Living with family or domestic violence can have a profound and traumatic effect on children – and some even bear the brunt of the abuse themselves. Jane* and her husband Mal were shocked to discover that their grandchildren were being abused at home. She shares the heartache and feelings of helplessness they experienced and also her belief that God’s love can bring hope for healing and a happier future.
‘I don’t want to go home.’
Those words still haunt me today. I can still hear them as our two grandchildren went out the door of our ‘safe’ house to return home to a house of abuse.
Our daughter Sarah married an alcoholic. Michael, her husband and the children’s father, was abusive particularly to our grandson. After 10 years of living dominated by physical abuse of both Sarah and the children, the marriage ended.
We were not aware how much trauma occurred during those years, as our daughter worked really hard at projecting to us that everything was okay at home.
I remember one Christmas Eve service at our church. Our entire family always attended. This particular year they turned up and I thought the children looked rather scruffy and unkempt. Only later did I realise Sarah had been working and Michael was supposed to organise the children. It would have been so much easier for her to just say they were not coming, but they came only because of her determination and perseverance to keep up a normal life.
All this makes what happened in the following years so much harder to comprehend.
David moved in soon after Michael moved out. We were not aware of this until some months later. At this stage our grandson Jack was 8 years old and our granddaughter Sophie was 6. David attended all our family get-togethers and was accepted as part of the family. At no time did our grandchildren even hint to us that there was a problem and, of course, our daughter didn’t suggest there was anything untoward going on.
Thinking back I realise that often when I rang Sarah our conversation had to be suspended because of crying and screaming in the background. That was when David attacked Jack and Sophie. Whenever Sarah had a shower or wasn’t nearby, the ‘hero’ went for the children. They were warned not to say anything or worse would follow.
About two years after David moved in, we arranged to pick up the grandchildren from school each Wednesday. We helped them with homework and stayed until Sarah came home from work. This was when we realised something was wrong. Once David arrived home before Sarah, and Sophie, with a frightened look on her face, asked ‘Could you please stay a while?’. On another occasion Jack asked the same thing.
It was a mind-numbing shock to find out what was really happening in that house. Jack was repeatedly hit and forced into his room. Most of the time it was when Sarah was not there. Jack would break down and cry. Sophie’s way of coping was to keep out of David’s way and not stick up for Jack who was constantly receiving all the abuse. They were such sad, unhappy little children.
My husband and I decided to discuss the situation with Sarah. We told her what the children had told us, how David was hitting them, how he had such a violent temper, used foul language, and how he loved to frighten them. We also told her we thought he had mental health problems which needed checking by a doctor. It was the worst thing we could have done.
Sarah told David and the situation got much worse for Jack and Sophie. It became obvious then that for Sarah, David staying was the priority over the needs of the children. From then on, if we asked whether we should say something to their mother, they begged us not to. Such was the fear he generated in them.
We started having the children stay with us more often. Not only did they stay during all the holidays, they also came for ‘respite care’ at least three times during the term. Each time they went home the words ‘I don’t want to go home’ echoed in my head and I just sat and cried, feeling so desperately sad and helpless.
Apparently, each time they stayed here, David would really go for them when they arrived home. He had never been married or had children of his own and he didn’t want them or like them being around.
I took notes of what the children told us in case these were ever needed. David would say things to Jack and Sophie like ‘tell anyone and I will rip your head off’, ‘I will rip out your throat’ or ‘if I had my way I would throw you under a bus’. He has at times turned on our daughter, too – not physically yet, but he has certainly been verbally abusive. The children become so scared for their mother they ring us and we head to their house wondering what we will find when we get there.
Generally Sarah is furious that the children have rung us and so, once again, the problems are all their fault. It is so hard for us as her parents to try to understand what is going on in her head, let alone why she stays with David.
All this heartbreak, tears, anxiety and desperation came to a head one day in 2015 when we received a call from the school counsellor asking us to come to the school as the grandchildren were too frightened to go home. We were asked whether we would take care of them. They stayed with us for eight months. After some months our granddaughter missed her mother and decided it was time to return home.
There are times when it is almost impossible to believe this has happened to our family.
* Names have been changed, however this story is a true account by a member of the LCA.
Domestic and family violence support
Call 000 if you, a child or another person is in immediate danger.
1800RESPECT – family violence & sexual assault counselling 1800 737 732
Lifeline – crisis support for domestic abuse and family violence 131 114