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Child Safety

Domestic Disputes Yield Bad Outcomes for Children


Over the weekend, a man holding his two children, ages 1 and 3, jumped off a highway overpass in New Jersey and into the Wanaque River. He died–but thankfully, the children survived this terrifying experience.  Who knows what the rest of their lives will be like?
I cannot guess whether the domestic dispute this dad had just experienced, perhaps caused by a fear of his children being taken away in a custody battle, could have prompted the man’s behavior, but I know one thing:  An atmosphere of heated domestic disputes is not healthy for children.  It is, in an old fashioned word, selfish, for parents to use their children against each other.  Whatever the parents’ troubles are, be they legal problems, relationship, health or financial issues–the problems can be worked out and overcome, with help and patience.

When my parents, who were both educated people, had a problem with one another, they took it behind closed doors–out of earshot of the rest of the family.  Not only out of respect for each other and their family, but to protect their young children from hearing things they might not understand in the heat of an argument or discussion–and I don’t care how good your marriage is, “air clearings” or misunderstandings happen and are often necessary and are ultimately good agents for change that help marriages grow–provided the fighting is fair, done with care and respect for the person-hood of those involved.

But how often these days are we seeing parents who take a selfless approach when it comes to their children?  How many parents stay in stale marriages for the sake of their kids? How many parents try to work it out for the sake of their kids?  Important words like duty, responsibility and accountability all come to mind.

In addition, when substances enter into the equation, there are added problems and disputes.  Parents who are deeply involved in drugs and alcohol cannot be good partners to each other or good parents to their children–however kind they are when they are sober.  Children should not have to be afraid of their parents’ behavior, ever. And bizarre behavior coupled with drug or alcohol abuse is not uncommon.

Last winter, a man in Florida flung his young child over a bridge, to her death, because he was mentally unstable and could not cope with his life situation. In this instance, his little daughter became a hostage. If he had taken himself out of that situation, gotten some help in some manner, the outcome would have been better, for himself, for his wife and their child.  Aberrant behavior, whether it is caused by stress, mental illness or is drug-or-alcohol abuse-related, children in a family suffer for it. And when an erring parent sobers up or “comes to” and realizes what they have done in the heat of argument or the depths of despair– they must live with the result and society’s punishment which will undoubtedly follow. Still, it is the children who live in emotional chaos who suffer the most.

If you as a parent, caregiver or family member are aware that there is a situation in your family, in your neighborhood; if you suspect drug or alcohol abuse is taking its toll on a child or children involved, it’s no shame to get that family some help through some type of intervention. You may save their lives, their children’s lives, you might even save a marriage.  If you see something, say something, talk to a pastor or trusted family friend, contact the authorities. Children’s safety and perhaps even their very lives hang in the balance.  Do you want to be the person who says, “I saw, but I did nothing.”?

Author: Marianne Halterman

Marianne is a member of the SafeKids Coalition of the Central Shenandoah Valley.

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