By P. Berman, A. Hosack K. Hecht,
Mr. Carson gave up her special day with his friends to stay with me. He played games with me, he kept checking my forehead. I feel so terrible now!
Claire was getting off the bus and walking the final blocks to home. She had been worried about Davy all day and had checked on him by calling Mr. Carson during her lunch break. When Mrs. Carson came home at 2 p.m., she checked Davy too. She and Mr. Carson thought Davy was just under the weather, maybe a tooth, maybe some other minor problem; nothing to bring Claire home early from work for. Claire tried to keep her attention on work. It was so hard even though she knew the Carsons would take good care of her little sweetheart.
I can’t stand it one more minute!
Claire was tired but she started to run and by the time she got to the front door, she was breathing heavily. “My Davy she cried out, as she dropped on the floor inside the front door.” Davy came running, “what’s wrong mommy,” Davy said, alarmed by her heavy breathing. “Nothing is wrong my Davy. I just missed you so much I ran my legs off!” Davy forgot to pretend and jumped in her lap and gave her a big hug. “I love you so much mommy!”
He is better! He jumped in my lap! Of course, he is better- I knew the. Carsons would take great care of him. Why do I worry so much?”
Claire does know – in one sense –that she can always count on the Carsons. She has been learning a lot from reading her parenting magazine and recognizes how much they know about parenting. She still worried- deep inside, that they would discover how unworthy she was. Then, they would stop showering her with love and maybe even (her deepest fear) kick her and Davy out. Her sweet son, Davy, needed the Carsons to make sure he was alright- despite having her as a mom. Davy clearly loved her so much that Claire always had this small nag of terror at the back of her mind that he would be taken from her. This ache sometime severe and terrifying, sometimes small and haunting, came with it her mother’s voice saying, “you are a waste of space.”
What would her life be like if that chorus ended? Could it end? Dr. Berman felt she had the power to turn the chorus off. In sessions, Claire felt she did have the power to do it but, the world outside was so hard and the thoughts were so strong.
Claire shook her head and tried to force these thoughts back. She remembered a mindfulness exercise she had learned from Dr. Berman. She needed to just feel Davy in her lap. She could let her mom’s voice just pass through her mind. She could be aware of them but not feel they were justified. Claire didn’t realize it but as she tried to cope with her mother’s voice, she had begun to grip Davy tightly.
“Mommy that hurts.” Claire abruptly ended her death grip at Davy’s words. “I am so sorry my Davy, my love for you is so strong that sometimes I forget not to squeeze you right into my heart.” These words flooded Davy with so much guilt he blurted out, “mommy, I have to tell you something or my stomach will burst open.”
“My Davy, what’s wrong?” Claire’s attention shifting from her own problems to her son’s words. “Mommy, I am not sick. I am just a dirty liar who deserves to be punished,” he said, as tears began to stream down his face. Surprised, Claire pulled a tissue out of her pocket and said, “My Davy is not a dirty liar, but he does make mistakes sometimes.” Claire was gently wiping his tears with her tissue and looking into his eyes.
“Mommy, you have to listen to me. (1-minute pause, Claire is just looking at him) “Davy, I am ready to listen (1-minute silence) Davy…you aren’t saying anything,” Claire whispered. “I have to tell you a hard thing mommy. You will be mad. I have been bad. I was not sick this morning. I haven’t been sick, all day. I just lied so you would let me stay home. (I-minute pause) Claire did feel mad but she was controlling her breathing like Dr. Berman taught her so she could understand what Davy was saying.
Davy is admitting he is lying. This is a good step for a small boy. But he still lied. Something needs to be done.
The breathing exercise had calmed Claire down. She felt a controlled anger now and knew what to say. “Davy, it was wrong of you to lie to me. (Claire looked down and Davy got a little scared. He knew he deserved to be punished but, what would his mommy do?) You have told me the truth now. That is a good start. We need to get up off the floor and go into the kitchen. You need to tell Mr. and Mrs. Carson the truth too. Then, you have to help us understand why you didn’t tell us the truth today.”
I don’t want to get off mommy’s lap. It is safe here. What will the grownups do?
Davy didn’t want to leave his mommy’s lap. He felt safe while he was hugging her. But he knew he had done wrong. He got up and waited for his mommy to get up too. He reached for her hand and was reassured that she squeezed it gently. They walked into the kitchen. Davy sighed. That wonderful smell of cookies. Mrs. Carson had a plate with a cookie and a glass of milk ready for him and his mommy to share.
“Mrs. and Mr. Carson, I have to tell you something terrible. I can’t eat my share of the cookies that smell so good.” These words grabbed both the Carson’s attention. They looked at Claire and saw her angry mom face. They sat at the kitchen table, the place they used for serious Davy talks. Davy sat down in his usual seat. He looked at the cookies and sighed.
First, he lies about being sick. Now, he says he won’t be eating a cookie. What a day of surprises!
Claire sits down at the table and has nothing to say- she is so surprised. All the grownups look at Davy and wait for him to say more. “I dreamed about the mean man last night,” Davy said sadly. “I was brave when I was with you mommy and tore up his picture, but he came back to haunt me when I tried to sleep. He is stronger than me. I had to hide today. You can protect me from the mean daddy, mommy, but can my teacher? She can’t even keep Scotty from pulling his sister’s hair in class,” Davy said sadly, staring at the cookies.
“Davy, you don’t have to hide at the house to be safe from your mean daddy. I will call you teacher and explain carefully that she is never to let anyone but me, or the Carsons pick you up from school. You know your teacher believes in rules. (Davy shakes his head vigorously yes) It is a rule that I have to fill out permission forms for anyone besides me to come for a school visit or pick you up at school. will not let your mean daddy have permission to see you at school. Mommy and the Carsons will work as a team and not let him come see you at home either; three of us is stronger than one of him!”
Davy felt better but still…. “what do I do if he shows up at the bus mommy? I am not stronger than the mean daddy, I know I am not.” Davy was looking down at his feet. “Davy, you are a big boy but still, no boy is physically stronger than a man. But you are a good thinker, you already figured out that keeping your mean daddy away from school and the house is not enough.” Davy smiled at her.
“How about if one of your team is always there at the bus stop looking around to be sure your mean daddy isn’t there. Then, once you begin to walk off the bus, your team member will walk in front of you. If at any time you get worried your mean daddy might be around, you can hurry up and hold your team member’s hand as you walk down the sidewalk. If it feels safe, you will just walk yourself.”
“Mommy, that plan is…almost as good as getting to eat a cookie,” Davy said with a sigh. “Yes, cookies are wonderful Davy. Aren’t we lucky that Mrs. Carson will have a cookie waiting for us tomorrow after school?” “Yes, thank you Mrs. Carson for always making me cookies. You can eat yours now, you don’t have to wait for tomorrow because you didn’t lie. Is it okay for me to play with my toys until dinner is ready? That will help me stop smelling these cookies.” “Yes, Davy, go play.”
All the grownups stayed at the table and thought for a moment in silence before getting back to their pre-dinner work. The Carsons were proud of how well Claire handled the situation. They smiled at each other after she left the kitchen. Claire didn’t feel proud of herself. She had acted with confidence but in her heart, she knew she had a lot of work to do, if she was going to keep Larry out of the house instead of running into his arms.
Why isn’t it easier to stop loving someone who hurts you?
Claire is fortunate in that she has found help in building healthy attachments from the Carsons and in processing her traumatic past with Dr. Berman. She is making great strides forward, but it isn’t an easy path to fully leave violent relationships in the past. If you know someone who needs further help, consider helping them get to a domestic violence shelter in your area or, if they aren’t ready for that, to a website they could look at alone or with you to start just thinking about first steps they might be ready for.
Women’s advocates is a group dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence. It has a very informative website that includes reasons women find it hard to leave at:
If someone’s violent experiences are also intermixed with sexual assault, another helpful website can be: