“I have a friend who has a sister who…”

Photo by Justin Jensen
Photo by Justin Jensen

I used to do a lot of domestic violence trainings. In fact, someday I’ll tell you the story of when I did 36 trainings when I was pregnant and barfing. But recently I have been training again. And I remembered something. At some point, without fail, a participant will come up to me with some version of this question: “I have a friend who has a sister who has been in a domestic violence situation for years and my friend just doesn’t know how to help her. They’ve tried everything but she just won’t leave and everyone is worried about her and her kids’ safety and it is just a mess. What can they do?”

Every time my heart breaks. Again. My heart breaks for the asker, the sister, the survivor, the kids, the abuser. All of us. And I wish I had a better answer. But here is what I say:

It is hard to see someone you love and care about struggle. It is painful to see people making choices that we disagree with or find unfathomable. I get it, I do. And I also get that it is really hard for the survivor to make those choices and know that people disagree with them. We cannot imagine what it must be like for her. But I know that she is making decisions based on what she thinks will keep her safe or safer or sane. And in order to stick with her, we all need support. We need help to be there day in and day out. The good news is that there is support available. Domestic violence programs offer support to friends and family, not just to survivors themselves. The most important thing that all of us can do is to stay connected to the survivor. Connection directly counters and resists the abuse and isolation that survivors face.

So go forth. Reach out. Ask her: “What would make things better? How can I help with that?” I know it is hard to offer help and be turned down. But know that each offer is planting a seed and reminding her that you are there. Be there so that when she needs you, she can find you. No one deserves to be abused.

So hang in there and get support for yourself because when she calls on you, I want you to be ready.

Thank you. No really, thank you for staying connected and breaking that isolation. We need you. It takes all of us and we’re in this thing together.

One of the things we have to fear is fear itself

sandy-hookPart of the experience of parenting these days is the constant background noise of worry. News and social media, endlessly fascinated with danger, feed a steady stream of warning about the perils waiting for our children.

After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, that low hum of worry turned up to full-volume fear for parents across the country. I felt it too, the gut wrenching, full body chill that comes with imagining the worst. But honestly, I was not afraid for my kids’ safety. I know that violence in schools is very rare and that by most measures kids are safer now than ever.

What I did genuinely worry about is the impulse to react to our fear and vulnerability with ever-increasing “security measures.” Armed guards in schools, more locked doors, fingerprints and background checks for parents.

I’m not naive about violence, but my experience has shown me that we can’t keep danger on the other side of a locked door. I know my children live in a world with abusers and rapists. I know that some people do terrible things to children. I know that I can’t tell by looking which man in the park or on the bus would hurt one of them if he had the chance. Just like I don’t know which guy at the gym or which little league dad is beating his wife at home. I live in a neighborhood where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots. Yet I believe that most of the violence is committed inside locked doors by people who belong there.

When it comes to protecting kids from harm by the people they trust, increased “security” is worse than useless. It actually makes our kids—and all of us—less safe. Tight security undermines connection and community—the very things that are most important to kids’ safety, health, and happiness. This letter from a mom to her child’s preschool points out how. My kids’ school, like many, held a meeting for parents about students’ safety in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the concern, of course, was about school security, sign-in procedures, etc. But I was grateful that most of the focus was on how to re-commit to strengthening our connection as a community. Resisting fear, breaking isolation, looking out for each other—safety from the inside out.