‘Dear Dad’… A child’s message
This ‘Dear Dad…a child’s message’ blog article was written by Monica Robertson, Program Manager in the Therapeutic Services Victoria Team, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Children seek love, acceptance and belonging and safety with their mothers, fathers, families and people in their community. When their fathers choose to use violence they are left feeling unsafe and with feelings of confusion and uncertainty. Children want and need to have a relationship with their father that is safe and accepting. A child who attended our Child Trauma Service (Melbourne) wrote the following letter to their father prior to a counselling session with him.
I miss you. I remember when we used to cuddle and you would say you would squeeze my guts out with so much love. I feel that way too. When can we see each other again Dad? Why are you not here? I want you to hear about my new school and the friends I’ve made and all about our new house. I have my own room. It is so cool! We are having lots of fun in our new house. Mum isn’t crying so much. It is really nice to see Mum smile. It is quiet and pretty calm. I don’t like it when you yell at us, or when you hurt Mum. She’s a good Mum and looks after me and my sister. Why do you hurt her Dad? When you come and visit please don’t hurt us.
I think about you. I miss you.
Children continue to feel strong affection towards their fathers even when separated as a result of their father using violence and causing harm in their family. Children also struggle to make meaning of their experience. The push-pull feel of love and fear is one that many children experience and find it difficult to share and understand. They can see and feel the harm being caused but the strong sense of loyalty to their father leads to feelings of guilt and confusion. How can one who loves them also be the cause of harm? Their innate drive for safety in a parent’s love is compromised by the betrayal of violence and harm. The inner turmoil for children who experience such can be enduring and painful.
“The confounding of love and abuse can contribute to the confusion of children of battered women… through receiving these contradictory messages, children can form convoluted understandings of how kindness and cruelty interrelate.”
– Bancroft, Silverman and Ritchie 2012
There is a significant risk of harm to children, both emotionally and physically, when fathers choose to use coercion and violence. The experience of risk is ongoing as the fear of potential violence does not cease when the family separate. It continues throughout the child’s life in the enduring struggle in relationships, the struggle to develop and understand their identity and perhaps the overwhelming feeling of shame, guilt and blame for what has occurred within their family.
A child’s message to their father is one where love feels confusing. The have a desire to spend time with them but to do so in a way that they are safe and no longer harmed. They want a relationship with their father that is not conditional or embroiled in adult conflict…but to have a relationship that is safe, attuned and heart warming. Children need their father’s to recognise what they have done and take responsibility for the harm they have caused within their families. This goes a long way in the healing for children.