Most months, we have several darling girls at the shelter aged 3-10 plus a couple teens. Most are sweet, funny, and a little shy. A couple girls, especially the older ones, might become aggressive toward siblings, Mom, or other kids, usually verbally, once they feel safe enough to express their anger and frustration.
Most, though, seem pretty much like any girl or teen you know, although some become unusually quiet or close-mouthed in group when we're talking about home and safety issues.
Like most girls, kids from violent homes idolize their dads when they're small. Since they also love their moms, though, they get confused and scared when Dad hurts her. It not easy to understand why Dad is patient and nice to them but so mean to Mommy.
These girls have to deal with so much. Mom may look terrible if she's been hit in the face. She may be chronically tired and sad--too tired to cook, get them dressed, or care for the baby. She may drink or take drugs because she is "so nervous" or not clean the house because she is "sick." She may even become mentally ill if Dad refuses to let her buy or take prescribed medication.
The result? These girls, some of them not even in kindergarten yet, take on adult concerns and responsibilities. They become excellent at creating excuses to hide the problems in their home.
They have a mission: to take care of Mom, younger siblings, and the house. In the process they tell many lies: about Mom's battered appearance if it is noticed,why they can't have sleepovers, go to the movies, or take part in after-school sports and clubs.
They may have to clean the house, change diapers, or cook dinner at shockingly young ages. They are taught to conspire with their parents to keep the school and neighbors out of their "business."
It becomes a way of life so ingrained it may take years for the girls and their mothers to realize this is a Mission Impossible.
Once they do, then the really scary part begins--getting away from the batterer.