I Can't Leave My Parents - Article by Barrington Brennen


I canít leave My Parents
Why do children stay in abusive relationships?
By Barrington H. Brennen
May 5, 2004, 2019

Under what circumstances should children leave their parents? What an odd and uncomfortable statement to make! If you do not read this entire article, you might not get the full understanding of the intent of the question. Read with an open mind.

Family violence is very prevalent in our country. Husbands physically abusing their wives stands at the top of the list of painful atrocities occurring in homes in the Bahamas are home around the world. Emotional and psychological abuses are almost equal between husbands and wives and common-law marriages.

As mentioned in two previous articles, spouses or partners being abused usually find it very difficult to leave the abusive relationship for various reasons. (Why Do Women Stay?   Why Do Men Stay?) A central theme of those articles is that God never intended or expected a man or woman to live under the threat of, or to tolerate any form of systematic abuse that destroys one emotionally or injures one physically. In this article I am adding children to the list.

If adults who are being abused can find it almost impossible to leave an abusive relationship, what about the children? Adults are supposed to have the capacity to make independent choices and decisions that can govern their lives. Children, on the other hand, havenít yet developed such abilities and do not have the power to make such decisions. Thus, they are most vulnerable to the overt and covert forms of abuse they experience from their adult providers. The painful truth is that children should not be living with parents or any adult who abuse them. There are too many homes where, if it were possible to place a seismograph to measure unreasonable human behavior, it would record the highest possible rating. Too many homes are not safe places for anyone to live, more so our children. Why should children stay in these homes? What can children do? Why do they stay?
Why do children stay with their abusive parents may be obvious to some. Others may think that this is an absurd question. If all fully understood the dynamics of abuse and valued the rights of children, there will be no children remaining in abusive and dysfunctional families. Here, what I believe, are four natural human factors that make children vulnerable to abuse from non-caring, ignorant, power-crazed parents and why they cannot leave:

THE TRUST FACTOR: Children are the most trusting creatures on earth. From birth they are dependent on someone stronger and wiser than they are. Sadly, the divine-ordained naively-trusting of children makes them vulnerable to abusive parents. During the very early years, this trusting places some children in environments or situations that are at the first exposure very painful and destructive. When these innocent children experience painful abuse, they respond with cries of discomfort and only remain because they cannot help themselves. Their trusting is one of their greatest risk factors for abuse.

INTELLIGENCE FACTOR: Children between birth to age five or older are unable to understand that an apple is "green" when it is red. Dr. Raymond More, an expert in the United States on child development, states that children do not develop fully in areas of cognition, audio perception, and visual clarity until the age of seven or above. He states that many children do not reach the age of maturity that would warrant their exposure to school and other regimented milieu until the age of eleven. Hence, he believes that a child should not be placed in a school environment until the age of seven. Parents who do not understand the developmental processes of their children are most likely to abuse them, hindering a healthy intellectual and physical growth. These unwise parents make unreasonable demands and require unrealistic responses from their children.

THE BELIEF FACTOR: Children are naturally spiritual creatures. They crave guidance and direction from their significant others. This is why spirituality is so central in the lives of children. Unfortunately, many children are raised in homes were national and religious traditions are held high above common sense. Children are first taught they must obey their parents, be seen and not heard, and only talk when spoken to. Parents rivet this concept in the minds of their children first by a gentle inducement of a morbid kind of fear when they tell their children that "God will punish them in eternal fire if they are rude" and other similar statements.

Children, already unable to understand the concept of an unseen God, yet who are naturally responsive and trusting, are driven to believe such idiotic expressions. In the Bahamas and the Caribbean, perhaps the greatest form of abuse to children is spiritual abuse. It is the foundation for other forms of abuse, in particular, physical abuse. A common scriptural passage misused to instill fear is found in Proverbs 23:13 "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die." How can children escape this kind of parental prison if there is an all-powerful, fearful God (the greater Significant Other) who will find them and punish them no matter where they hide? A misuse of scripture is the most frightening form of abuse for children and adults as well.

THE FEAR FACTOR: The first three factors combined generate perhaps childrenís most natural and yet enervating response to abuseĖfear. A father who sexually abuses his children knows this very well. How can a child escape when dad first tells his seven-year-old daughter with whom he had sex that "this is our little secret." Then he takes advantage of his daughterís understanding of trust and guidance by threatening her with punishment if she tells anyone about their secret. If he feels she will tell on him, he may even threaten abandonment, severe punishment, or death. How can a child escape when being raised in an environment of paralyzing fear? Who will believe her in the first place? Many mothers turn their heads. Many family members close their ears. They would even punish their children for saying that this wonderful father and leader in the community could be so evil.

The truth is that children are powerless to leave the prisons of abuse. Therefore, we must save and protect them. We cannot have fathers who are found guilty of sexual abuse return to the community unknown and without severe consequences. Too many children are trapped in their own homes. Too many adults in our society are crippled emotionally because of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Letís work together to free our children from the clutches of power-crazed, unreasonable, ignorant, and spiritually abusive parents. 


Barrington Brennen is a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Send your questions to question@soencouragment.org or call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org




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