By Frank Isabirye
Goretti had been married for six years and had two children, a fouryear- old and a twoyear- old. Her husband was a little rude and abrasive toward the maids and generally people outside their home. Sometimes, it got so bad that maids quit, but he had never really directed this behaviour toward her.
However, nothing prepared Goretti for the turn of events in January this year. The family had gone out on a fun day and returned at about 8:30pm. On reaching home, the gate was ajar. Goretti was just as puzzled as her husband, but did not for a moment think this would turn into a violent barrage.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he shouted at her. Shocked, she replied: “I honestly bolted the gate before we left. I really do not know what could have happened.” As she walked into the house, he grabbed her by her hair and demanded an explanation. She looked at him and said: “I really do not know. If it was not bolted well, I am sorry, but let us make sure everything in the house is intact.”
A quick look round the house showed nothing had been taken, but he was not convinced. He slapped her hard and she fell on her knees. She was carrying her two-year-old daughter. Goretti got up and walked away quickly to the bedroom and put the now crying baby on the bed. He was not done. He grabbed her hair again, pulling until chunks of it came off in his hand. Her four-year-old cowered in the corner of the bed, as he rained blow after blow on Goretti’s head and back. When he was done, he left the room.
Goretti lay with her children, trying to console them as they cried. Very early the next morning, she packed a few clothes and took the children to her parents’ home. On the way, the four-year-old asked her: “Mummy, why was daddy hitting you last night?” She did not know what to tell her.
To this day, when Goretti narrates the story, she chokes with tears because of that horrible memory the little girl is
going to have, probably for the rest of her life.
The apple never falls far from the tree, an old adage goes. It has been proven that parents’ actions under the watchful eyes of their children, eventually rub off on them. This is where the biggest danger lies. And it comes no worse than domestic violence.
Many times, we instinctively respond: “That one is a chip off the old block,” when an errant neighbour’s child hurls obscenities at his peers. Reason being that it comes as no surprise, since this child’s mother, uses abusive language in front of her children.
“As parents, we ought to be very careful the things we do in front of our children. But the worst of them all is domestic violence. It leaves a lifetime scar on our children. Domestic violence can never and will never have a place in my home. I can never fight with my husband or abuse him in front of my little son, because then I will be grooming a potential wife beater or a man with a very negative attitude towards women,” says Ruth Kivumbi, a mother of two.
Joyce Kabanyoro says: “In all the years that I have been married to my husband, I have never raised my voice at him in the presence of our two children. It is offensive and foolish for parents to fight in front of their children. Children see their parents as role models.” Kabanyoro says most husbands and wives who beat up and abuse their spouses learnt this from their parents.
Isaac Kisambira, also a parent, says children who grow up in homes with fighting parents develop hatred for one of them. “The child who grows up seeing the parents fighting will either side with the mom or the dad. They often loathe the least favoured one,” he says.
Kisambira adds: “Many parents forget that children learn by impression. Whenever parents fight, the child may get the impression that wife-battering is okay or spousal fighting in marriage is fine. Likewise, when the child sees the mom abuse the dad, they may get a negative impression towards all womenfolk. Those are the men who want nothing to do with women, or girls who believe that all men are bad.”
That innocent child that watches as you beat your wife to pulp or shower your husband with abominable language is doing more than watching. He is being mentored in the art of domestic violence or being psychologically tortured to a point that he or she might not make a good spouse.
A counsellor at Uganda Christian University, Joseph Musaalo, says children become insecure when the people who are supposed to protect them fight. “Children know that their mothers are meant to protect them. So when they see them fighting, they lose faith in them and feel insecure. The boys grow up knowing it is normal to batter their wives or to abuse them. Most times,the girls grow up with low selfesteem.
They have no assertiveness because they grow up feeling inferior,” he says. Musaalo notes that most times, these children lose respect for their parents. “There are children who have no respect whatsoever for their parents and, most likely, they have grown up in abusive homes,” he says.
Violence has never solved anything and domestic violence is no exception. Parents should, therefore, embrace dialogue when it comes to solving or dealing with marital conflicts. But the most important factor is, even when parents resort to dialogue, they should do it away from their children. Go somewhere private and solve your problems without the knowledge of your children.
How to help the affected Much as it is helpful to take these children through counselling, the major step to helping a child who has witnessed domestic violence is for the parent to ask the child for forgiveness.
Children subjected to domestic violence grow up with anger, bitterness, rejection and hatred. These bad emotions are inculcated in them by their violent parents. So it is up to the parents to go before such a child, own up to their mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
By showing remorse as a parent for your errors, you foster humility and open the child’s mind to letting go of the anger they feel and also easily opening up to counsellors.
Do you argue in front of your children?
No, absolutely not. Quarrelling in front of our children is totally unacceptable, however serious our misunderstandings might be. As husband and wife, we always have a few misunderstandings here and there, but I can never quarrel with my husband in the presence of the children.
I once almost hit my wife and I can never forget the manner in which our five-year-old son looked at me — like I was some kind of monster. I feared that it would define the kind of relationship I have with him. It took some time, but I think he either forgave me or just forgot. These days even when we are in the midst of an argument and he walks in, we pretend like we are only playing.
I always try my very best never to lose it or quarrel with my spouse in the presence of the children. Sometimes you may be forced to get angry with your spouse when the children are around, but you can always control yourself.
I never quarrel with my wife in front of my children. I respect my children so much that I just cannot quarrel with their
mother in their presence. When you give in to quarrelling in their presence, you will eventually start fighting and they will witness all of it.
I do not believe in involving children in marriage issues and for this reason, I never quarrel with my wife in front of my children. Even when we get misunderstandings, it is between the two of us. We keep our children out of them by not quarrelling in their presence.