Mom's been arrested and I need to keep her fallout from affecting me.
March 4, 2009 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Mom's been arrested, what do I do. Long story follows.

I've been having problems with my mother for a long time - though my problems with her culminated in her arrest. She picked a fight with my father over the smallest topic - a project for a class that I'm in while I'm taking a year off (I'm a 20-year-old university student) - and she started beating up on my father. I had to physically restrain her and force both of them apart, and at least I can physically restrain her. After repeated attempts to let her arm free and trust her not to hit my father with her fists, purse, and hairbrush, I told her I'd call the police, and I did. She is now away on a restraining order, and I have probably irrevocably fucked up my interactions with her. There's no question that she deserved what she got and that she's a consistent perpetrator of abuse against my father.

I'm still frightened out of my wits. She's emotionally manipulative, and she isn't aware it's her fault (she claims my father provoked her - she threw the punches, not Dad) , and the greater problem is that I think she's either intentionally or unintentionally been trying to emotionally wear me down. It does not help that her entire family is even worse than she is; I can't talk to any of them about this because they're all batshit. Also, my entire support network, except for one parent, is not in the same physical location, so I feel like shit.

Also, my tuition may be in jeopardy.

I am figuratively shitting myself about this, and it requires significant effort to think straight; I talk to a therapist and am consulting her about things to do to deal with this, but I need immediate advice and reassurance. As I write this, I am trying not to cry, and I should be in bed because I have class tomorrow, but I can't sleep.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From the picture you paint it seems like both you and your father would be well rid of your mother and her side of the family.
The tuition issue sucks, but I think you need to consider your physical and mental health (and that of your father's) first.
You say you're scared. Has she ever been physically abusive toward you?
posted by brevator at 7:32 AM on March 4, 2009

You did the right thing by coming to your father's defense. Whatever the fallout and ramifications of that choice are, take assurance that you did the right thing.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:38 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

First of all, you need to realize that you did the right thing for both of your parents. Your mom will never have the chance to learn any different behaviors if she is not forced to see that her behavior is wrong. This is the only way that there can be a chance that the abusive dynamic in your family will change.

I recently dealt with a similar situation - my 39 year old brother hit my 70 year old mother in the face, broke her window, and stole her ATM card. When I finally found out about it, I talked my mom into calling the police and getting a warrant issued for his arrest. Of course, as often happens in these situations, he wiggled his way back into her good graces and the charges were dropped.

These situations are terrifying, disgusting, infuriating and ultimately frustrating. There is really nothing you can do to make your mother understand that what she is doing is wrong, nor is there anything that can be done to prevent your father from taking her right back and letting the cycle start all over again. There are two sides to continued abuse - both parties need to do a lot of work to break the cycle.

You really need support right now. Even if your friends aren't close by, can you call them? Are there any support groups that your therapist can recommend? Also, I strongly urge you to not depend on your father for support right now, it will become apparent that he has his own agenda and in the long run may not support you in your efforts to keep your mother from hitting him. Do not speak to your mother until you feel strong enough to stick to your boundaries.

I wish I could crawl through the internet and give you a big hug. This isn't easy at any age, and you need to take care of yourself first. You didn't cause this, you can't fix it, and you can't control what your family does - please try and remember this.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:45 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you have an RA or other immediate advisor on campus? Does your campus have a crisis hotline? Those people exist to help you in situations of exactly this magnitude (whether you're an on campus student or you live at home). Your therapist can help you with your own emotional needs, but those people can help you work through tuition issues and can liaise with professors so they know you're going through a tough time right now.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:48 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You did the right thing. Abuse is wrong, and the police are the people to deal with it, so good for you for turning it over to them.

It sounds like you need more reassurance than practical advice at this point. Talk to your therapist, call your closest friends and any good relatives you have. And let your feelings about this settle. This just happened, and it'll take time for you to process it.

If your mother formerly paid for your tuition and now probably won't be, look into financial aid, earning money, or other ways you can finance your education. You don't have to do anything about actually doing anything immediately, just do some research and figure out what your options are. You don't ever want to be financially dependent on an abusive, manipulative person — you want to be able to leave the relationship if you need to without having to worry about survival.
posted by orange swan at 7:49 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this has just happened and you may still be experiencing the acute stress response in the aftermath. Of course you can't think or sleep! There is probably adrenaline coursing all through you; you're geared up for fighting or flighting right now. Once you get through this crisis period (say, in the light of tomorrow morning), you might be able to see more clearly and be able to evaluate your practical options if your mom decides to cut off your tuition or otherwise retaliate.

Physical abuse is NEVER right or ok, and you did the right thing for yourself at the time in calling the police; but it's possible that your dad is willing to put up with her behavior for any number of motivations.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your father is important. Is your dad sick or frail or otherwise unable to defend himself, or otherwise somehow dependent and unable to walk away from the relationship? Talk to him about what happened, and your intervening with physical restraint of your mom and calling of the police. It is possible that he would prefer that things not go in that direction in the future. There are lots of reasons that a spouse tolerates abuse.

You might not be able to get her to stop her abuse of your dad, and doing so is NOT on your shoulders. I grew up with physical abuse in my house, and for a long time I felt like I was to blame for not having stopped it somehow. Yeah, a little girl getting her 300+ lb dad to stop acting out during a rage storm. But having grown up and moved out of that house, I've come to realize that it's not my job to protect my mom. She is responsible for herself, and even though I cannot fathom her decisions, they are hers to make.

Also, it is NOT your job to get your mom to see reason and start behaving rationally. Her lack of reason and rationality sounds like a major part of the problem. Reasonable people do not hit other people with hairbrushes. Her emotional problems are beyond what you as her child can take on or fix or solve.

I don't know what your situation is, or your dad's -- if he is dependent or unable to care for himself, then it's a whole other issue -- but this sounds like a long-standing dynamic within your family. It's good that you have a therapist to unload some of this with -- carrying around such a burden is emotionally exhausting, especially on top of dealing with your mom's emotional manipulation.
posted by tentacle at 8:13 AM on March 4, 2009

You are a good person and you did the right thing. What your mom or her psycho side of the family think of you is only relevant in the sense that their disapproval means you are doing something right.

I know that you are concerned with some short-term drawbacks to what you did, but it augurs well for you when you are 25, 30, 40, 100: good people really do live better, happier lives.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:15 AM on March 4, 2009


As I write this, I am trying not to cry, and I should be in bed because I have class tomorrow, but I can't sleep.

That's normal, it's adrenaline, and it's happened because you were so admirably brave.

You may also find yourself shivering uncontrollably despite not being cold; feeling an urge to jump up and down, run around, or do other energetic things; feeling hot despite being in a situation where you would normally feel cold; and/or being unable to stop thinking about the event. All these things are normal too.

Admittedly you won't be feeling your best tomorrow morning, but everyone has the occasional bad day, and you're more than justified in calling your day a bad day.

Also, my tuition may be in jeopardy.

Should this happen, if you contact your university's counselling service and tell them what you have told us they may be able to arrange hardship funding or a reduction in your fees.
posted by Mike1024 at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2009

Warm hugs to you. You're facing a lot right now and you're taking some good steps already to make thing better for yourself.

Talking to your therapist is good, but now's the time to gather additional resources. Anything and everything and everyone who may be of help to you should be contacted in the morning. Right now, you are still in shock and afraid of the unknown. Understandable.

Make a list. Write down a column of things you are afraid may happen. On the other side, write down any and all brainstorms of solutions. For example: You fear that tuition may be cut = Solutions are financial aid, part-time work, etc. You fear what may happen if your Mom strikes again = solution, talk to the authorities about remedies.

Somehow, I find that when I actually write down my fears, even if they seem minor, it gives me the grace to acknowledge them as valid and a small step towards finding a solution.

Remember that you have to look out for yourself first. No matter what. And, other folks are available to step up and give you a hand.
posted by mightshould at 8:30 AM on March 4, 2009

Doing the right thing is always the hardest thing in domestic violence situations. If peramently stopping the violence is the right thing, then engaging with law enforcement and bringing the power of the courts to bear in the situation is the right thing, because that's what gets not only an immediate result but also creates a lasting shift in the power dynamic between the abuser and the abused. However, the reason most domestic violence situations drag on at the risk of the abused party is that many abused parties simply cannot muster the force of will to go through with and then maintain this agreement with the court. Many abused parties willfully violate their own protection orders, choosing to seek out their abuser and reengage them at the risk of being found in contempt by the court for doing so.

So realize that what you've done is possibly the hardest thing for someone to do in a family relationship. There are thousands who have shared in your struggle. Many of those who have been through this struggle work as advocates assisting people who are currently struggling with it. If you can locate the number for your local 24 hour domestic violence hotline, you can talk to them whenever you need to.
posted by The Straightener at 8:31 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the original poster:
- How do I help protect Dad - and Mom - if they're in danger again? My father told me that, had I not physically separated them and Mom had drawn blood, he would have probably beat her, which is something he's not proud of, but makes me afraid for both their safety.

- I'm off campus and visiting my folks right now.

- I'm going to start writing down things I can do and save it to a password-protected file, just in case Mom snoops on my computer.

- Dad is physically stronger than Mom is. I'm female, if that makes any difference when thinking about defending myself physically.

- This warm feeling is normal? Hm. I'm also sick with the flu, so maybe that's why I'm so warm. Incidentally, it was Mom's fault I'm sick.

- She's going to have a criminal trial. Where can I find information about a first offense charge of assault and battery against a household member? If it's possible, I may speak up during the trial to recommend she be forced to go to anger management.
posted by mathowie at 8:53 AM on March 4, 2009

You need to speak with a domestic violence advocate in your area who is familiar with the local landscape of social services and legalities. Someone with this knowledge will be able to refer your parents to support and treatment. I think you've reached the limits of what's possible to acheive anonymously online, you now need to pick up a phone and speak to a human being.
posted by The Straightener at 9:12 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have probably irrevocably fucked up my interactions with her.

No. She has fucked up her interactions with you. Don't forget that, no matter what she says. This is NOT your fuck-up.

I agree with The Straightener. Talk to a domestic violence advocate, a women's shelter/hotline, or counselors from your university who can direct you to them.

Are you afraid of your father too? Is there anywhere else you can stay? It's not responsible to put their safety above your own. If your parents fight again and your dad does hit her, that's his fault, NOT YOURS.
posted by heatherann at 9:25 AM on March 4, 2009 [8 favorites]

You're an adult (perhaps the only one in your family), and you handled the situation like an adult. Now take the next step into adulthood: leave.

You think you need your parents for tuition $$ -- you don't. Put yourself through school by working summers as I and many thousands of others have done. It sucks, but it's the price we pay for having fucked up families.

Get out on your own. Take a year off from school if you need to. Take care of yourself and stop relying on abusers (your father is one, too, or he wouldn't subject his child to this).

Good luck.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:24 PM on March 4, 2009

First off: you did the right thing. It's scary, but you had to do it. Not just for you, but for your family as well. Your dad admitting to you that it would have gone physical if you hadn't been there is a pretty strong indication of just how turbulent this environment has been.

Can you talk to your mother's family for any kind of support, financial or otherwise? Or are they closing ranks around you? What about your dad's family?

It sounds like things are very fresh right now, and emotions are still running high. Caring parents and family members do not do things like pull tuition over something like this. Right now, there's bound to be a lot of anger about this. But it may well change when you tell your family how scary your mom (and dad) have been.

See a financial aid counselor and explain the situation. If they do actually withdraw financial support, your school should and will be able to help.

Is there anyplace you can stay, if you're afraid of your dad? Can you go back to campus?

Sending you my best wishes, and my sincere admiration. And yes, a big reassuring mug of hot chocolate as well. You have a lot to be proud of, though you may not see it right now. You're doing something to make a difference to not just you but your family as a whole.
posted by Grrlscout at 12:33 PM on March 4, 2009

Yes, totally go to a financial aid counselor and explain your situation. I got kicked out of my home 4 months before school started and they found me housing and loans. You don't need your parents' financial help.

Talk to a women's shelter and explain what happened. They will know what to do for you, PTSD-wise, and what options your father will have should he choose to press charges, etc.

Also, if your parents are this violent, they either need counseling or divorce or both -- a trial separation would be the sanest thing at the very least.

I come from a violent background and have picked my mother up from the hospital on numerous occasions, but only let her stay with me once. Violence can escalate, and it can turn to you, so as a fellow female, don't put yourself in the destructive path; they are adults, you are not their parent. Do NOT let yourself become your parents' caretaker while you are in college. This is easier than it sounds.

If you can see a counselor on campus, especially one that is provided by the school, talk to someone if you can. Just having an impartial person to dump on that isn't a friend or relative is immensely beneficial -- you can open up to a stranger who will respect your privacy and get unbiased advice. There may be something provided through the university health program or nurse or whatever -- please talk to someone. Holding in this stress can keep you sick; take care of yourself.

As far as charges go, that may depend on where you live. My stepfather beat my mother unconscious many, many times and was arrested many, many times and has never been to jail more than overnight, nor been sentenced, not even probation. It may be a matter of your father pressing charges; The Straightener would know about that than I would, but I have a restraining order myself and it does work both ways, at least for me... I am not to contact the other person, nor is he to contact me. Not so easy when you're married, though, until you're divorced.

I am sorry you are going through this, but if the proper steps are not taken, this will escalate, you will get dragged into it and eventually become numb to the cycle of abuse. Don't let this break you; don't let it destroy your academic future. Your life is yours -- best of luck to you in dealing with this difficult situation.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:21 PM on March 4, 2009

Mod note: Another followup from anonymous.

- I pay about $30,000 of tuition per year since I'm out of state (my university's halfway across the country!). This will make saving up harder. Are loans the only way to go, or should I consider moving in-state as a final defense? Also, my grades were shit last semester and the semester or two before as a result of depression and anxiety, which have been pretty much treated, so maybe dealing with financial aid might be difficult - can you give me any ideas for this?

- I do not think Dad is going to start beating the crap out of me. Goodness knows Mom will consider doing it when she gets back from her 96-hour restraining order, but I am fully willing to call the police on her again.

- Mom's family's fairly batshit, and she's talked to them; I'm strongly suspecting she's poisoned the water. There are only two members of her family I feel comfortable talking to.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2009

They might just be showing loyalty to your mom, particularly if the violence has gone both ways between them. If she's batshit, though, you will not have been the first family member to realise that. Talk to the ones you know for a fact are sane, and ask them to help mediate with your mom's family. If you feel up to talking to the rest of your family, then do so. You're still family to them, regardless of what's happened with your mom. Your mom is threatening you with losing your place in her family to keep you in line.

Talk to them. But not until you're ready and you feel safe. In the meantime, though, talk to a counselor. They can give you advice on residency, etc. I went to a large public university in southern CA with a massive undergrad body - not a very touchy feely institution on the face of it. They still maintained a kind of discretionary loan/grant fund for kids in just your situation. If you're at a private school, your resources might even be greater. Your school might also be able to refer you to a free (or almost free) therapist within the institution. Is there a women's centre at your school? Talk to them, as well.

And hold your head high, girl. You did an incredible thing!
posted by Grrlscout at 12:25 AM on March 5, 2009

Piling on with the big hugs. It must be pretty heart-wrenching. They're your parents and should be the one keeping you safe and here you are, a 20 years old and super-parentified, doing your best to keep everybody safe. Exhausting. And I don't take the "you're an adult and the only adult in the situation" argument. Your folks are both adults and your parents, and they hurt themselves and hurt you. That they act immaturely does not absolve them of their parental duties and they both failed you. Her/their fallout is already affecting you. I'm so sorry. You deserve more than that and really sound as if you've been working hard to better yourself both emotionally and academically.

I feel where you're coming from, to an extent. I've called the cops on my folks -- my mom was swinging a wood shelf at my dad and throwing his stuff out the window onto our lawn -- when I was 17 and still living at home. The situation was different and no arrests were made. Mom was violent, but it takes (at least) two to tango. After that, i walked out of the house if i felt a fight coming on, or if one was there. I saw it was a system that i was sucked into. Dad would blow up at mom and mom would blow up worse -- and physically. They still had me triangulated because it would still force me to leave and worry, but I couldn't be my parent's hero from themselves.

You have the right to leave a situation that is violent or threatening. So does your father. and your mother. And, yes, if you're physically barred from doing so, then yes, 911 is who you call.

I'm guessing things are feeling really heated right now (as well as you're feeling hot from the flu -- poor girl!). Everything might feel like it's immediate and intense and all these radical shifts -- like tuition and legal stuff -- all have to be totally dealt with right now and some might... but situations evolve and this one can, too.

You may find you want to live in your university's state, or find you meet the in-state requirements mostly already. Or fake it if you need to, which is easier to do if you live off-campus. And you very well may be able to get increased financial assistance from your school, as my cousin recently did at a Tier 1 private university under different circumstances but bottom line of asshole parent rescinding funding. I have full confidence that you will find ways to make things work in your particular situation.

As for keeping mom and dad safe in the future? I feel you and just want to give you big big hugs all day. In my opinion, you can't and it's very much not your job or place. They are adults and have made a series of choices -- to cohabitate (I assume) and to raise you, among other things. They are responsible for their actions and their decisions. In my opinion, it would be in their own interest to seek help for anger management and exit strategies. You cannot control their behavior or feelings.

All my best to you and your prospective positive self-advocacy. You're welcome to mefi-mail me anytime.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 8:59 AM on March 5, 2009

One starting place might be a victims advocacy office, if your community has one. They will at the minimum have a phone list of resources you can contact.
posted by dhartung at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2009

All of my "additional" financial aid was in the form of loans, but they deferred the interest until I graduated as it was for housing only. See what options Financial Aid has for you; grades might not be an issue, esp. if you are out-of-state. I had a few scholarships but lost one due to bad grades, but it had no bearing whatsoever on my loan status. I'm pretty sure most schools require you to reside there for 6 months to a year before you can get in-state tuition; again, this is a good question for the Aid dept. people.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2009

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