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Manhandling My Kids

October 13, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

My husband has been violent with our children. How do I stop his abhorrent behavior?

Dear Emuna,

My marriage is sacred and 28 years strong. However, my husband has anger management issues and a tendency to slice you with his words. He has never struck me because I have been abused before and will brashly stop him in his tracks. He has violently screamed at the children belittling them horribly. His anger can get physical with them as he has manhandled them when I am at work. How can I finally put a stop to the abhorrent behavior, repair his relationship with our children, and save my marriage? P.S. Money is also lacking on my part.

Confused Wife

Dear Confused,

I think you should be more than confused; I think you should be terrified. Although this is an advice column, in general I prefer not to be too directive and to give my writers and guidance and tools rather than “orders”. But your case seems to be an exception. If what you are saying is true and your husband has in fact “manhandled” your children while you are at work and if, by “manhandling”, you mean abused them physically which you seem to suggest, then you need to leave and leave now. Every moment that you are there, you are risking the lives of your children.

I don’t know what you mean when you say that your marriage is sacred; I assume that you mean that it is holy and that you made a commitment in front of God and man. But the Torah allows for divorce and this is certainly a situation where it would be permitted (and perhaps even advised, but I’m revealing my own prejudice here). Whatever the future of your marriage may be, and whether your husband can get the help he needs to be a healthier partner and parent is unknowable right now. Your job at the moment is to protect your children. You need to get them out of that dangerous environment and into a shelter or other safe place immediately.

You mention that money is lacking but there are many places for women with no money, many shelters and other facilities for abused women and their children. Please take advantage of one of those. You should be able to “Google” a local one. You don’t mention your parents or siblings. One of them may be able to take you in although you should really speak with a counselor to determine if it is necessary for everyone’s safety that you be somewhere your husband can’t find you. This is a very serious situation and you need to consult with experts in the field once you recognize that you must take action.

After you have left and are in a safe place, you can then evaluate what to do about your marriage and your husband will have an opportunity to demonstrate whether he is open to change and how seriously he takes his responsibility to do so. Please don’t wait a moment longer.

Dear Emuna,

I have an old friend who is really toxic – very critical and loves to “dish” on all of our mutual acquaintances. Every conversation we have leaves me feeling dirty and brings me down. I want to distance myself from her but we’ve been friends since 4th grade and we have a shared history and my children call her “aunt”. What should I do? Should I just continue the relationship, whatever it’s like or should I let her down slowly?

Old Friend

Dear Old Friend,

You are not the first one to come to me with this dilemma in recent days. It seems to be a very common phenomenon among women of a “certain age”. We are all conscious that life is short and time is precious. We don’t want to waste our limited moments with people who bring us down. We want friends who share our values, who elevate us, who help us grow and who want to take about ideas and issues rather than people. This is an important step in our growth as human beings and the Torah frequently speaks of avoiding bad influences – friends and neighbors - and surrounding ourselves with good ones.

We are affected by our community in ways both obvious and subtle and it is our responsibility to make good choices about our friends. Someone recently told me that she “broke up with a friend” in a letter. Only you know if you need to take a step that drastic or if you can just subtly begin to move apart from her. Can you just call her less and schedule fewer social outings? Can you just let the relationship gradually fade, thereby saving pain to all or will she call you on it and demand something more straightforward?

If so, you need to be prepared to tell her - gently and with love of course – that you are trying to create a more peaceful life for yourself and that her negativity stands in the way of that. There is no way to avoid causing her pain if she insists on a confrontation but you owe it to her to be honest and to yourself to take the necessary steps to distance yourself from her.

Are your children also close with her? They may call her aunt as a holdover from the past or out of a real connection. Which one it is will affect how you deal with them. If it was really only your relationship and not theirs they will not need to know that you have changed the terms. If however she was an important figure in your children’s lives, you may have to discuss it with them and explain the reason for your choice. Sometimes we are allowed to say negative things when there is an important lesson to be taught but you need to ask your Rabbi whether this situation qualifies.

I know that this is going to be difficult and painful; I hope you will have the courage and the strength to do what’s right.

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