How surviving an abusive relationship is changing the way I raise my son.

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"I can’t help but stare as you lay there sleeping, son. You’re mesmerizing. I want to spend the precious hours of your infancy memorizing the curves of your face, the way your still small hands reach for mine. I know they won’t always.

Because I know that little boys don’t keep. One day, maybe not so many days from now, you will be a man. And while you’ll always be mine, I know a season will come when I’ll have to share your heart.

For years, I’ve been praying for the man who you will become, and maybe more specifically, I pray about the man you won’t be.

For years, I’ve been praying for the man who you will become, and maybe more specifically, I pray about the man you won’t be.

Sweet boy, there’s a type of man that sadly does exist in this world, and my wish for you is to be everything different from him.

There was a season in my life, long before you, long before your daddy, when your mama was a different person. You wouldn’t recognize the me I was (most days, I thank God for that). I didn’t know what I was worth, and I spent my minutes and hours, days and weeks, and far too many months with someone who did their best to make me believe my worth was very, very little.

The first time it happened was in front of my mother. And I’ll never forget the look in her eyes, her head swinging slowly side to side in disbelief. In that moment, I saw all the ways a mother’s heart could break. She wanted more for her girl, as I would want more for you. She was shocked, heartbroken, and I could tell she felt helpless in the situation. Now, in hindsight, as a mother, I can only imagine how that moment must have hurt her, probably more than it hurt me. With the swing of his open hand, someone I loved took away my ability to feel safe and left me with more than just flaming red indentions in my skin.

The excuses he made were infinite. He didn’t “hit me in my face,” it was just another part of me, so it "doesn’t count." I “deserved it.” I “shouldn’t have pushed him.” And I bought every one of his irrational rationalizations. I was small. And the fear that controlled my life seemed so very, very big.

Nearly a decade later, life looks so different. God is good and merciful. My people, now yours, showed up and helped me see the light that once shined within me had been extinguished. And I decided it was time to fight like hell to get it back. Because when you’re given a light to shine through your life, you NEVER give someone else the power to douse your flame. And though you may have the ability to tear someone else down, the true mark of a man is in his ability to NOT use that power.

What you can (and should) do is look for the light in the hearts of others, and do everything in your power to encourage them to shine brighter.

It’s been months since you arrived, sweet boy, and I’m still wrapping my head around the miracle of your life, how after years of prayer and nine months of forming you within me, you lay here asleep on my chest. You are the brightest light in a world full of darkness. I know what an honor and a challenge it will be to raise you to be a good man, but I decided long before you took your first breath to make it my life’s work to teach you kindness, compassion, justice, humility, and bravery.

Be kind. Words are some of the most powerful weapons, much more so than many give them credit for. Use yours for good. Guard your tongue, be slow to anger. Remember that the girl you’re speaking to maybe someone’s future mother and ask yourself if you’d want someone speaking to your mama that way.

Guard your tongue, be slow to anger.

Your hands are a gift, love. Use them for good. Work hard, but stay humble. A grateful man is a treasure, a man too boastful-a thorn. Under no circumstances do you have the right to touch anyone else’s body without permission, in love or in anger.

That season changed me in unimaginable ways, and I’d like to think many were for the better, especially because I feel better equipped to raise a man in today’s world. The woman I am today…I fought hard to become her. I pray you will become a man who will respect the women in your life. That if you were to ever love a girl, you would allow her wings to stretch far and wide and never fear that in her becoming more, you would become less."

 

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I'm Nikki Santerre, owner and lead photographer of Nikki Santerre Photography. I'm a self proclaimed "Heirloom Curator," a fine art hybrid photographer who travels across the country to document and celebrate marriage and the intimacy of motherhood.  If I'm not behind my film camera, you can find me writing for some of my favorite publications, educating photographers, advocating for families struggling with fertility, or spending time with my husband and our precious miracle baby, Mason.

 
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