The Relationship Between Parental Abuse and Domestic Violence

One of my favourite works of fiction by a Nigerian woman is definitely Tomorrow I Become A Woman by Aiwanose Odafen. It is a novel that explores how women are put through numerous demeaning tests in order to reach the almost unattainable heights required of a good woman.

Without giving too many spoilers, it follows the lives of three friends and has a main character who endures an abusive marriage and even tries to leave. We see how the pressure to marry and marriage obsessed mothers can be what makes leaving an abusive relationship difficult.

In it, Mama Uju, the mother of one of the main characters, despite being a victim of domestic violence herself constantly sabotaged her daughter’s attempts to be free of an abusive husband. 

Now, while Mama Uju was not documented to be physically abusive to her daughter, it is obvious that she was emotionally abusive to her. It is also more than obvious that using their relationship as an example, there is a strong connection between parental abuse and the continued stay of a woman or teenage girl in an abusive setup.

Let us leave Mama Uju and Tomorrow I Become A Woman for a minute and come to the relationships between daughters and fathers.

There are young girls whose fathers beat them and then tell them sorry and also tell them that it is because they love them that they beat them. 

If it is socially accepted that a father is a daughter’s first example of who a man should be, should it come as a surprise if twenty years down the line, a daughter who experienced physical and emotional abuse from her father, stays with a man who beats her and buys her expensive gifts later? Should it come as a surprise?

It is often said that the family and inevitably the home is the smallest unit of society. I would add that for women and girls, the family and the home sets the tone for their confidence and their ability to stand up for ourselves. 

A young girl who grew up watching her father beat her mum but act nice toward his children, may insist on never been with a man who beats. She may even beat him back but may rationalise and stay with a man who doesn’t give her adequate care and proper attention.

This also applies to mother-daughter relationships. A young girl who saw her mother bullied for not having male children and then saw her mother treat her brother better than the other female children, may not take beating from a man. 

She may however unconsciously place men above herself. This is such that she may lower herself and her voice. She may even end up being the one who is told to serve fellow male colleagues tea even when that is not in her jurisdiction. And even if she grumbles internally, she may not have the courage to point out that she is not going to do such in a professional space.

Speaking with Idayat, she agrees that there is a correlation between fathers who apologise after beating and daughters enduring abuse.

In her words: “Parents are the first life figures children experience and I strongly think that how they act to the child will determine the child’s adulthood and how they fare in their adult relationships too. 

Yeah, there is a relationship. I think when fathers apologize to their daughters after abuse, it teaches the kids that apology is always an amendment, even after abuse. 

And the brain only chooses what it is familiar with. So it explains why abuse victims keep choosing the same people over and over again till they break the pattern with therapy. 

My advice is to seek therapy. One needs to recognize the patterns of abuse before breaking them. Because we internalize things even when we are not aware.”

She went on to say: “A friend was telling me one time that after her dad died when she was about 6, her mother depended on her for emotional support.

Her mom became the child and she became the mother at that young age.

And she grew up into an adult who found it very difficult to ask for help from others because of the illusion that she’s always in control which is caused by the childhood she had. 

And this promptly affected her relationships with other people.”

For Aisha Mohammed*, a homeschooler and parenting expert, she agrees with Idayat and says that fathers must not beat children at all.

To quote her: “Fathers should not beat their children. Period. Your children won’t recognise what a safe space is unless they do the work by themselves in adulthood. 

We don’t understand/are able to properly interpret our feelings. We could interpret the intensity of anxiety as lust/love, fear as something to be enjoyed and so on.

A particular demographic of Nigeria has “fawning” as its other name. I reckon that they’ll probably have more instances of domestic abuse than others.

Coming from a physically abusive home, get therapy, learn to understand your feelings and articulate them properly. Practice setting boundaries with safe people. Stop apologising to keep the peace. Fuck the peace.”

When asked to share her opinion, Jasmine*, shared the story of a friend whose life mirrors a lack of parental care.

In her words: “I really do think the way your parents treated you as a child is the way you show up for yourself in a relationship. If you’re used to abuse and have no other love map you will go for patterns you know how to navigate even though it’s not healthy for you. 

I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between marriage obsessed parents and their children who end up in physical relationships but I do know that there’s a whole lot of people with daddy and mummy issues that don’t actually check that before they go into a relationship and end up mirroring their parents.”

She went on to say: “I had a friend who had had anal sex with over 20 men before she was 18 and all of these men were over 30. Every single one of them. And I could tell this wasn’t because she wanted to but because she felt like she had to. She didn’t want to lose her vaginal virginity because of her mum but her first boyfriend who she loved very much in high school and had abused her profusely told her that it was fine and if she did it he’d love her. She hates anal! 

She’s never enjoyed sex with anyone and all these times she felt if she let these men touch her they’d love her. Each time we speak she says and I quote I knew what I was doing and even though I was SAd and in almost all of these situations she was SAd. Most of it she wasn’t cool with but she just soo badly wanted to be loved by a man because her father didn’t put enough love into her.

I do know that you need to form a love map for yourself. If you don’t, someone would smell your lack of self worth from a mile away and do the bare minimum and get all of who you are just because you don’t know the difference between real love for who you are and someone who would play you. Both men and women because if a person thinks they can take advantage of you they will.”

Blessing, a pharmacist and poet, shared how it almost played out in her life and she had to check herself before it got worse.

To quote her: “Thissss. Played out in my own life. Was desperate to get a family that actually liked me so I stayed in a shitty situationship until yawa gassed and he dumped me. I’m glad I escaped sha.

The dynamic is first, as an abused person you’re conditioned to fall for love bombing because you’re already operating from the mindset that you’re defective and do not deserve good treatment as a result. 

Secondly, leaving such relationships is so difficult because you don’t have any home support to run to. Also, you might compare it with where you’re coming from and think that this is just the usual. We are creatures of habit.

Finally, dealing with this trauma is hard because you don’t know which way is up. Whether you’re actually having bad behavior or if it’s old trauma popping up. There’s no easy answer but therapy is a good place to begin. I need to go sef.”

If charity begins at home like it is commonly said, then it can also be concluded that uncharitable acts towards women also begins at home.

It is imperative that the home is made a safe space for women and girls in order to avoid young girls ending up in negative settings because they are on a search for someone to fill a void only they can fill for themselves.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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