By JoAnn Taygo – Guest Blog Post 7/26/19
By the time he was hitting every point on the Power Wheel, it was too late; we couldn’t reach our daughter. She’d “fallen” for him six months prior, and we no longer recognized her. She was blinded by what she thought was love. They were both 15.
“Help me help Mike,” she said as she climbed up on the bed next to me that fateful Friday night. Mike had been arrested for assaulting his mother.
When I play back the milliseconds following her plea, I can feel the “no” in my gut. That’s not what came out of my mouth. The next few thoughts blew through my brain at warp speed (I’m no Bible-banging freak, so please stay with me ):
“What would Jesus do?”
“How can I tell her ‘no’ when I’ve taught her to be compassionate?”
“I’d better do everything I’ve taught her and set an example.”
So, I took a breath while she tore through the details. He had thrown a lamp at his mom when she tried to wake him up for school. He had kicked her. He had pulled on her hoodie from behind — hard and long enough to choke her. She had called the cops.
According to my daughter, her new boyfriend had a sleeping disorder; he needed help.
Other than hearing bits and pieces of a story about my older sister having been physically abused when I was a teen and she was living thousands of miles away I’d had no experience with domestic violence.
“OK,” I said to my daughter. “Let me see what I can do.” I searched for and called a crisis center near me.
“I’m sure this isn’t a crisis in your eyes, but I need some help,” I said before I launched into the story. “Oh, yes, it is,” she said. We spent a few minutes talking about how I should handle the situation before she gave me names of counselors I should contact for support.
That counselor referred me to my county’s Child and Family Protection Services department. They offered a grant to my daughter for four “domestic violence education” sessions. Those four sessions rolled into 13 (the last one not covered by the grant extension), at which point the counselor said, “She’s not getting it. She does not think she’s in danger. I’m not taking any more of your money.”
During those weeks of counseling, Mike had two more incidents (neither reported by his family — and denied when CPS workers paid a visit). Even hospital staff administering staples and stitches to Mike’s older brother “brushed it off to sibling stuff” according to his mom.
The details of the drama and trauma that unfolded over the next three years will be reserved for the book I’m writing to help parents of teens in situations such as this. But I want you to know that there are resources available; they’re just not easy to find. I didn’t discover the Power Wheel until we were six months into what I wound up calling The Mike Situation. You should go read it — even if you have a happy preteen on your hands right now.
The warning signs are subtle. You’ll wonder about “that kid” and think it’ll work itself out. The bulk of the damage will happen outside your line of sight. Pay attention to your gut. Don’t ignore little flags. Don’t buy “sleeping disorder” excuses. Consider your options while you still have some.
My daughter dug in her heels. She stayed in her bedroom for days after the first time we took away her phone (she came out to eat, but we did eat without her on the third day). Her grades fell along with her attention to personal hygiene.
Although he’s never physically hurt her, she has the mentality of a victim. They’re both 18 now — and got married on the sneak (it was the farthest thing from eloping you could imagine). They don’t even live on this continent.
Thank God for a family member helping me deal with my anger and resentment a few months ago; I was able to have a “closing ceremony” with my daughter before she moved. I was able to let her go in a healthy way. It opened up a new relationship for us to have as adults. Even though her prefrontal cortex is not fully developed (that’s where critical thinking happens in the brain), I trust she has been enough information to recognize the signs.
My husband and I invested about $6,000 in a second counselor for our daughter, family counselling for the three of us, and a separate one for me during the span of a couple of years. That number includes out-of-pocket fees not covered by health insurance and gas to get there. It took 18 months to get partial reimbursement from our health-insurance provider, but the situation clearly delivered a financial hit.
I offer my story in hopes of helping you avoid the trauma we endured as a family on the fringe of domestic violence. I wish I had paid more attention, known the warning signs, not been so patient, and realized danger could come in such a young package.