My daughter gave me the strength to cut toxic and abusive relationships from my life
Briana Williams is a 24-year-old single mom who graduated Harvard Law School in 2018. She's now an attorney in Los Angeles and contributor to All The Moms.
Growing up, domestic violence was normalized in my community. Shattered glass and explosive fights were commonplace.
When one of my former boyfriends, in the presence of my daughter, stomped on my rib cage, I thought about whether my daughter saw me the same way I’d seen most of my maternal figures throughout childhood.
At a Thanksgiving celebration, after an ex bit my arm, I merely gossiped to my mom that “He just threw another one of his fits and bit my arm before he threw me out of the car. Anyways, how was your day?”
Like the women from my childhood who experienced similar abuse, I never filed a police report.
It took me becoming a mother to realize that I was part of a vicious cycle. I witnessed violence as a child and it was a recurring theme in most of my relationships. I justified aggression as a passionate symptom of “love.” Before I had a baby to protect, it was never a reason to leave.
But once she was here, and I saw the effects domestic violence had on her, I knew it had to stop. Even as a small infant, my daughter would be visibly agitated if there was a sense of hostility in the house. I had to protect her.
And not just in the moment. I had to break the cycle so she could have a better, safer future.
Domestic violence is a pattern
Studies show when children grow up witnessing domestic violence, they are not only developmentally and emotionally impacted, but they have a greater risk of enduring or catalyzing violent relationships themselves.
The brains of children who witness domestic trauma are conditioned to expect chaos and to not trust “calm,” according to an Institute for Safe Families study. This could cause the person to create chaos in order to feel “normal.”
Observed violence between parents poses the greatest independent risk for a child to become the victim of an act of violence – even more than if the child was exposed to child abuse, according to a study published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review.
Domestic violence is so traumatic to children because it undermines the security they need from their caregivers. Because children generally develop their social frameworks at home, witnessing abuse as conflict resolution teaches the child to solve their problems with violence.
Prevention, education and outreach can help break the cycle
To break the community-wide patterns of violence, it is important to educate parents that how they choose to deal with conflicts will transfer to their children. It is also important that, as a community, we destigmatize single motherhood and facilitate victims’ access to public resources.
Unfortunately, many mothers are unable to escape abusive relationships. They fear being stigmatized as a single mother and are economically dependent on their abusive partner. They feel trapped. But there is help out there from organizations such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can be reached at 1−800−799−7233 or thehotline.org.
In marginalized and immigrant communities, like the one I came from, there is a natural distrust for law enforcement. People who involve police in family disputes are frowned upon. Outreach to educate communities on how to interact with positively law enforcement (and vice versa) would go a long way to stop domestic violence.
This outreach could also extend into early-education at schools. If I had learned in school that the way most of the couples I knew at home handled their problems wrong, I probably would have been equipped to realize a lot sooner that my relationship patterns were abnormal. I could probably have even noticed warning signs of abusive behaviors, as not continually expose myself to them. Without preventative education, domestic violence will persist.
We must confront our dangerous perception of “love” for the sake of children currently affected by domestic violence, but also for generations of families to come.
Briana Williams is a 24-year-old single mom who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2018. Her story went viral after she posted a photo receiving her diploma while holding her daughter. Williams is now an attorney in Los Angeles and contributor to All The Moms.
- America Ferrera: 48-hour maternity-leave farce on 'Superstore' resonated with moms
- The interesting reason why the Gates Foundation cut its 52-week parental leave in half
- 15 great movies for families to watch in honor of Black History Month