I believe that women with young children who stay in abusive relationships are strong, not weak. It is only after becoming a parent that I understand the real meaning of sacrificial love. As the child of an abused woman, I recognize the sacrifice of body, spirit and hope my mother gave when she choose to stay with my father.
Mama married Dad just before he was drafted for Vietnam. She was a 15-year-old war wife with no education and only the promise of a better life once Dad returned to the States. Marrying him was her passport to a house with a picket fence and exactly two legitimate children.
But Dad came home a changed man. The man who hadn’t so much as been in a schoolyard skirmish beat his pregnant wife for no reason—most often after accusing her of being in cahoots with the Vietcong.
For years my two younger brothers and I stood by helplessly as my mother endured full-on face slaps or worse if, for example, her rice was too gummy. But usually the abuse happened after we kids were supposed to be asleep. Hearing Dad’s muffled blows against Mom’s body is a sound I’ll never forget.
My parent’s fights were not an everyday occurrence. Most days were rather ordinary. We would play Twister or watch Wild Kingdom together in the family room.
Mama tended her garden and charged me, the only girl, with pulling weeds. More than once I ripped tender vegetable shoots from the earth instead of the weeds.
On hot summer days, she would stand outside with the water hose turned on us so we could “swim”. Those times when she smiled from the inside or gave a big belly laugh was most often when she was with us kids.
As I developed into adolescence, I looked down on her for allowing herself to be someone’s punching bag. I once asked Mom why she let Dad hit her. She said there was nothing else for her to do.
But I look at my dad as a blank page. If you hold up an 8½ x 11 blank sheet of paper, a lot of possibility existed there for my mom. Only the very tip of the paper’s corner symbolized the times when Dad hit Mama. Mama’s life with Dad was about possibilities and when it was evident her hopes would be unrealized, she didn’t know how to rewrite the page.
When Mama discovered that Dad sometimes withheld food or water from my youngest brother, she placed his clothes in trash bags on the curb with a note. Whatever the note said, Dad never lived with us again and they divorced soon after.
It is easy to say that Mama stayed so her children would have the necessities of life: food, shelter and clothing. But I believe she choose to ignore the 5% of my Dad that was horrible to her and focus on the 95% of him that was good to us. And she did this from the strength of a mother’s love.
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