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Single & Surviving Back to School

By Rebecca Lynn

If you are anything like me, you are counting down the days, squeezing in doctors appointments, and doing last-minute back to school shopping in preparation for the end of summer break. Whether you have one or four (like me), sending kids to school is a huge deal–it takes a lot of time, money, and patience to make sure they are ready for their first day. It is extra difficult if you are a single parent trying to balance work, school preparation, and caring for the kids. If you add in the fact that you are a survivor, working on living your unfamiliar new life, helping your children heal, and finding even the tiniest bit of time for much-needed self-care, back to school can be overwhelming. 

Single parents have a lot of juggling to do and obstacles to hurdle. You often have to choose between award ceremonies or meetings at work, struggles with school transportation, and losing time at work for having a sick child. You may have to give up time with your children for over-time so that you can make ends meet. According to 5 Toughest Single Mom Struggles, the five main struggles with single parents are financial strain, social isolation, decision pressure, guilt, and fatigue…sound familiar? 

Parents who are domestic violence survivors have their own hardships to overcome. According to Promising Futures without Violence, survivor parents are often focused on keeping themselves and their children safe. They may have multiple legal issues going on at the same time, like custody hearings, criminal cases or protective orders, which can lead to an unmeasurable amount of stress. Due to previously being isolated from family and friends, they may not have as much support as they need, and those who are there may not fully understand domestic violence, leading to shame and re-victimization. Not only does the survivor struggle with the aftermaths of abuse, but they may be battling PTSD, as well as helping their children go through the same issues.

First of all, take a deep breathe and know that you are doing the best you can. You are strong and committed to giving yourself and your children a safe, violence-free life. Healing doesn’t happen in a day, a month or even a year, but it does get easier when you remind yourself of your primary goal and how far you have come. Sometimes this can be hard when you are a single parent, wishing you could clone yourself or at least grow another pair of arms. You can’t be everywhere at once, keep the house spotless, and have a full course meal on the table every night at 5. This is the hard part, both of being a single parent and a survivor: you may have to leave your comfort zone and use community resources, accept help, and sometimes even go as far as asking for it. 

Financial Strains

There are many community resources you can use to assist you with the high costs associated with going back to school. These days supply lists require specific brands (not the generic ones), and then there are backpacks and lunchboxes. Not to mention that your kids most likely grew several inches taller, won’t fit in their shoes, and are wearing their pants as capris. Chances are they need an entirely new wardrobe.  Even with one child, this can set you back quite a lot. Single Parents Alliance of America has a long list of local and national organizations that help single survivor parents with free and inexpensive school supplies. Other local places that often take back to school donations and provide them to those that need them are schools, libraries, local grocery stores, non-profits, and churches. Don’t forget that many of the same places collect new or like-new clothes for this same reason. 

Then there is the extra cost of lunches. If you are on Medicaid or food stamps, your children are eligible automatically for free school lunches. My pride got in the way of this one for a while, but once you realize how much it actually does save for other necessities, you can usually put your pride aside for the time being. 

Parenting Hacks

  • Shop online and have it delivered or pick it up. This is the best thing to ever happen to single parents. Most stores that carry food items now provide the ability to shop on your computer, digitally clip coupons, and then request for a very small fee that your items be delivered to your house. Yes, this means they shop for you, bring it to your door (even your kitchen if you ask), and then since your kids aren’t worn out and grounded from a miserable two-hour grocery trip, they can help put away the groceries! It’s a win-win, it saves time and sanity–all important things to a single parent. 
  • Swap…there are so many online ways to communicate with others within your area and just like you, they have kids who outgrew their clothes or toys. Why not swap with them instead of buying new? This also works for services, like carpooling, babysitting, and clean houses. There are always people out there that can benefit from getting what they need without paying for it. 
  • Slow cookers are a single parent’s best friend. You can look online to get recipes for anything from fewer than 5 ingredients to frugal recipes. Then, you wake up, set the timer, dump the food in and leave and come home to a wonderful meal. 
  • Make lunches for the week in advance. You can form an assembly line, involve the kids in making sandwiches, putting snacks in serving size bags, and cutting fruits and veggies. Then put the sandwiches in the freezer, the fruits and veggies in a container in the fridge, and the serving size snacks in another container. In the morning they can grab their sandwich out of the freezer (which will be defrosted by lunchtime), grab one snack, and grab a fruit or/and veggie. Spending 20 minutes on a Friday night saves a lot of time on weekday mornings. 
  • The more reminders you have, the less nagging you have to do. I have the kids decide and write down their own consequences, screen time rules, routines, and responsibilities so that they are a part of the process. Then we hang them where everyone can see them. If they don’t follow a rule, they already know and can see what the consequence is without having to say anything. This means you nag less and they learn to associate their actions with their own choices.
  • Multi-task. Yes, I am confident that this is something you already do. In fact, you may be like me where I feel as if I am slacking if I am only doing two things at a time. According to Surviving and Thriving as a Single Mom, multi-task, but involve your kids and have fun with it. You can dump a bin full of unmatched socks into the middle of the floor. Have a competition to see who can match the most. Once they all have matches, they get to throw them into bins for points, giving you time to fold as you watch, get the socks folded, and, if you use the bin system, they are even organizing them for you. 
  • What is the bin system? Well, we have tons of different colored round bins that I bought for a dollar. These bins serve so many purposes. Each child has their own color so there is no confusion. The bins can hold clean clothes that are sorted and ready to be put away, they can hold miscellaneous toys, shoes, and books that they left around the house and need to go back to where they belong. These bins can do anything you put your mind to. They are worth every dollar.

Change Your Environment

Parenting hacks may make life a little easier for you as a single parent, but what about the healing part? Often when victims leave they have a lot of things that they missed out on. They want to change everything about how they do things, and the same goes for the kids. Here are a few ideas to help you positively change your environment and begin healing. 

  • The best way to make changes is to create new rules. Life with an abuser can be filled with unspoken rules, strong gender stereotypes, and exhibit unhealthy ways to show emotions. Have a family meeting and talk about what makes a “safe” house; some good ideas are no violence and treating each other with respect. 
  • Abusive relationships are filled with dysfunctional ways to handle emotions. Talk with your kids about ways they can handle their emotions and who they can talk to if they need to talk (this includes a teacher or a counselor at school). In addition, have everyone choose a place in the house that is their “calm down area,” this is a place where they can go when they need to walk away, take a break, and regroup so they can handle the situation in a healthy way. 
  • Become a team. Of course, you are still the leader of the team, but this creates a sense of working together. Come up with a team mission, picture, or saying and make it fun. Allow them to help to make new rules (within reason), suggesting new ways to do things, and how so much more can get done if everyone works together. 
  • Create a new “norm.” Change things up a bit from how they were when you were with your abuser. For example, if there were strong gender roles in the house, where the men sat at the head of the table and the women made dinner, served him, and cleared the table, change it! Lose the assigned seats, have the boys help clean the table and cook meals, while the girls take out the trash.  Let them know that there are many ways of doing things, and it is okay to do it differently. 
  • It is possible that, like many other survivors. your involvement in the kids’ school was limited. Now is your chance to advocate for your child, especially at a time they need it most. Keep in touch with teachers and counselors. You are all on the same side and want your child to succeed. Keep them updated on new medicines, health issues, and even upcoming court dates or active protective orders. By keeping an open line of communication, you can prevent problems before they start and intervene if there are already concerns. 

I can’t end without mentioning self-care, the word that goes hand in hand with healing. Self-care is usually a word we only dream of, but it needs to be a part of our everyday lives, for us and for our children.There are some easy ways to sneak some self-care into your day. 

  • Highlight the items you do on your to-do list instead of crossing them off, this way you can see what you have accomplished before you add more to the list. 
  • Have an outlet, even if it is an activity you are doing while cooking, cleaning, or driving.  
  • Put motivational quotes around where you can see them and change them regularly. Sometimes being reminded of how strong you are can help you when you need it most.
  • My personal favorite is changing your password on your computer to something motivational. Typing something positive every time you log-in definitely gets the point across. 
  • Take a nap, even for 15 minutes. Sleep is as necessary as food and water. 
  • If you get really lucky and have kid-free time, take a hot bubble bath and turn on your favorite music. This is the ultimate self-care and it is impossible to not relax while doing it. 

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you save time, begin healing  and change your environment. I know its hard, but sometimes you have to let go of the dirty dishes and the unmade beds, and be proud of yourself for having healthy, fed kids who are bathed and on time for school. Focus on what you can control, and the back to school chaos won’t be as bad. You are a survivor, you got this!

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Survivor Story: Abuse is Everyone’s Problem

Submitted by: Rick, Survivor

Any form of abuse, regardless of the type, has far-reaching consequences for the children subjected to it. Research shows that trauma impacts not only mental and emotional health but causes physical changes to the brain as well. Consequently, abused children are at higher risk of illness, behavioral problems, and impaired development of motor functions, learning and memory, decision-making, and communication.

Survivor Rick not only lived with domestic violence in the home growing up but also experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hand of his father. He shares with us the abuse he endured, how it affected him, and the message he wants us all to hear about standing up for others to protect them from harm. More than this, Rick’s story begs us all to consider the ramifications of not acting when we know someone is being abused.

Rick is 6’4″ and has always been athletic. In his teens, he was a high school basketball and baseball star. As an adult, he lifts weights and has run half-marathons and a full marathon. When Rick tells people about how he was sexually assaulted and that he and his mother were both beaten by his father, people often do not believe him. They may acknowledge his experiences but somehow seem incapable of processing how serious it was. How could he ‘let that happen?’

The effects of abuse permeated all areas of Rick’s life.

The first time Ricks remembers being sexually assaulted by his father was some point before the fourth grade. Although he cannot recall exactly when it began, he remembers the living room where it happened and knows that his family moved out of that house when he was in fourth grade. Rick’s life turned into a never-ending circle of physical and emotional abuse from his father. Sometimes, the abuse was directed at his mother, while at other times, it was toward him. Rick was sometimes paralyzed with fear but occasionally fought back against his father.

By the time he was a teenager, the work in the weight room had made Rick much stronger than his father. His father would still get drunk and try to abuse Rick and his mother, but, usually, he would fight his father off until he fell to the ground. One time, Rick took a punch from him and returned with one that sent his father falling down the stairs. At the time, he had a beer in his hand, and when he fell down the stairs, the beer had somehow stayed in the mug. They all laughed even though it was an unhealthy situation. That was when Rick learned that humor could defuse almost any situation.

Rick always knew that his father’s abuse was a cry for help from a man who felt like a failure. He drank because he struggled to fulfill his role in life. He manufactured affairs that Rick’s mother was allegedly having out of jealousy and lack of confidence. He would attack Rick’s performance in sports and his grades because he knew Rick was a better athlete and student that he was at his age.

Conflict also arose due to a difference in religious beliefs. Rick and his mother are Catholic, but his father was not. The fact that he would try to force them to violate their religious beliefs so he could chase after women was yet another humiliation. Rick was clear about not wanting his mother to stay with his father, and he would never advocate staying with an abuser. He only wanted them to stop living together, have him give up parental rights, and never have the right to remarry. This would have helped protect other women from a similar fate.

Many of the adults in Rick’s life either failed to respond effectively to his situation or – for whatever reason – did not act at all.

While he feels disdain for his father, Rick does not blame him for the suffering he has had in his life as much as he blames others. He is haunted by the adults who, despite knowing about the abuse he suffered, turned a blind eye to what was happening to him.

Some teachers regularly gave him a hard time about unfinished or rushed homework when they knew he was trying to protect his mother from his father the previous night. There were police officers who came to the house and refused to arrest his father for the abuse. His father’s lawyer threatened to fight for custody of Rick during the divorce proceedings. There were even family members on his father’s side who, long after his death, continued to act like he was infallible and perpetuated emotional abuse against Rick.

One of the biggest enablers of the abuse appeared while Rick played basketball in sixth grade. The coaching staff decided that every player on the team would be allowed to start at least one game. It was intended to keep everyone involved and reward players who may not have the talent but put in work trying to improve their skills. The problem was that they also wanted to have each player sit out from at least one game during the season.

Rick was one of the best players on the team, and it was hard for them to have him sit out. Before a weeknight game against a rival team, the coach read the starting lineup, and Rick was not on it. He immediately knew what was going to happen to him on the ride home with his father.

Regardless of how well he did, Rick was always yelled at after basketball games. If he scored twenty points, he was belittled for not getting more rebounds. If he grabbed a lot of rebounds, Rick would get yelled at for the missed free-throw.

Having to sit out for even one game was going to be torture. Rick broke down in tears in the locker room and could not face going out to the gym knowing he had to sit out. He told his coach about his abusive father and that he was going to inevitably face horrific ramifications for the idea he had about making everyone feel better about themselves, even if the coaches had good intentions.

The coach could have allowed Rick to play that night in his usual starting position, but he did not. They could have compromised and moved his non-start day to a different game so Rick could pretend to get injured before playing and still sit out without making the situation worse than it already was. Instead, the coach went up to Rick’s father in the bleachers and tried to explain the non-start rule to his father. Further, the coach told Rick’s father that his son was so afraid that his not playing was going to get him punished that he was in the locker room crying.

After that conversation, Rick’s father had all the ammunition he needed. On the way home from the game, he experienced one of the worst car rides of his life. It was only thirty minutes, but for Rick, it felt like a year. He can still remember sitting in the backseat looking out the window and thinking that they had already passed by certain places.

There was nothing that could be done about the way that his father treated Rick and his mother. She eventually left her husband, but he continued to find ways to abuse them. Teachers, principals, police officers, and coaches, however, should help when they know that abuse is occurring at home. 

Throughout middle and high school, Rick’s grades suffered. He barely graduated high school and did not know until the day of graduation that he was going to be getting a diploma. After Rick’s father died, he decided to go to college.

During each of the first four consecutive semesters, he made the Dean’s List and later transferred to the college of his dreams. He was awarded a scholarship for older students who achieve high grades. Rick feels confident that this underscores the potential he could have had as a young student growing up. His teachers were aware of what was happening, and Rick often felt that they decided to deliberately gave him bad grades to cause him trouble.

Eventually, his father’s side of the family disowned him because they said he was too overweight. That was after Rick had endured prolonged verbal abuse from them, causing him to suffer from body dysmorphia. He lost 150 pounds in less than eleven months, and it still was not good enough for them.

As an adult, Rick has faced others who have abused or allowed children to come to harm.

Some of his employers had programs making free therapy sessions available to their employees, and Rick accessed in an attempt to work through some of his trauma. He often felt that not all the staff at such places had his best interests at heart and that others tried to misuse the information they had about his history to charge higher rates.

On one occasion, someone had confessed to Rick that he had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with underage girls in a hotel room despite knowing that he was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Rick tried to report the information to authorities because he felt he could do something to help those young girls.

Later, he approached lawyers about what he had been told. Their response was less than favorable, and they informed him that they could pursue legal action against him for disclosing what he was told. They were aware that Rick had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and that he always tried to be an outspoken advocate against those types of behaviors. No action was taken against the person he tried to report.

Rick wanted to share his story to help people understand that you do not have to hit a woman or a child to contribute to their abuse. You may be enabling an abuser by not believing a victim who discloses the abuse to you. Also, you may be unintentionally making things worse for a victim even though you think are doing something nice for them.

“When someone tells you that something is probably going to get them physically harmed, and you do it anyway, you are no different from the person abusing that woman or child. When an abused woman regularly comes to work looking disheveled, first think about why that may be happening before disciplining her for a dress code violation. If a child shows every day in class that he is one of the smartest kids at school but never seems to have his homework completed, try to find out if there is a reason for that.

“Do not think, ‘That is not my problem.’ It is everybody’s problem. If you are putting a woman or child in a position where they will be beaten, you are also their abuser.”

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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What’s YOUR Raw Truth?

Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences. If you are inspired to share your story with us, complete the form below. You can choose to remain anonymous.

Angel Story: My Sister Was Shot by Her Fiancé as Her Daughter Slept in the Next Room

Submitted By: Hailey, sister of Lindsey

The presence of firearms in a domestic violence situation dramatically increases risk of fatality. The American Journal of Public Health published research showing that a firearm in possession of the abuser increases risk of death by 500%. Additionally, guns are used by abusers to murder women in over half of domestic violence homicides.

Hailey is the sister of a woman who was shot to death by her fiancé as her eight-year-old daughter slept in the next room. She shares with us about the end of her sister’s life and how this loss has impacted her, her niece, and those who loved her.

On December 8, 2016, my sister Lindsey was shot and killed by her fiancé. He and the girl he was having an affair with carefully planned her murder for several weeks before going through with it. Together, they plotted to take my sister’s life – for what, I will never know and can never understand.

He shot her in the head and took his time disposing of both the guns he brought with him that night. Afterward, he staged the scene, trying to make it appear as though the gunshot was self-inflicted. He changed his clothes and made sure Lindsey was dead before going to the next room to check if her eight-year-old girl was still sleeping soundly.

Once her fiancé finished cleaning up, he made a frantic phone call to 911 stating that his girlfriend had shot herself. The police and EMTs arrived within minutes of the call. All the while, her daughter still laid asleep in the next room. Police on the scene realized there were signs of a struggle in the bedroom where my sister laid dead. They noticed there was no gun next to her and observed that her fiancé was exhibiting strange behavior.

When my sister was pronounced dead, and the scene had finally been cleared, they allowed him to go back into the house to pick up her daughter and carry her out to my mom. They did not want him to be alarmed that he was a suspect and run.

My niece is forever broken. Her heart and love will never be the same without her mom. Lindsey is missed dearly every single day. Her love is irreplaceable because she filled everyone’s heart with so much joy and happiness. She made an impact on peoples’ lives, and we will carry her with us in our hearts for the remainder of our years.

His heartless actions to pull the trigger that night and take a beautiful soul will haunt me for the rest of my life. He, however, has to live every day behind bars and think about what he has done. Lindsey will never be forgotten, and everyone that loves her will continue to keep her spirit and story alive. 

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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What’s YOUR Raw Truth?

Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences. If you are inspired to share your story with us, complete the form below. You can choose to remain anonymous.

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