Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Things Home School Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages

Five Things Homeschool Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages
by Virginia Knowles

(Note: This article was originally requested by Ryan Stollar of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and first appeared as a guest post on their blog yesterday: Five Things Homeschool Moms Should Know About Abusive Marriages.)

When our family started the homeschooling journey about 25 years ago, I envisioned my comrades in the movement as the ideal examples of healthy marriage and parenting. I have learned much along the way about educating and nurturing my own ten children, and I am seeing this legacy continue with my six grandchildren. However, as the years have gone by, I have had to lay aside my cute little rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that there can also be a dark side. Abuse, whether it is against a child or a spouse, is a tragic reality in far too many homeschooling families. Because I write frequently on the topics of domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction, HARO has asked me to share five things that homeschool moms should know about abusive marriages.

1. Homeschool moms are not immune from abusive marriages.

How many of us started out thinking that homeschooling would guarantee us harmonious families? Educating at home can help this effort in many ways, but it is not a magic potion. There are even facets of homeschooling, such as greater responsibility and stretched resources, which put families at increased risk of stress. We must never justify abuse due to these factors, but they can bring latent harmful tendencies to the surface and then compound them.

Worse yet, homeschooling often attracts fathers who already feel a high need for psychological control over others. (Yes, women  can be this way too, but that is beyond the scope of this article.) Fathers may try to exert this control with intentions of raising superior children, but it backfires because good fruit does not come from the bad root of a domineering personality. Common homeschool movement teachings about authority, child training, and gender roles can enable these unhealthy control issues, which can in turn fuel abusive behavior. A man who craves power can easily become a tyrant and a bully against his wife and children, while justifying it by twisting Scripture.

A mother has the moral and legal obligation to shield her children from abuse. Though right and necessary, this puts her at risk of injury. He may shove her out of his way, which could bruise her or cause her to fall and break a bone. She may suffer joint or muscle damage while trying to pull him away from or off of a child. He may impulsively hurt her in retaliation without thinking much about what he is doing. These are forms of domestic violence against his wife, even if he is not intentionally beating her up, and even if she does not have noticeable or lasting injuries. Beyond that, a homeschool dad may purposely and maliciously hurt his wife - physically or emotionally - as a way of dominating her or “punishing” her for her supposed shortcomings.  

If a homeschool mom feels she must defer to her husband in everything, or she is trying to protect her family’s Christian reputation, or if she has no financial resources or current job skills to support her family, then she can feel she has little recourse when the marriage turns toxic. If she protests or even offers an alternative opinion, she is often labeled as rebellious, told she will ruin her children, and intimidated with threats. This shaming and fear is often reinforced by her church leaders and homeschool friends who do not fully understand the dynamics of abusive relationships. If she has been conditioned to distrust or even fear government  or community resources, she is at a further disadvantage.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many Christian homeschool moms I know who have been in abusive marriages for far too long, and feel like they have no choice but to put up with it. This has to stop.  Even if you don’t think domestic violence personally affects you, please read these articles and the others I have linked later:

2. Abuse in marriage is not just physical.  

Physical violence is not the only way a man can abuse his wife.

Abuse also includes threats, ridicule, coercion, manipulation, intimidating body language, playing mind games like gaslighting, humiliating her in front of others, isolating her from friends and family, denying access to resources (finances, medical care, transportation, information, counseling), neglecting to follow through on promises and responsibilities, blocking her exit from a room, damaging her possessions, blaming her for the abuse, alienating her from her children, and more. You can see this by looking at the Power and Control Wheel.

Again, a wife is particularly susceptible to these forms of relational abuse if she believes that she must comply with her husband’s demands for authority. Because her husband has not physically injured her, she may not realize that he is still abusive. She may acknowledge that something is wrong, but think that she herself is the problem. She may attempt to work on marital intimacy, a more cheerful and submissive attitude, better child training, a cleaner house, and everything else she can think so that her husband will treat her better. What she needs to realize is that she is being abused, and that the necessary response is much different. The marriage is not just difficult or dysfunctional, but destructive and dangerous.

Recognizing abuse can be particularly confusing because it often occurs in unpredictable cycles of repeating phases: tension building (increased frustration, conflict, withdrawal, mood swings, pressure to comply), acute explosion (aggressive crisis incident that may either “come out of nowhere” or be intentionally escalated by the abuser), honeymoon (active attempts by the abuser to rebuild trust through apologies, compliments, promises, gifts, favors, spiritual activity, counseling, etc.), and calm (settling down, forgetting, minimizing, relief, normalcy). It is important to realize that even in the lull after an explosive incident, the husband is most likely still emotionally abusing her through other means, whether she realizes it or not. Again, it is important to recognize the many forms of abuse in order to realize the continued gravity of the situation.

Here are some more resources to read about recognizing the forms of marital abuse, and realizing why so many women stay.

3. Children are at risk of lasting damage when abuse is present in a marriage.

While you started homeschooling to nurture and care for your children, if your marriage is abusive, they are not in a safe and healthy environment. Most states consider it child abuse when children witness abuse between their parents. In extreme cases, you can be held liable and lose your children if you do not take appropriate action to protect them from the consequences of their other parent’s abuse. Think carefully about all of this if you are “staying together for the sake of the children.” You may be doing more harm than good.

At the most basic level, the stress of seeing abusive behavior in their parents’ marriage can create emotional disturbance which will also affect physical health. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bedwetting, self-harming, and defiance are common side effects. Children often internalize parental conflict and blame themselves. Or they can turn their anger and aggression against other people and become bullies themselves. If your children have been affected in any way by abuse in the home, please seek medical help and mental health therapy for them and yourself as soon as possible. If you don’t think you can afford this, call a community mental health or child protective organization for assistance.

A child is at additional risk for physical injury as an innocent bystander to domestic violence, especially if the child attempts to protect the mother, or if the father hurts the child as a way of causing extra distress to his wife. No child is safe if the father is throwing things, shoving his wife, slamming doors, or other manifestations of rage. In addition, a mother who is being abused can in turn blame her children, and then treat them in harsh and injurious ways.

While the mother is dealing with the distress in her marriage, she can easily be distracted from providing an adequate education for her children. They can also be too stressed out to focus on their assignments. While there are certainly times to lay aside formal academics to deal with family issues, if they cannot regularly attend to homeschooling because of this, then something needs to change.

Finally, marital abuse exposes children to a powerfully toxic example of a dysfunctional relationship which they may normalize (see as the usual) and then carry forward into their own romantic and parental relationships. Depending on how they process the experience, they may be more likely to tolerate or perpetrate abusive dating or marriage relationships, as well as perpetuate abusive practices with their own children. It is important for them to understand what is happening, know that it is wrong, and develop strategies to keep themselves safe for their present and future.

See also:

4. Decisive action is necessary, and sometimes it has to be drastic.

Unfortunately, abuse does not just go away on its own. A mother must take decisive action to ensure safety and sanity for herself and her children. Here are several things she might do, starting out with the basics and ramping it up as necessary:

  • assess the situation to acknowledge exactly what has happened in the past and what the current and future risk is
  • strengthen her confidence and resolve to move forward into a safe and healthy family life
  • educate herself on the dynamics of abuse, which will involve reading and focused research
  • break the silence and share her story with a supportive network of friends, family, and trustworthy on-line forums
  • seek appropriate professional help (more on that in the next section)
  • set and enforce firm boundaries with specific consequences
  • determine her optimal alternatives if those boundaries are not respected
  • make safety/exit/escape plans and preparations in case the situation escalates
  • separate from the abuser, which may entail persuading him to leave the home, having him removed from the home, or moving out with her children
  • go “no contact” to prevent harassment by phone, texts, messaging, e-mail  
  • file a restraining order to keep the abuser away from the family and home
  • as necessary, file for divorce as an increased legal protection against continued abuse

Please note that while each of these steps can lead to more clarity and progress, none of them will guarantee an end to the abuse. In fact, the risk of retaliation can increase each time a woman takes initiative to distance herself further from her abuser. This should not dissuade her from taking action, but at all points she needs to be extra vigilant and not let her guard down as she moves forward to safety and dignity.

Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be necessary for the children to transition into other formats of education so that their mother can focus on the actions necessary to protect and provide for the family. This could involve homeschooling with outside assistance (hybrid school, co-op, online programs, grandparents) or enrolling some or all of the children in traditional full-time schools. This doesn’t have to happen immediately. A mother might set a goal of preparing her children for the change within a certain time period as she simultaneously works through her own future options. If a woman’s identity is wrapped around mothering and homeschooling, any of these transitions can be an uncomfortable sacrifice for her. She will appreciate compassionate understanding and support from her network of homeschool friends. She can know that she is doing her best to nurture her children, even if this was not part of her ideal plan.

Here are some other articles about taking action against abuse in marriage:

5. Help is available, but you have to know where to look.

Taking action in a domestic violence situation can be confusing and intimidating. A woman’s access to solid help in the form of reliable information and practical assistance can make a huge difference in how she is able to proceed.

Often, her first step is reaching out for advice and emotional support from family, friends, and religious leaders whom she already personally knows. How they respond is crucial. They can either move her toward safety and healing, or send her back into the lion’s den. Will they believe her story? Not always. Many domestic violence survivors are accused of misunderstanding, exaggerating, or worse yet, lying about their circumstances. Even if they are believed, they are often advised to forgive their offender, patch things up, and work on their own problems without setting appropriate boundaries or separating from the abuser. Yikes! At this point, a woman may give up trying to change the situation and just keep muddling and agonizing, questioning her own perception of reality. However, if she keeps talking about it or or finds someone else who will listen to her, she will hopefully find some support in her own personal network.

This facetious list by a domestic violence survivor and (former) homeschool mother of 12 can help others know how to best respond:

The reaction of a woman’s pastors and elders is also key, but this can get confusing, too. They may know and trust her husband, and be reluctant to acknowledge a serious problem if he seems like a normal, caring human being. Or they may be so fixated on preserving marriages in the congregation that they are unwilling to entertain the potential necessity of a separation or divorce. Or they may not have professional training in the area of domestic violence, and counsel the couple as if they had a difficult marriage instead of a dangerous and destructive one. If they use a nouthetic or so-called “Biblical” approach to counseling, they may blame the wife and tell her to deal with her own sins in the marriage. Or they may say something to the husband about the alleged abuse that embarrasses him, and he in turn takes it out on his wife. On the other hand, think of the good that would result if pastors sought professional level skills in crisis counseling, and took a broader and deeper view toward God’s heart for families. At the very least, a pastor should be able and willing to refer domestic violence victims to professional counselors in the community who are educated and experienced in this specialty, as well as gain a basic understanding of the issues. He or she can find out more at these links:

One very important thing to know is that couples counseling - whether pastoral or professional - is not at all recommended when the dynamics of abuse exist in a relationship. This is rarely (if ever) effective and puts a wife at additional risk of abuse and retaliation. Both parties do need counseling, but it should be individual. If they use the same counselor, there must be an absolute guarantee of confidentiality.

Beyond a woman’s existing personal circle of friends and family, there is much help available in the community. She can research information and participate in support groups on the Internet, check out books at the library, call a domestic violence crisis line, seek help at a women’s shelter, get professional counseling (can be faith-based and may be covered by insurance), apply for government financial and medical assistance, and find a referral for affordable (maybe subsidized) legal help.  Here are some links for these community resources:

This is a lot of information to process right now. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please read more and come back to it again, even if it is just a little at a time. Let it sink in. Think about what you need to do next for yourself or someone else, and start taking steps in that direction. What you know, what you say, and what you do about domestic violence can make a difference not only now, but for generations to come. Let me know if you
need help.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Naghmeh Abedini and Responding to Marital Abuse

Naghmeh Abedini
Picture Credit

Dear friends,

Though I haven't blogged at Watch the Shepherd in nearly three months, I have been keeping a pulse on one of my major themes here: abusive relationships in families and Christian movements. 

The big one in the headlines is that Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been imprisoned and tortured in Iran for a few years because of his ministry there, was released last month in a prisoner swap. His wife Naghmeh worked tirelessly for his release, making countless media appearances and appeals to US government authorities, including President Obama, who intervened on their behalf.

Unfortunately, that was the happy part of the story. The disturbing part came when his wife Naghmeh revealed a several year history of marital abuse, which included physical abuse (for which he plead guilty several years ago), as well as verbal/emotional abuse and porn use. The latter two did not stop during his imprisonment. She has filed for legal separation to protect herself and the children and she has sought out individual professional counseling for handling her delicate situation. 

The Christian world has gone crazy. Many point their fingers at Naghmeh: How dare she do this to Saeed after what he has been through? Aren't there two sides to every story? Maybe she's lying, or at least exaggerating? What about his feelings? Why won't she reconcile with Saeed? Why won't she agree to couples counseling? Why won't she play nice and be a good wife? Or is she hiding something? Maybe she's greedy and wants to keep all the money she raised while she was trying to get him released? Or maybe she is covering up an affair? The insinuations have gotten pretty vile. Personally, I am particularly irritated at Franklin Graham for his public statements which are making things even more difficult for her.

Others, like me, choose to stand with Naghmeh. We know too much for our own comfort about marital abuse and its aftermath. We will not stay silent.

Every time a new article about the Abedini family has popped up in my blog reader or on my Facebook feed, I have linked it on my Facebook wall. So I have quite a collection, most of which I will now share with you.

Saeed Abedini and Franklin Graham Promote “Couples Counseling” to Reconcile the Abedinis. Because of Saeed’s Abuse, is This Counterproductive? from Spiritual Sounding Board

Naghmeh Abedini, Franklin Graham, and the Silencing of Evangelical Abuse Victims by Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism

Three Nasty Things (Some) Woman are Saying About Naghmeh and Deliver Us from Evil by Natalie Klejwa at Visionary Womanhood

For the Continuing Naghmeh Doubters: Yes, Saeed Really Did Plead Guilty and Saeed Abedini's Wife Files Legal Papers in the Wake of Her Husband's Release by Wartburg Watch

Welcome Home, Saeed Abedini. We're Sorry, But There Won't Be a Parade and Follow-Up from the Saeed Abedini Blog Post by Chad Estes

Pastor Saeed and the Double Standards of Abuse by Ashley Easter

Saeed Abedini Rejects Wife's Claims About Marriage Problems, but Calls Her His Hero (news report from Christian Post)

The Heroic Abuser? Christian Media Headlines about Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini at Lydia Center (statistical analysis of news coverage)

That was quite an education, wasn't it?

What is my point in sharing all of this?

Naghmeh has found her voice, not only to advocate for her husband all these years, but now to advocate for herself and her two children. Is she selfish to do this? Not at all! Victims have every right to speak up and be heard. In doing so, Naghmeh also advocates for countless other women who find themselves in similar situations. They are everywhere. You may think you don't know any of them, but I'll bet you do. It's just that not all of them are in a position to say anything publicly. It's a matter of safety for themselves and their children, it's embarrassing, and their family finances may depend on the husband's reputation. Some of them do drop hints, intentionally or not. Some of them also ask for help privately. Tragically, many will be treated like Naghmeh by self-righteous or merely naive people who don't have much of a clue about the dynamics of abuse.

I have had so many domestic violence victims tell me that their pastors and Christian friends have shamed them for telling their stories. They are ordered to "Stop being so bitter. Just forgive and move on!" Sometimes, they seriously just need to disentangle from their abuser and move on. A wife is under absolutely no obligation to return to or submit to an abusive husband. Separation and even divorce are her right. So many just do not understand this.

This victim shaming has to stop. NOW! Maybe the media coverage and pushback from Naghmeh's will bring this to light even more. 

As for me, I intend to stand with Naghmeh and with other victims of family and spiritual abuse wherever I find them.

And now I'd like to share links for articles I have written about domestic abuse and the church's response.

There is such a sadness that comes over me when I write about the topic of abuse. My heart cinches up inside. Yet I am glad this affects me. It should. It is a sad thing. 

I am thankful for people like my own pastor, Mike Tilley, who has preached that wives are not to submit to abuse and that husbands must not be domineering. I am thankful for bloggers around the world who have spoken out. I am thankful for women and men who have quietly ministered to domestic violence victims with kind words, protection, shelter, financial support, child care, and other help. I am thankful for my women's Bible study group where I am reminded of God's love for all of us, even in the trials of life. I am thankful for Naghmeh for putting herself on the line for truth and justice and compassion.

To Naghmeh and other survivors: If you ever read this, my love and prayers and support are with you. I would love to hear from you.

Here is a song to bring you a little more courage than the astounding fortitude you already have.

With love,

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If this post has helped you, would you be so kind as to forward it along or link it in your blog post or Facebook wall?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner in the Community

Community Thanksgiving
Free Dinner Today 4-6 PM

You might have seen these colorful signs along a road near us today. And then you might have seen dozens of people mingling and eating in a parking lot. What's up with that?

Local Impact is a church-based ministry to those who live in transitional housing at a local extended stay motel, as well as to those who live on the streets or in the woods. These are our neighbors.

We host a community event most months, usually a full dinner in the parking lot at the motel. Our Thanksgiving meal (the Sunday before the holiday) and Christmas party (cookies and cocoa and presents) are the two biggest of the year.

Here is a photo journal of our Thanksgiving effort:

The food gathering started in the weeks before the outreach. Folks at Metro Life, the sponsoring church, donate much of the food, and whatever is still needed is purchased by the Local Impact team. Publix, a local grocery chain, donates the baked goods each month. Whatever food is not used for the dinner is given away in bags at the outreach.

On Friday night, teams gathered at the church building to cook, assemble materials, repair equipment, and prepare flyers for the motel. Many of the volunteers, like me, don't even attend Metro Life, but we love what they are doing. I have an extra incentive since my second oldest daughter and her husband started the event a few years ago and she organizes it most months. Tagging along on her projects is about the most exciting thing I can imagine!

Food prep: cutting up ham and turkey, making stuffing, opening cranberry sauce and beans, and making the mashed potatoes! Oh, the potatoes! Cleaning, peeling, cooking, mashing, mixing - I don't know how many bags of potatoes they used but they aimed for at least 150 servings.

Several people repaired the wood benches and tables.

We used autumn silk flower bouquets from the church.

We had to attach rubber bands to the invitations right away so they could be hung on door knobs at the motel that evening.

I was also in the group that assembled utensil bundles with decorative napkins, and Scripture tags, and raffia cord.

A few hours before the dinner, I put up three signs that my youngest daughter and I made. It rained before the event, so it's a good thing we used permanent markers, foam board, and adhesive foam leaf stickers.

All of the serving tables, guest benches and guest tables were transported in a trailer and pickup truck.

The clothes, already on racks from the church's community clothes closet, arrived in the trailer, too.

Volunteers checked in at this table to get their name tags and assignments.

This dear lady gathers up "blessing bags" of toiletries to give away each month, and we had food to give this month, too. We all miss her husband, who passed away a few months ago. He was a much loved member of our team.

In addition to the bouquets from the church, I brought along several small table decorations. I'm glad I bought some heavy clear tape too, because it was a bit windy and we had to tape down the plastic table cloths.

My big scarecrow found a place against a tree.

The kids did simple crafts at this table with construction paper, markers, and the rest of the foam leaf stickers.

Time for music! No, the lady in blue is not me, but we are so often mistaken for one another that we call ourselves the "Ginny Twinnies." (Her name is Ginny and Ginny Lynn was my childhood nickname.)

Here we are together. She's my 20-years-younger-doppleganger.

Just some of our dozens of volunteers! The kids love to help! That's my little one in the pink.

Our guests started to gather at the nine tables before the meal. 

It was so crowded at one point that some people chose to sit on the curbs. This man is one of our regular guests.


Daniel offered a short gospel message as people ate, and we offered to talk or pray with anyone who is interested. 

I was so blessed to listen to my daughter pray for one older homeless couple about their health problems. They have been my friends for many years and I try to stop and talk whenever I see them on the street corner. Can you please pray for them, too?

The young man with the beard and his wife have come for two months, and he was enthusiastically telling me how much the kindness (which goes beyond the monthly meal) has meant to their family. 

Does it make a difference?

Earlier this year, a young Muslim couple with a young child arrived from a country that is not open to Christianity. They didn't have a permanent place to stay, so they rented a room at the motel. They came to a dinner - I think it was the Easter one - where Ginny and others befriended them. Touched by the good news about Jesus, they eventually chose to become Christians and were baptized. Ginny's church has continued to reach out to them as they start their new lives in this country. The cool thing? They are now a vital part of the Local Impact outreach team.

Think about that when you hear about the Syrian refugee debate.

One final photo. When I saw this photo that my teenage daughter took of her feet in the puddle in the parking lot, it looked like she was standing in a heart shaped shadow.

And I thought: That's why we do this. We do this for the heart. We do this for love.

A friend posted on my Facebook wall this evening that she had seen me talking to a man at a bus stop today and wanted to thank me for reaching out. I don't know if he was homeless - I didn't ask - but I did tell him about the dinner and asked him to spread the word if anyone else came by. My friend reminded me that we never know who is watching us. She didn't even know about the dinner, but she already knew that I often bring food, water, and supplies to our homeless friends. That opened a conversation thread about what we are doing and why. 

I'd love for this to spread to other churches and communities, and that's why I'm writing this! You can get involved, too! Read more here!

P.S. I took some of these photos, but others were taken by my teenage daughter Naomi and by my friend Amber Carroll.