Last night, another volunteer, "Angela" and I co-led a group for kids 10-16 years old at the shelter. Kids and teens from violent homes have significant trust issues. They have been taught or have decided to keep "things" secret. They don't like to talk about their homes.
Angela told me she wanted to share her story with older kids, so we introduced ourselves, explained confidentiality, and jumped in feet first. I asked why they were here and what they had in common. One brave kid said, "Our parents fight a lot." We had them define violence so everyone knew we weren't talking about your average spats.
We asked them what kinds of violence happen at home. They named, in turn, the most common ones: physical, emotional, financial, and sexual. They gave examples--Mom's boyfriend punching her, Stepdad literally throwing the cat outside, Mom's boyfriend tossing a small pet out the window, Dad taking Mom's paycheck away or not letting her work, a beating so bad that one woman told her employer she'd been in a car accident so she could go to work.
Because of the age of a couple kids, we didn't discuss sexual abuse, but Angela's story helped them talk. Calmly, she described how her spouse's emotional abuse made her feel horrible, incompetent, and dependent. How her grown child told her how much her life has been affected by their violent home, even though she was very young when they left her father.
The kids listened silently, sat almost motionless as if Angela were a preacher. Then some shared their experiences with surprising candor. A couple kids wouldn't talk at all but listened intently. One boy spilled his current anxiety to me later.
This was a coming together of unrelated people, a shedding of pretense, a feeling almost of family. It was far better than we could have hoped for.
Before the kids left, I asked them to think about two things this week:
1. Where do they expect to be in five years?
2. What kind of a relationship do they think they will be in?
It took incredible courage and strength to share their lives, but they did it. Next week I hope they will do it again because next week will be about dreams.
After that comes Mount Everest: how to make their dreams come true. Let's hope Angela and I can travel with them, at least part of the way.