Remaining silent, blinded and deaf to the realities of abusive relationships has not worked ever and as long as we employ-shutting it all out-as a strategy…women, men, girls and boys will continue to suffer or worse, die. But if we open our hearts, remove the blindfold and uncover our ears, we will discover that the seeds of awareness are sown when stories are shared.
When I heard that Katie Couric was going to lead a conversation on the subject of teen dating violence I felt on some very deep level as if I could exhale. It’s not that I have really been holding my breath or waiting for a celebrity to pull back the curtain on abuse—after all so many of us have and will continue to—but I thought to myself; maybe just maybe Katie Couric’s platform on national television will reach people differently.
I have watched the eyes of parents glaze over when I share my story. I have heard parents tell me: “I know abusive relationships happen but my daughter has been raised with love…besides she is way too smart to get caught up in a relationship like that.”
But love and smarts do not prevent teen dating violence; information does.
What parents are really expressing is their fear. No one wants to imagine their child, or any child, dying at the hands of someone who claims to love them.
1 in 3 women will experience some form of abuse in her lifetime—that is a staggering statistic.
I have always said; “When you are brave with your own voice…often times it gives others the courage to be brave with theirs.”
And courage was what I saw today as Sharon and Lexi Love, the mother and sister of Yeardley Love, shared for the first time on television their story; how they remember Yeardley and truly how blindsided they were when they learned she had been killed.
Courage was evident again when Ann Burke, mother of Lindsay Ann Burke, and founder of The Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund, shared her experience and acknowledged the path she has been on to educate young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships since Lindsay was murdered nine years ago.
And we heard more bravery as Quosana Cobb told about her narrow escape from an abuser who later lashed out by nearly killing her mother Arlene, their lives remain permanently altered.
Why do people share their stories?
Because they want to save lives, they want to prevent the anguish that comes with being touched by domestic violence. They want to know that their daughter, their sister, did not die in vain. Quosana wants people to know that the threats an abuser makes to harm a family member are real. They want people to learn, and they want people to then share the knowledge.
I hope people learned from the show today that abuse does not discriminate—it can happen to ANYONE.
As community members we cannot afford another minute of complacency, we need to educate ourselves, our children and each other about the components of a healthy relationship and the warning signs of abuse. Because every time an individual is victimized by an abuser—we all suffer.
When domestic violence expert, Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, explained to Katie that attempted strangulation is a primary indicator that an individual’s life was at risk, I thought of the terrified teenager that I once was…and for what feels to be the millionth time in my life I thought: I am incredibly lucky to be alive.
I think of my son’s and my daughter—they know what I lived through—they have the tools to prevent abuse in relationships, they know how to use the tools and I am confident they could even teach them.
So thank you Katie Couric for uncorking the conversation about teen dating violence, thank you to Sharon, Lexi, Ann, Quosana and Jacquelyn for being brave with your voices and thank you also to the countless other individuals whose loved one was murdered and devote their lives to abuse prevention.
What about you?…Join the conversation…it’s time to end the epidemic called relationship abuse…say NO MORE…learn about the warning signs…and then? Pass it on…teach, prevent, share; someone’s life depends on it.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you are not alone and there is help. For additional resources call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE
“Don’t take your love away from me, don’t you leave my heart in misery, ’cause if you go then I’ll be blue…’cause breaking up is hard to do. They say breaking up is hard to do…”–Neil Sedaka & Howard Greenfield
As parents remembering the anguish that went along with the end of a relationship from our own teenage years is a great first step toward supporting out teens when they experience their first heartache.
Although you know there are better days ahead, they may not. Our kids do not have the benefit of experience, this is new for them.
Saying things such as; “there are other fish in the sea” or “you’re young, you really don’t know what love is,” only serves to invalidate what they are feeling. Their first experience with love is real for them, even if it doesn’t appear that way to you. They know they are young, reminding them makes them feel minimized. No one has control over their chronological age–focus on the things in their life they do have agency over, lead them toward healthy ways to process their emotions.
Try acknowledging their feelings, they may not want to talk immediately but you can let them know you will be available to listen when they are ready to share. If and when that time comes–open your ears and your heart, refrain from passing judgement, ask questions, seek to understand. They may ask you about your first break up; an invitation to share your own memories of first love is an opportunity to show them you were once their age…and that every time you experienced heartache you aso found a piece of your strength swimming in the sea of pain.
We can’t take away their anguish, it simply is part of navigating as a person and even though it is hard to watch our kids when they hurt it isn’t possible to step in and take their pain away. Giving them the space to feel will afford them the opportunity to learn first hand that in time their hurt will fade and in that clarity they will have the capacity to see what worked and didn’t work.
The ability to reflect and deconstruct their previous relationship helps our teenagers become more discriminating and lends itself toward their ability to identify trouble areas early on which hopefully helps them to avoid crisis.
The relationship we have with our children is an enormous example of how a healthy relationship can thrive even when life throws us a curve ball; the more we foster respect, communication, honesty and safety in our relationship with our kids, the more likely they are to extend the same grace, first to them-self, and second to the people with whom they have relationships.
“The water is so clear today. The scattered surfers are protected by their full-length wet suits. I so admire the surfers out there in the frigid waters bobbing up and down void of fear. I can swim in my mind back stroke to a time when each of my children played on this beach, their fortitude and very being providing me with inspiration. I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. It is a privilege to be a parent, having a hand in the miracle of bearing and raising children.
Yet this miracle also brings responsibility. As parents, what can we do to prepare our children for the cruelty that exists? We zip our children into a proverbial full-body wet suit lined with life’s eruditions, a neoprene triple-layer of fabric to ward of hypothermia, scrapes, and snares. We smear UV70 sunblock across their faces, hands, and feet as if our mere touch and each application will prevent the ruthless incursion of any future cancer.
I can no more imagine one of my children experiencing violence than I can orbit the moon. I hear myself thinking things such as, “Over my dead body,” or “I’d kill the person who lays a finger on any one of them.” But all that bravado gives way to an utterance, a borderline beseeching that re-states how I can handle it: Send the tough stuff to me…please keep them safe…let them be strong from all that they do, not what they endure.
Protect, safeguard, shelter, save, harbor—yet in the long run protection is not enough. We can’t just keep our children in a bubble. We need to build their strengths, sharpen their tools, let them own their triumphs as well as their mistakes. We need to help them understand the gravity of their words and actions before they hurt another person. We need to raise them to be good people, strong people, contributing people, and all that potential is predicated upon their own self-confidence. For in due course, we must open our hands in a wave, catch our breath as these independent creatures slip into the world’s water. We find ourselves praying silently that this child of ours has what it takes to navigate safely.”
—An excerpt from Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life
Elin Stebbins Waldal, Sound Beach Publishing
Video Reading by Elin set to photos taken of her own children:
i carry your heart
here is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Friendship which endures, does so, not out of some Hallmark version of loyalty, it endures because it does not shrink from the difficult, it does not reserve itself for good days only…enduring friendship knows no limits.
“Sometimes, I just wish I was someone different who shared that link. Who is my friend, but doesn’t seem to know how much it means to me and my family to help us. Who doesn’t seem to know how much we need you. I am so tired. Please help, please do something. Oh. And, to be a friend. This is a lifetime commitment. My pain will not go away. It will not get easier. I will need you, as my friend, for as long as I live.”
As I read those words posted on the Facebook timeline of a friend who I met because of what we share in common–we both know the affect that abuse in a relationship can have. Our difference? Her daughter is buried and I am alive. I need you to know I love this woman in a way I find difficult to express, but what I can articulate is this: it is as she is, pain and all. I hope and pray I never know the anguish she suffers first hand. I may not be able to take her pain away but acknowledging her pain without expectation or judgement is a way I may remain present for her.
“Sometimes I just wish…” she muses… “I was someone different who shared that link…” A link which if you clicked on it would show her courage, her mission, her intention. I want you to know she works endlessly so that no one has to experience her pain first hand. My friend shares her daughters story to ensure that no other parent has to live with an absence which will never ever end. My friend shares her daughters story to prevent another teenager from losing their life at the hands of someone who claims to love them.
My friend shares her daughters story and in that sharing her daughter lives on…perhaps not as you or I do…but she makes her way into your heart…I know, because she is in mine and I carry her in my heart.
Parents whose children die don’t “get over it” they don’t “move-on” they will never be the same. They move forward in time with their memories, their regrets, their devotion, their endless loss…their love. Don’t shrink from them, love them as they are…
It’s National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month so what’s a parent to do?
I speak with parents all the time and the number one thing I hear from them is this:
“I really don’t worry about my kids being in an abusive relationship, they haven’t been raised with abuse in the home.”
–And from there I do my level best to share how I understand the love they are surrounding their kids with because like their children, I too was enveloped in a loving environment while growing up. But, all the love in the world did not protect me from nearly losing my life at the hands of a young man who claimed to love me.
Abuse does not discriminate–it does not care how you were raised, by whom or how much money you have.
As a late teen my greatest gift was my capacity to be a loving, caring and nurturing person. I had a strong desire to help people who had difficulties–all wonderful attributes; attributes that would later be the very thing that would hold me hostage in a relationship where I would nearly be killed, a relationship with a young man who needed rescue, help, or in short: to be “fixed” and at that time in my life, I thought I could handle it. I was painfully alone and devastated by the thought that if I told my parents, they would know I wasn’t all that they hoped I would be.
Imagining your child as a victim of relationship abuse is nothing short of horrifying…I get it, today I am a parent of three children ranging from 14-24…but crawling into a place called denial does not make the possibility any less real. The best way to overcome fear is to arm ourselves with information…with that I offer 6 easy ways for parents to get their arms around the issue of Teen Dating Violence which affects countless young people ranging in age from 16-24 daily:
1. Download the FREE Love Is Not Abuse iPhone App The app is loaded with resources, simulations and answers to your questions.
4. Let your local schools know your interest in learning more about Teen Dating Violence ask that they host an event with a guest speaker to address parents and teens. Let them know that The Love is Not Abuse Coalition has free curriculum for their faculty to download and teach from.
5. Learn from other people’s experience by reading books like Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life A Mom’s Choice Gold Award Recipient in the adult book category for 2011. Read it in your book club where you can discuss with other parents what you may do to support your own children.
6. Begin the conversation today with your teen, share resources like the “Test Your Knowledge Quiz“.
Transparency is so vital in our relationships with our children–remember what it was like to be their age–you also craved your independence and wanted nothing more than for people to see you as capable. Invite them to share what they feel, reserve your judgement, help them express what they are going through and invite them to explore their options with you. Let your kids know you understand how they feel, make sure they know that no matter what they may encounter there is nothing they could ever experience that would disappoint you, they have to know that you are a safe haven unwavering in your love for them.
The only way we will end relationship abuse is to meet it head on…that requires us to discuss it openly just as we have opened our heart to countless other important issues.