Often we encounter women who know they are being abused by their husbands, yet they are wracked with guilt as to what they should do for the sake of their children. When the abuse doesn’t appear to be directed at the children specifically, the victim may surmise that having a less than ideal family is better than disrupting the family unit through the process of church discipline, separation, or divorce.
But in abusive situations, your children ARE being abused. God designed the family unit to be the first community our children learn to engage in. Children discover their identities through family, finding security and significance through God’s constant presence in the sanctuary of the home.
But abuse disregards the sanctity of all that. When abuse reigns, your home becomes a haven for strife and confusion, where the God-given value of each of the occupants is discarded and violated. This is a breeding ground for insecurity, where children may in turn seek to find their value in the things of the world, rather than in their relationship with God.
And when that happens, the cycle of abuse continues in the next generation. This is how generational sin takes root, and is passed on. But it needn’t be that way.
“Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Doesn’t Work
Rather than confronting abuse, abused women may try to do their best to set a good example for their children in the home, hoping it will rub off on them. Some women may even attempt to coach children through abuse and teach them that what’s happening is wrong.
But permitting abuse to continue unchecked does not provide your children with a proper example of how a godly relationship works. Healthy behaviors are not being modeled for them, and they do not have the arena in which to practice these behaviors themselves. If subjected to an abusive environment for long enough, in adulthood children will often default to behaviors they have witnessed in the home, simply because they know of no other alternative.
Your kids are looking to you to show them what “normal” looks like in marriage. When your sons witness your husband’s habitual negligence and brutality, they are learning how to force their future wives to submit to them. When your daughters watch you “kiss and makeup” like nothing happened, they are learning to expect aggression and degradation from men (and to blame themselves for it).
Tina* stayed with an abusive husband until after her sons were grown, thinking she would have greater influence over their behavior if she remained in the home. She told us, "I thought I was doing the right thing by staying. All that did was turn the boys into their father."
Protecting Children from the Generational Sin of Abuse
Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record an instance in their Gospels during which Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the presence of a small child. During this account, He told them, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42 ESV).
As mothers, we are responsible for teaching our children to avoid sin. If a child sins or disobeys, we provide consequences. If their friends get into trouble, we talk with them about avoiding similar choices. So why do we allow our husbands' sins to go unnoticed, that they would in turn devour our children in our very homes?
Mama, if you are not addressing your husband's sin, then you risk propagating it. You cannot presume that you can "quarantine" your husband and that his evil ways will not infect your children. His sins are prone to take root and spread, with dire consequences for your children and their children. These are the consequences of our fallen world, that the "iniquities of the fathers" are visited on "the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 20:5 and 34:7)
Carrie* was married to an abuser who had both an abusive father and grandfather. "It became painfully obvious that by staying around, their wives were essentially condemning grandchildren and great-grandchildren they'd never even meet to suffer the same fate. Generational sin is real, and it is up to us (the victims) to confront it."
Trust us when we say your children notice. They may be too young to tell you. They may be afraid to tell you, for fear that their father will find out. Or they may not realize that living in a home full of contention and bitterness is not normal. If your husband is not protecting your children from his sin, you must.
The Road to Healing
When Sandra* finally decided to seek help and separate from her abusive husband, she sought therapy for her children. When her 11 year old daughter asked about the reasons for the divorce, Sandra explained that it was important that the children grow up in a healthy family with good examples of how adults can solve problems without fighting. Her daughter tearfully said, "I don't have that. I don't know how to do that."
Many women in abusive relationships dream of a day when their husband will be miraculously healed. A day when their children can see that with enough faith and prayer, God can fix anything. And while nothing is impossible for God, if you don't get out of the way to allow your husband to experience the consequences of his actions, you may be impeding that healing.
While we can't tell you what the right course of action is for you, seek help to break the cycle of abuse. It is the right thing for yourself, your kids, and even your husband. Learn about your options by speaking with an abuse counselor and take precautions to proceed safely.
Grace to you, sister. You are not alone.
Do you have a story of breaking generational sin? Please post a comment and encourage your sisters in Christ.
*Names have been changed. **Agape Moms posts are anonymous to protect the identities of the contributors. If you would like to contribute an encouraging story of overcoming marital abuse, please visit our Contact Page.