As John’s control over me began slipping away, he began to escalate. Anger flowed off his body in waves. I could feel it across the room. I did my best to avoid any interactions … to even avoid eye contact when possible. I became very jumpy and very on edge. I was always aware of my surroundings. Always alert and vigilant. And I always had my children in my sights.
At some point, John must have realized that the best way to gain back some of the control over me was to use the children. He began to dictate ridiculous rules that he expected them to follow and would punish them if they didn’t. They were only allowed to have a certain amount of syrup for their pancakes. Quinn was only allowed to use one square of toilet paper when she wiped. If I challenged him on any of it, the kids would pay the price after I left the room.
John began to accuse me of asking for a divorce because I needed a “break from the kids”, as if I ever wanted him to be alone with them. It TERRIFIED me when he was alone with them. He used guilt to try and manipulate me into thinking that asking for a divorce was going to destroy the children. As if I was ruining their lives by making the choice to get us out of an abusive home. Of course, at this time I had grown too strong to believe these manipulative lies. This is when he started using the children as weapons.
It began by him refusing to care for the children physically. One day I was going to spend some time with my mother at her house and I asked John if he would please check the kids for ticks before bedtime. This became a huge argument in front of the children with him yelling and me begging him to please just do it.
He claimed we never checked them for ticks before. When I explained that I do every night before bed, he said that he doesn’t remember that and that he refuses to do it until I help him understand why. “I’m the kind of person who needs to know why and I’m not going to do something new without a good reason!” As if I really have to explain to a 35 year old why getting bit by a tick is not a good thing? Especially one who’s brother was hospitalized a few years prior for a horrible case of Lyme’s disease?
The children were watching and John was escalating so I decided to leave. (Of course the next day James told me that John had found a tick on Quinn’s back when she was going to the bathroom that night. And yet the battle of asking him to use bug spray and check the kids for ticks continues to this day.)
It was something he felt he could control. And as ridiculous a thing as it was to refuse to do… it was something he could have power over that he knew would upset me and make me feel uncomfortable. He had no regard for the children’s health and safety. It had nothing to do with them. It’s all about having control and power over me.
This type of behavior saturated our daily interactions. When I would leave a room John would say something bad about me or make a face and the children would react. They would come and tell me, and I would calmly tell them that if their dad says or does something that makes them uncomfortable they have a right to use their words and ask him to stop.
Soon after that, James and Quinn would come back to me crying or I would hear screaming and yelling from the other room. “Mommy, Daddy told me he can say whatever he wants to me and he doesn’t have to listen to me or to you.”
Now keep in mind that my son is autistic. He struggles with regulating his emotions and at this time he was having frequent violent fits at school and with his father. And here his father was….. baiting him…. just to prove that he doesn’t have to do anything I suggest. James began to refuse to stay in the house with John. He would calmly look at his father and say, “I need to go because I need space” and John would respond by raising his voice and telling James he was being silly or ridiculous…. putting all of the responsibility and ownership of the interactions on a small child.
I know that John was doing all of this to hurt me…. but all he did was hurt his children and damage his relationship with them. James began to hit, kick and bite his father any time they had any interactions. Quinn continued to become emotional and cried frequently over minor things. Both children became very clingy to me and refused to be alone with their father. John’s plan to use the children as weapons to create harm and emotional distress worked….. but on the wrong people.