Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: Should I tell my children about my husbands’ history of abuse?
Nicole: I think you have SOMEONE to ask? Your husband and your ex!
Obviously this information is deeply inappropriate to share without permission!
But that’s what talking is for!
Danny: I think also she’s coming at this from the wrong angle
the implication is that if she could only explain, her children wouldn’t mind the ways in which they have been the target of adult male rage over the years
How have you protected them?
Danny: That is a fantasy that is not based in reality! And i think she wants to move past the anger and rage she had facilitated against her children over the years
By discussing different, unrelated abuse those men suffered in the past
Nicole: There is a huge emphasis on making them “understand”
which sounds a lot like “excuse”
Danny: With a partial implication that someone who was abused as a child is bound to abuse others in turn!
Nicole: also, I am concerned that “exhibit” is still in the present tense, like they continue with this behavior
Danny: Yes! Why do you think this impulse to share this information is only coming up now?
Nicole: yeah, I think more information is generally good and can help contextualize and heal, but not in this context
Current abuse by a parental figure!
Danny: My read is that now that the kids are older and live independently they’re actually able to get distance and maybe even fight back
and the LW is hoping to forestall that now that they’re not at home and under parental control
God, this makes me really sad
Nicole: Yeah, I’m very bummed out
Danny: Especially because she goes into some detail about what these men suffered but is vague about what her children have suffered
Nicole: It’s a tough moment when you realize that the bargains you have made in your romantic and marital life might not be seen in the same way by your kids
Who never had the choice to be like, “Well, they were also abused in such-and-such a way”
Nicole: “Bouts of anger,” okay, but “odd behavior”? Gotta say that caught my eye.
Danny: Oh man, yeah. That felt like a euphemism for molestation or sexual boundary violations.
Nicole: I’m not prepared to read that much into it, but I would not be shocked if “odd” was “deeply inappropriate.”
ANYWAY, you need to ask your children about their lives, and their childhoods, not open with trying to tell them about their father’s and stepfather’s. And listen, without trying to explain anything right away, and to potentially apologize.
Danny: And they have a right to be angry about the ways in which they have been harmed.
Nicole: And this needs to be done in total confidence—neither telling your kids something about these men, nor telling your husband or ex what your children may say to you privately. Sitting with that is rough, but it’s the only way through.
Danny: Yes, any conversation you have with your kids about their upbringing has to focus on your behavior. You can’t apologize or fix things on behalf of your husband or ex, because you are not either of those men.
Nicole: You can only really take responsibility for what you have done.
Which can honestly be hugely validating for the kids, bc I sense they have not been heard a bunch.
Danny: Yep. I think this is not going to be a “single disclosure fixes things” kind of conversation
and the LW should be prepared to hear some difficult truths that can’t be smoothed over
Oh and let’s recommend therapy again
NOT couples therapy
Danny: and with the goal of challenging some of your own decisions and behaviors over the years w/r/t your children, not just your romantic partners
And good luck! This is a tough row to hoe.
Nicole: I don’t want to be excessively hard on this LW because I think it’s possible his anger and odd behavior has been directed at her as well, and the cycle of abuse can make you irrational, and trapped, and I want to acknowledge that. But the advice is still the same.
Danny: Yeah, I imagine she has suffered too, and I feel for her in that. But I think she is trying to do the wrong thing here, and needs to stop and re-evaluate.