Stories > My husband is hitting our daughter—who can help?

My husband’s abuse towards our first daughter started even before she was barely a year old.  He clearly had lots of problems managing his own frustration and didn’t seem to know how to discipline kids appropriately.  He often yelled at her and spanked her when she was little.  This sort of violence continued until my daughter was in sixth grade.

One incident that comes to my mind is when my daughter was about five or six years old.  On the living room couch, my husband was trying to pull out one of her teeth which was shaking badly.  My daughter was obviously scared and didn’t want to do it.  Although I knew he was getting impatient with her, I decided not to intervene at that moment since it usually made things worse.  I heard my daughter crying and my husband’s frustrated voice.  And suddenly my daughter started to cry even louder.  I remained in my bedroom.  My husband went out shortly afterwards, so I came out to see if my daughter was okay.  When I asked her what happened, she simply said, “Dad hit me.”  “Where?” I asked.  She pointed her finger to her face.  When I saw the mark of his hand across her face, I became furious.

The pattern was always the same.  He would tell our daughter to do something or bring him something.  If she didn’t do it immediately, he would get upset.  Then, he would shout and tell her again.  If she complained or tried to explain why she couldn’t do it, he got angry and accused her of talking back to him.  Then he hit her.  It tended to get worse if I tried to intervene or if my daughter even looked at me.

One evening, my husband and I were having an argument about the time he hit her when he was trying to pull her tooth.  We were arguing in the car on the way back from church.  He kept insisting that he didn’t hit her at all.  I became so angry that I got out of the car and walked away.  I later called my friend to come and pick me up.  In the meantime, I later found out that he told my oldest daughter that everything was her fault.  He blamed her for my leaving the family that evening.  This had a serious impact on my daughter; she still remembers his exact words years later.

I returned home that night and again got into an argument with my husband who shouted that he didn’t hit her.  I thought about the next step, and I started to break things in the kitchen.  The next day, I cut all of his shoes with scissors.

I then decided to call my father, my husband’s older sister, and a mutual good friend/mentor.  I called my father and my husband’s older sister in order to reach out to the person in authority on each side of the family.  They called him separately and confronted him.  This was my attempt to make him somehow accountable for his behaviour.  I also called our mutual friend/mentor whom he respects, hoping that this might have an impact on him in the long run.

My father called my husband and told him that it was wrong to hit a child and that it shouldn’t happen again.  When our friend/mentor heard what had happened, he came over to our home right away.  He saw my daughter’s face and confronted my husband about his hitting.  My husband was clearly upset and embarrassed.

In the meantime, I told my daughter that it wasn’t her fault and told her and my son not to worry if they hear loud voices.  My goal that night was really making him feel sorry for what he did so that any future abuse can be prevented or greatly reduced.

It wasn’t like I had a plan for that sort of situation.  I had to think hard and fast to do all the things I could so that his behaviour would stop.  Although the people I called were supportive and did what they can to let him know how wrong it was to hit a child, I doubted that it would have a long lasting effect on him.  I acted on my instincts and attempted to involve more people.  What I was thinking all along, however, was that it is necessary for him to experience a more profound change within him to really change.

When my father, his sister and our friend/mentor called, my husband initially denied hitting our daughter.  He was angry with me for telling other people.  He said I was “making a big deal out of nothing.”  As they continued to confront him, his denial slowly disappeared.  He was upset at the fact that I had contacted several people, but became more embarrassed over time.

The intervention helped.  He did stop hitting our daughter after that time, but the profound changes didn’t come until later.  Two things seemed to make the deepest impact.  First, one of his friends shared his own story about how his grown up daughter wants to maintain distance with him because of his verbal and physical abuse towards her while growing up.  This personal sharing had a big impact on my husband who always wanted to have close relationships with his kids.  Second, my husband experienced a spiritual breakthrough, and he began to look at different parts of his life.  He has changed so much since then.

Looking back, I think that one of the major impacts of my interventions was that my oldest daughter felt more secure and safe at home knowing that I would never overlook her dad’s violent behaviour.   Although it took many more years before my husband was able to control his temper and stop violent behaviour, my husband did realise that I will not stand for it if he treats our children in an abusive way.

I think that any kind of intervention is important.  It may not stop the violence from happening again, but it almost always helps children.