Saturday, November 20, 2010


Kids and women move in and out of the shelter at different rates. Some stay a few days, some a few weeks. Occasionally one stays a few months.

In the beginning, it is often hard for battered women to establish friendships. Their need for close relationships may be accompanied by an equal need to pull away from the world. So there may be conflict around making friends, reaching out, trusting someone with your children. Or your children with the other kids at the shelter.

This new world has "bosses"--social workers, the shelter director, the agency director, the office staff, etc. They are not associated with abuse but they may be feared at first for they represent power and authority.

Once a woman and her children's well-being has been shattered, it's not easy to feel safe enough to jump in and become part of the ever-changing, ongoing family life at the shelter. But most women there do eventually become "family."

The women, teens and older kids hold, play with, and placate the babies. The children pair up and play. The teens talk and do homework. The women become sisters with all that implies. Some ties are so strong that women hook up once they're both out of the shelter. Or bring their kids back to visit a friend. Or return for women's group to continue friendships and learn from those they trust.

Still, it is an uneasy family. One that must watch the wounded arrive. Give space to women or children who pull or push away for a while. Some moms must guard their children from aggressive ones (including some babies and toddlers). All must decide whom they and their children feel comfortable with so they can share child care when one is sick, cooking dinner, or seeking employment.

None of us would want to trust strangers except in a dire emergency. Yet battered women don't have a lot of choice in the matter, so they become friends by observing carefully, testing boundaries and values, talking, listening, meeting together.

When they feel safer, they ask others for help and let out a little emotional rope. In the best of these bonds, the rope gets longer and longer until it encircles two or more families who provide safety instead of harm.

It is a new, tenuous, reaching kind of life, and far better than the one they left.

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