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Sara Evans' Daughter Shares Family's Reaction to Mom Reconciling with Jay Barker After His Arrest (Exclusive)

The country star's husband was arrested in January 2022 and later sentenced to probation on a reckless endangerment charge

<p>Jason Davis/WireImage</p> Audrey Evans and Sara Evans at the CMA Awards in November.

Jason Davis/WireImage

Audrey Evans and Sara Evans at the CMA Awards in November.

For years, Sara Evans went to lengths to shield her three children from the abuse she says she endured from husband Jay Barker.

When they eventually learned what their mother had been through, her kids were in “complete shock,” Evans' daughter Audrey, 19, tells PEOPLE. But now — after a 2021 divorce filing and Barker’s 2022 arrest — the family has turned a new leaf, and Evans, 53, and Barker, 51, have reconciled.

“I feel like him realizing that he potentially lost his entire family made him realize that he has to get his act together,” Audrey says. “I feel like it’s more of a hopeful energy from him.”

Evans — who discussed the timeline of events on the first episode of her new podcast Diving in Deep with Sara Evans — maintains that her children (including son Avery, 24, and daughter Olivia, 21, with ex-husband Craig Schelske) were entirely unaware of Barker’s behavior and never even knew the couple had issues until they separated in 2021.

But tensions within the family came to a head in January 2022, when Barker was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly tried to hit a car Evans was riding in with his own as she returned home from a party. He later entered a best interest plea and traded the charge down to a misdemeanor reckless endangerment charge, and was put on probation. (Evans told PEOPLE she believes he was only “backing up to see if I was in the car with somebody.”)

Related: Why Sara Evans Is Asking for 'Benefit of the Doubt' After Reconciling with Husband: 'People Are Going to Be Mad' (Exclusive)

Taylor Hill/Getty Jay Barker and Sara Evans at the CMA Awards in 2019.
Taylor Hill/Getty Jay Barker and Sara Evans at the CMA Awards in 2019.

After extensive therapy, the couple eventually reconciled, and Barker moved back into the family’s home late last year. Evans is set to chronicle the difficult journey on her forthcoming album Unbroke (out June 7), which is her first album of new material in seven years.

Audrey says that upon returning home, Barker’s behavior has been “a complete switch, like he altered his brain chemistry almost.”

“In past times, you could see something that would trigger him or make him mad, and all of a sudden he was quiet, and you could see little looks around the room,” she says. “Now, he’s completely switched his overall energy. When somebody’s teasing him, instead of getting mad about it, it’s more of a laugh or like a, ‘You’re right.’ I’ve seen tiny steps like that throughout the past year of seeing a totally different man as a fatherly figure.”

She also says that watching her mom finally share her story with the world has been “interesting,” as she’s been able to see “the growth that comes with it.”

“You go from being in that position and you feel stuck. Then you leave the situation and you end up being sad. Then you feel free,” she says. “Then coming to terms with whether she wanted to stay or leave.”

Related: Sara Evans Reveals She and Husband Jay Barker Are Back Together After Divorce, 2022 Arrest: 'We're So Happy Now'

Evans maintains that she has “never done anything to put my kids in harm’s way” and says her children only ever knew “sweet, loving Daddy Jay.”

Amanda Stylianou, an anti-violence expert and CEO of HEAL Trafficking, says it’s common for victims of abuse to keep their loved ones from their experiences, like Evans did, as some “fear that they will burden their family with added stress,” and others “want their children to have a healthy relationship with their partner.”

She adds that abuse is a “continuum,” with lower severity and higher severity, and that at the end of the day, it’s the survivor who knows “what their needs are and what they want. They need to be the ones then to make the best decision for themselves and for the kids.”

Stylianou also notes that change is in fact possible, and that those "who acknowledge their abusive behavior, take accountability for their behavior, and actively seek support can transform their actions."

<p>Andy Baxter</p> Sara Evans

Andy Baxter

Sara Evans

“This is my marriage. It’s my situation. I’m married to a wonderful man who did imperfect things. I’m a great person who is also imperfect. That was our choice to get better and heal. No one should make their decisions based on me,” Evans told PEOPLE. “This is very scary because, again, people are going to be mad. [But] I hope that most people will give me the benefit of the doubt and give Jay the benefit of the doubt and just take me at my word that this is the right decision for me.”

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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