Sunday, February 6, 2011


Okay, today, lite snowy rain, so I'm not worried our mailbox, protected as it is with a sheet of plywood! But that made me think of other mailboxes and what they mean to me, to the people I know and to the people I've known in the past.

*My snail mailbox usually contains bills, catalogs and miscellaneous junk. Cards and letters are rare, appreciated treats.
*My e-mail box is better. It also contains miscellaneous junk, but also greetings, replys, and some great uTube slide shows and incredible talent.
*My mailbox at work used to hold good things--notes and requests, info from the Principal and other teachers, and things I didn't like as much--notices of meetings, requests for evaluations, and unwelcome but necessary paperwork

The mailbox at the domestic violence shelter where I volunteer is a post office box. The address is secret and mail is not sent directly to the shelter. Staff picks it up because annonymity is paramount.

This makes it more difficult for women to receive mail, send mail, and pay bills. I doubt many friends and relatives living "outside" are given the p.o. box address, as a batterer may find it or intimidate someone into giving it to him.

This makes it harder for grandparents and other relatives to send the children in the shelter a birthday or holiday card through the mail, never mind presents. Many relatives, especially those on the batterer's side of the family, aren't allowed to visit the kids. They don't know where the shelter is, the younger children usually changes schools, and the court may have prohibited them from visiting for a specified date.

This is, of course, very hard and sometimes very confusing to kids, especially the younger ones. I've heard their sad or angry comments at the supper table in the shelter. They often start out blaming Mom for the loss of their father. They don't "get" that if they visit Dad, Mom may have to go with them because of a court decision or because she wants to protect their interests and hers.

Unfortunately, her presence at the visit may result in further intimidation, threats, and verbal abuse from the batterer. Even if the child is left at a friend's or relative's home for the visit, Mom may worry about the batterer interrogating the child about the shelter's location or his new school, directly or by manipulation.

The older kids, many of whom want to see Dad even if they don't necessarily want to live with him, may also blame Mom for his loss. Sometimes this turns into considerable harrassment on their part. They may use their own excellent manipulative skills acquired from watching Dad.

The outcome of this struggle differs from family to family, but the process of accepting or not accepting the loss of an absent father is long, hard, and full of confusion. The roles of protective parent figures, children's dependence on parents, and the belief that home as a safe place are upside down by the time the kids arrive at the shelter.

Here are some of the possible outcomes for children who separate, at least temporarily, from the batterer:
*Returning to him
*Accepting his loss
*Visiting but not living with him
*Anger toward Mom who "caused" the separation and loss
*Anger toward Dad who is "bad"
*Ambivalence and lack of trust re: authority figures

The best  outcome may be acceptance, but it is rarely uncomplicated by other, more negative feelings.
Let's face it, there is no perfect or even consistent solution to this complicated problem. What appears to be helpful is a shelter stay long enough for a woman to gain independence. Women who live "outside", attend a support group and send their children to groups for extended periods may have a better life.They also gain a important support systems and learn survival strategies.

I am in awe of the women who choose these difficult paths in their fight for a better life. I hope the payoff for their sustained effort will be a different life for their children and hopefully their grandchildren. 


Beth Barany said...

What brave and courageous work you're involved in. Thank you for sharing it with us.

patwriter said...

Thank you for your comment. The truth is, I get more than I give.