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Safety Versus Stability in Childhood— Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My marriage is ending and the option presents itself to pull up stakes, so to speak, and take the children to a new community to start over.

(My attorney is helping me control the children’s future interactions with their emotionally abusive father by limiting visitations to those that are supervised.) I am hoping to find a welcoming and supportive parenting network as I consider places to scout out for work and a home. Please help me weigh the benefits of keeping school and friends the same for my 3 children versus the benefits of escaping to a whole new social landscape for them and me.

Shedding an Ex

Dear SaE,

Safety and stability are both important factors for an emotionally healthy childhood.

Safety is a primary consideration for your children, although emotional danger is harder to spot than is physical danger. Even if their father’s future interactions with them are controlled, thoughts of him can retain a negative influence over your children. If they would feel unsafe staying in the neighborhood in which they have known their father, they might be better off elsewhere. It’s their feelings that matter, rather than an actual risk of abuse. Furthermore, the children’s perceptions of being safe will not only depend on feeling safe from their father, but also on feeling that you are safe.

On the other hand, if they have felt safe in their friends’ homes despite feeling unsafe in their own, these roots would be hard for them to pull up. Stability can help a child weather stormy but necessary changes in their lives. While you are helping them to shed negative influences on their development, i.e. their father’s harmful behaviors, there may be many other aspects to their childhoods worth preserving within the community.

As you must know, your children are each individual. One may be cool as a cucumber as his home life takes a corrective turn, while another may be clinging at your side day and night. If the children are not yet receiving mental health services, please avail yourself of resources at their school or in the community. If cost is a consideration, ask about free and sliding scale counseling to fit your family’s needs. The Y of Anne Arundel County  addresses domestic violence, which includes emotional abuse, through programs for adults and as well as children.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (known as ACEs) was addressed in a previous column. This ongoing national research project connects such conditions as emotional abuse with health and mental health consequences into adulthood. The harmful effects of ACEs can be lessened with Resilience factors which include: knowing that you were loved by your parents (one or both), being aware of your parents’ support network, direct positive interaction, support, and or admiration from other adults, and high expectations for your behavior and future goals. Personal characteristics associated with resilience include being self-directed and competent.

If you decide to move away, strive to keep a familiar feel to the children’s daily lives with their food, clothing, toys, and books. Long distance friendships can be easily supported with modern technology. Reassuring bedtime routines are extremely important during stressful times for children. Again, taking care of your needs for a secure income and reliable social network will help you to be predictably available to your children through this adjustment and beyond.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Debbie will be facilitating a discussion of ACEs and Resilience on Wednesday, February 20, 7-8:30 pm at the Annapolis Neck – Hillsmere Library as part of the NEA Big Read in Anne Arundel County. Help assess the childhood of the great boxer Jack Johnson from biographical information alluded to in The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka. Free copies of the book are still available at many of the county’s libraries and at Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Please note due to mature subject matter, the book is recommended for teens and adults. Age appropriate books are available for young children upon request.


Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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