. A good therapist will tell you both - you pay the bills - your child is the client. Getting your Ex to agree will be easier during a period when things are going well. An outlet for your child to express how they feel without hurting Mom or Dad's feelings is a very positive for your child. If God forbid something questionable happens - your child will already have a repertoire with a therapist. Time won't be spent just getting the lay of the land - building trust. It will already be there.
WHEN YOU BELIEVE ABUSE HAS OCCURRED:
- Take your child to a medical doctor and a therapist IMMEDIATELY. They can determine abuse and are required by law to report any incident of abuse. Accusing an abuser with out all the facts is a dangerous proposition for your child. An abuser may try to influence your child to keep quiet, change their tactics, etc. Also, professionals may be the voice of reason if you they don't see evidence of nor believe it is a case of abuse. While you may not like your Ex's behavior - it may not necessarily rise to that level.
- Meet with a family law attorney. Ask other parents of divorced/step/blended families who have used family attorney's successfully in the past. There are a lot of attorney's who take your money, but are not very effective. Make sure that you are on the same page when it comes to protecting your child. If you hire an attorney let them do the communicating with your Ex. It's the he said/she said between the parents that takes away from the issues surrounding your child. Don't give them ammunition that this is simply a witch hunt by a revengeful Ex.
- Meet in person with adults who hold authority over your child - such as a principal. If your child is old enough take them with you. Share the limited facts - not your judgements - anger or jabs at the other parent. With my daughter we said an incident occured with Elle and her Father and Elle does not feel safe around him at this time. Professionals are involved in resolving the matter - in the meantime we need the schools help to make her feel safe at school. Most schools in this day and age have experience in custody battles - most will ask the child what they need fromt hem to feel protected in school - their space.
- Accept any role you may have had in in creating the climate for the abuse. I knew things were not going well at Elle's other home, but I stopped myself from acting because both Dick and Malus made even the smallest things into WWWIII - like if she had bangs or not. Their hair trigger for conflict influenced my wait and see attitude more than anything.
- If you are a Step Parent and beleive your Spouse needs help - don't turn a blind eye - SAY SOMETHING! Had Elle's Step Mom said something - even a week earlier - my child would have never been put in the horrible situation at her Dad's house that led to her Father throwing her out of his house.
These are just a few of many suggestions if you suspect your child is being abused. If you suspect abuse look to the professionals: your child's pediatrician, therapist and your family law attorney to guild you in protecting your child. Don't focus energy on hating the other parent - it will only keep your child locked in an emotional hell and revictimize them over and over again. You will need every bit of strength to help your child become a survivor rather than a life long victim. Never will there ever be a time that your actions will speak louder than words to your child as you help them through this difficult journey.
Let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for parents if they suspect abuse or tips in supporting a child that has been abused.
For more posts on my daughter's journey: