Before we go any further, no, I’m not saying that you need to be the third wheel in their marriage, just so you know.
As my child grows older, I constantly find myself wondering what I’ll be facing in a few years’ time. This happened recently when a friend of mine revealed to me that her son was in an abusive relationship.
“What would you do if you were in my shoes, Ev?” she asked as she sobbed.
“Hell do I know!” I wanted to answer her. Instead, I just put my arms around her.
What in the name of the celestial powers does a parent do when their child is in an abusive relationship, or when they know that their relationship isn’t working out?
Do you put your two cents in and hope your child won’t see you as a threat? Do you confront the perpetrator and hope they won’t unleash their anger on your child? Does one, really, ever want to be seen as the reason their child’s relationship ended?
Damn relationships, aye? But here’s what I should’ve told my friend when she asked:
Listen – We often listen to reply, but it makes sense to listen to understand. Hear your child out, listen to what they have to say and analyse the situation with an open mind. Abuse can never be excused, but if your child’s relationship is going to the dogs because they’re arguing and angry all the time (and there is no form of abuse), then maybe your child is as much at fault as their partner. You won’t know until you hear them out!
Accept What They Tell You – You are their parent and your job is to support them. Believe that what they tell you is the truth and don’t show skepticism. Going through something like this is hard enough without a parent being judgemental. Again, if your child is the one abusing their partner, the story here changes… Your role in this situation is also that of a human being.
Leave the Other Person Out – When replying, talk about the behaviour of the person rather than the person themselves. Everyone gets angry, frustrated, sad, or feels unjustly treated, but when those emotions cross a line and turn into mental, physical or emotional abuse, things become much more serious. Still, talk about how “it’s unfair that your daughter’s husband constantly makes her leave wherever she is”, rather than that “he’s controlling”. It’s a shift in language that won’t feel threatening.
No Ultimatums – Enough with giving people ultimatums; they scare them off and make them question whether they should be trusting you in the first place. Tell them you’ll be there for them no matter what, and do it.
Offer Advice – If the relationship isn’t working out because they can’t see eye to eye, offer advice by using your life experiences, or by explaining how you’d handle the situation if you were in it. As a third party, you have both the hindsight of age and the impartiality of not being directly involved.
But Do Act – There is a huge difference between being in a relationship that isn’t working out and being in an abusive relationship. In the former, your role is to offer impartial advice to your child; in the latter, your role is to keep them safe. If the abuse is physically violent, call a social services organisation like Appoġġ (2295 9000) immediately. If it’s mental AND physical, the same applies. There’s just no time to waste in these situations.
Whatever you do, just make sure that you’ve taken the necessary steps to understand the situation, and that you’re being fair on both parties.
Do you have any other advice for parents to help their children?
Let us know in the comments section below.