I went to a funeral 300 miles from home this past weekend. The gatherings for viewing, the funeral itself, the graveside ceremony, and the meal afterward soon turned this sad occasion into a family reunion.
I realized there was a whole new generation of "cousins" we'd lost touch with in that branch of the family. I watched their kids, aged 11 months to maybe 10 at each gathering. They were cute, sweet, funny, and smiling most of the time.
They listened to the adults, the minister, and the music. They behaved well until they got bored. Then the pre-schoolers began to talk, look around, cry, leave the pew or parent's place and look for something more fun to do.
The parents followed them, watched them, or brought them back. Some gave the kids a break somewhere else. Parents co-perated with each other, disciplined appropriately, and were friendly and polite in the more informal situations.
Sounds great, right? But then I began thinking. Women and children living with the daily torture of an emotional and/or physical batterer may not appear very different from the average child or parent. Some kids do act out in school; some may be overly quiet or withdrawn.
Most of them, though, are already experts at not drawing attention to themselves in the "outside world." Their parents are usually experts, too--at hiding "bad" or inadequate behaviors or at avoiding social situations where their problems might be found out in some way.
So how would I know if one or more of these "normal" children and families I met last weekend are actually living the same lives as the children in the domestic violence shelter where I volunteer?
Answer: I wouldn't.
Therefore: Don't assume everything's fine because it looks fine. If a mother doesn't show up for school conferences and meetings, turns down invitations, seems to avoid contact with other adults or be afraid to talk about anything personal regarding herself or her child, maybe she isn't neglectful or anti-social or any other negative label you might slap on her.
Maybe she's in Hell.
What can you do? Leave the door open for her and her child.
You never know what can happen if you watch, listen, and are there for someone.