Teen Mom: Cycles of abuse, custody woes, toxic fighting

Last night’s Teen  Mom brought the usual drama — Farrah and her parents, Amber and Gary, Ryan and Maci — but was sprinkled with some happy vibes as Catelynn and Tyler got to talk to Carly on her first birthday, expressing that they were very happy that Carly was happy.

1. Dependency and Domestic Violence

Though Farrah and her mother’s relationship isn’t typically what comes to mind when one hears the phrase “domestic violence” (usually a man/woman come to mind, as in intimate partner violence), it carries all the tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship. Aside from the physical violence, the rollercoaster of emotions and the dependency that draws the abused person back to the relationship are classic and cyclical when it comes to domestic violence.

Farrah’s mom keeps a pull on Farrah by using her financial problems to her advantage, much like a male partner typically can do to an intimate female partner who relies on him for financial support. Farrah is not only working to support herself, Sophia, and get through school, but she also recently lost $3,000 after falling for a scam. This episode, Farrah’s mom offered to let her stay in the rental house across the street for cheap rent, also providing free baby-sitting when necessary.

Farrah acknowledges that her problems with her parents stemmed from them “trying to overcontrol” her, but she is easily lured to the cheap rent and free baby-sitting that goes with living across the street from her mom. This is textbook of an unhealthy, cyclical violent relationship because Farrah’s mom is using Farrah’s financial struggles to create a dependency — Farrah isn’t living near her mom because she wants to, but because it’s financially better.

Jumping back into the relationship is another textbook and unhealthy step in the path of domestic violence. In last week’s episode, after an intense therapy session, Farrah and her mom enjoyed a nice, civil lunch with baby Sophia. Whether because of the show’s editing or not, it seems like Farrah is now ready to jump back into the relationship with her mother right where it left off because of this one good encounter.

This can be dangerous and misleading — in abusive relationships, it’s common for there to be a rollercoaster of highs (there’s repentence, forgiveness, a honeymoon stage of being reunited) and then the subsequent lows (problems come back to the surface, fighting ensues, abuse happens again) because the problems are forgotten or pushed aside instead of addressed and resolved.

Personally, I think Farrah needs to live elsewhere if she can afford it — their relationship can’t honestly be fixed if she is also relying on her mother as landlord and childcare giver, because it’s something the mother holds over her head and can use as a means of control. Also, Farrah has her own issues to work out — like her inability to communicate, her instigating of fights, and her taking everything personally (even the car breaking down).

2. Staying Together for the Baby

I’ve addressed staying together for the sake of the child before when Ryan and Maci were having problems and their parents urged them to make it work for the sake of Bentley. Now, Amber is questioning whether she is settling for Gary because he is Leah’s father. “I’m not 100 percent sure I want to marry him,” Amber said. “I don’t want to live this life of regret. I don’t want to settle.”

Amber was trying on wedding dances, taking dancing lessons, and still she felt like something was wrong. Perhaps it was fueled by the blowout fight they had, but she’s got a point — if you’re not feeling totally committed to someone, should the baby always make you lean toward staying together? “If I didn’t have Leah, we would not be together,” Amber told Gary. Sure you want to try harder to make things work, but Amber and Gary’s relationship at times seems irreversibly toxic and full of resentment.

Kids are always better off in environments where their parents are happy, even if it means their parents being separated — at least having a custody schedule provides stability, which children need, unlike when Gary randomly leaves or gets kicked out of the house after a fight. Though Amber’s friend suggests that Gary is here to stay because he’s Leah’s dad, the old “well he’s always going to be in her life so you mineswell marry him” advice doesn’t make much sense in terms of quality of life and healthy environment for the child as s/he grows up.

Another problem with parents staying together “for the child” is that the child becomes a battleground/tool for the parents dislike of one other. They don’t like each other, and they use the child to get that point across, as Amber did when she told Gary to get his stuff and leave and then told Leah, “Daddy left you again.” You not only bring the child into a fight that’s only about the parents, but you cause emotional damage — if Leah were five and heard that, she wouldn’t know Amber was taking a swipe at Gary or that he got kicked out — she’d think her dad really was abandoning her without reason.

3. Custody, court, and ethical dilemmas

Maci decided that she was going to move to Nashville before Ryan could take her to court for joint custody of  Bentley, hoping to evade the 100-mile radius rule that would prevent her from moving there after Ryan took her to court (Maci currently lives in Chattanooga, 120 miles from Nashville, which would prevent her from moving to Nashville if the court ordered her to remain within 100 miles of Chattanooga).

There’s a dilemma here about how ethical it is that Maci skip town — mostly because she’s doing exactly what Ryan was worried about. Ryan was worried she would skip town and move away without having any ability to stop her, and here she proves just that — who knows if she would have even told Ryan, as he had to pry it out of her that she was moving to Nashville.

Maci seems so worried about Ryan getting joint custody, but I’m not sure why she is freaking out about it. Either she would prefer to have sole custody over Bentley, or she doesn’t want Ryan to have an equal amount of joint custody. It’s completely normal for the father to get some kind of joint custody, even if it’s just weekend visitation — all Ryan wants is something in writing so instead of Maci being the sole arbiter of custody decisions, the court is.

Something tells me Maci doesn’t believe people can change, but though she questions his changing level of involvement in Bentley’s life, she can’t change that he is Bentley’s father and has a right to see Bentley and be a part of his life. In other news, while I disagree with Maci picking up her life and moving to Nashville for Kyle, at least she isn’t moving in with him right away and recognizes the possibility it might not work out.

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One Response to “Teen Mom: Cycles of abuse, custody woes, toxic fighting”

  1. Julia Says:

    Teen Mom has defiantly been a show to talk about but seriously analyzing it has never been done before. At least from what I have seen. I think it does a lot of good. Talk about the show is a lot of times based on what the fights consisted of. The nasty words exchanged from Farrah and her mother or between Maci and Ryan. This looks directly at the issues. The bare bones of what is happening.
    Looking at it from this perspective can send a positive message. Teens will realize what unhealthy relationships a baby might bring into their lives. Unfortunately again talk is more focused on the surface. This doesn’t mean the image on the surface is good but it is certainly accepted.
    Teen Mom shows some of the struggle but is misrepresenting a lot as well. In the end, all of those teen mothers and children turn out ok. Not great, but ok. This is what needs to be addressed, a lot of the time this is not the case, a lot of times they end up completely alone and sometimes dead, orphaned on the street.

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