Women abuse, now more commonly referred to as gender-based violence or intimate partner violence, continues to be a serious problem in our communities. Several regions across Ontario, including Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton have declared intimate partner violence to be an epidemic. Intimate partner violence is serious and can significantly impact all those who are in the home.
What does this have to do with parenting? As parents, there are many things that we can do to help change our children’s futures.
How healthy is the relationship that you’re currently in, and what is your child learning? We all know that children are sponges- they watch, learn and listen to everything we do as parents, including how romantic relationships operate. You and your partner serve as their knowledge base for how couples treat each other, from language and gestures to physical touch, both good and bad.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to model healthy relationships that include mutual respect. Children observing disagreements handled respectfully, parents spending time outside the home with friends, and exchanging affection can be very beneficial. Regularly seeing these interactions will lend to the expectations of their future relationships and partners.
A child who witnesses intimate partner violence in their home growing up is more likely to be a perpetrator or victim of violence when they are older. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, let your children know that it is not okay and find a way to create safety for yourself and them.
Leaving an abusive relationship is complicated, but many people can help you. Resources are listed at the bottom of this article.
Statistically speaking, male-to-female violence continues to be the most prevalent, and how we talk to boys and girls about their genders is essential. What expectations are we putting on boys and girls? How are girls and boys to behave? What are their roles in relationships? All these things matter. If we tell our little girls that they are to be kind, polite, and people-pleasing, this could unconsciously impact how they behave in relationships. Alternatively, telling little boys to be tough and strong will also affect how they see themselves and their roles.
I have four children- two boys and two girls. When I was expecting my third child, my second daughter, I received two comments within one week of each other. The first, “Oh good, your little boy will now have two sisters to protect.” And the second, “Your little boy will be surrounded by strong women.”
Both situations discuss how my son would have two sisters, but what a difference in the implications made. One made him more powerful and in charge than his sisters, and another framed him as supportive and equal. Remember, our words and messages matter.
It’s common for parents to shy away from difficult topics. We often don’t feel we need to discuss something until it impacts us. However, making time to discuss healthy relationships is essential. Ask your kids what they like about their friendships and focus on the specific pieces.
Don’t excuse bad behaviour or associate physical harm with love by saying things like, “he pulled your hair because he likes you.” If they see family members in unhealthy relationships, name it as harmful and discuss why specific language or actions are not appropriate. By setting the bar for your children, they’ll understand what they should expect and never tolerate as they enter relationships.
Working to end violence against women and intimate partner violence is critical and needs to be viewed preventatively. We, as parents, have such an influence on the future of our kids in so many ways, and I encourage you to add healthy relationships to the list of life skills.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you can contact your local shelter and look at the Government of Canada’s family violence resource page.
For immediate assistance, always call 9-11.
Stefanie Peachey is a Registered Social Worker and Accredited Family Mediator. She is the founder of Peachey Counselling and Family Support in Burlington, ON.
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