Sometimes in my small groups for kids at the shelter, we read a couple pages from a book about family violence. Then we talk about some of the ideas in those pages. Recently, a character in the story asked, "Mom and Dad fight so much. Is it my fault?"
"What do you think?" I asked. "If the grownups in your house fight, is it your fault?" One kid shrugged. Two said "NO!" The rest stared at me or the floor.
I asked the kids who said "NO!" why parents fighting isn't their fault. One said, "Because it's their fight" and the other said, "Because I didn't do anything wrong."
I agreed with them, but other kids didn't look convinced. "Okay," I said, "What if you fight with a friend. Is that your mom's fault?"
A couple more kids shook their heads "No," and I agreed and explained why.
"What should you do if your parents fight?"I asked. More than one child said, "Stay out of it," showing they had heard the message in the shelter Safety groups.
"I tell them to stop!" one child blurted. "Do they?" I asked. He nodded. "Sometimes."
"So it's your job to help them do the right thing, to help them act grownup?" He nodded again and I smiled. "Oh, I get it. You're a social worker or a priest or a psychiatrist, right?"
He laughed and said, "No!" The other kids laughed and jeered at the idea that he was a counselor. After more discussion, most of the group seemed to understand that parents had to work out their own problems and if they couldn't, or things got out conftrol, the kids should hide, ask a neighbor for help, or call 911.
One child pursed her lips, looked angry, didn't want to talk.
She is the one I worry most about. She's afraid to talk, maybe even afraid to believe parents should take care of her, not vice versa. She understands fault lines and they all point to her.
I hope she'll keep coming to group because most of the other kids have been where she is now and are still fragile. They want to believe the new, competing ideas about family life, love, and responsibility that I suggest. They have been there, and they can teach her a lot about confusion, and courage.