Living in a home where there is domestic violence is devastating for everyone that lives there. It can be especially traumatic for children caught in the middle of the abuse, witnessing and often becoming a victim of the emotional and physical abuse occurring between their parents. When domestic violence becomes a fixture in the household there are no longer role models to demonstrate how a healthy relationship should look. Often the abused parent must pick up the pieces, perhaps try to explain away what has just occurred or instill some understanding of the abusive parent's actions. Parenting for the abused parent becomes increasingly more difficult and at times even nonexistent.
Good parenting requires that parents work together; that they do not undermine each other. Good parents must sometimes make sacrifices, and be willing to put the needs of the children ahead of their own. Batterers seek to dominate their households and control their families. Typically, they will insist that their needs come first. While they may love their children and display strengths as fathers, these qualities of control and entitlement make them seriously flawed parents.
In their book "The Batterer as Parent," Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman identify the following qualities of partner-abusing fathers:
1. Authoritarian: They can be rigid and intolerant, are unwilling to negotiate or accept feedback, and often view children as their personal possessions.
2. Irresponsible, Neglectful and/or Under Involved: Batterers expect the rewards of parenting without the challenges and sacrifices. They often have unreasonable expectations of their children due to a lack of knowledge of their developmental needs.
3. Self-Centered: They lack empathy for family members and expect children to meet their needs.
4. Manipulative: Batterers blame partners for their own destructive behavior and create confusion in children regarding who is responsible for the abuse. Batterers may have superdad episodes where they lavish attention and money on their children in an effort to look and feel good and make their partners look worse by comparison.
5. Undermining the Mother and Using Children against Her: Abusers criticize and over-rule their partners' parenting in front of their children and foster the children's lack of respect for her. They may require children to report on their mother, or threaten to harm or abduct them if she fails to obey him.
6. Ability to Perform Well under Observation: They are typically successful at appearing to others be good parents, including at supervised visitation and in contacts with professionals. This positive performance often elicits a warm response from children, who are eager for their fathers' nurturing attention and know that with surveillance comes safety.
The consequence is that the abuser's poor parenting increases the trauma for children witnessing domestic violence. Children may adopt the abuser's values, suffer painfully conflicting feelings about their parents, exhibit emotional and behavioral problems, and blame themselves for the abuse.
Women who are abused may find themselves overwhelmed by attempting to survive on a day-to-day basis, while at the same time trying to provide sufficient care to children who are likely to be exhibiting their own symptoms of distress. These demands can sometimes lead to depression for a victim or other health problems. They sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with what is happening. Considering these facts, it is understandable that an abused parent may have difficulty meeting their children's needs. This ensures further strain on the relationship between non-offending parent and child and increases the likelihood a child will display emotional and behavioral problems.
When children display behavior problems outside of the home, it is not uncommon for the primary blame to be placed on to the abused parent. They are often made to feel guilty and/or shamed into believing they are bad parents.
The truth is, all battered mothers make efforts that they think will protect their children, minimize further violence, and lessen the impact of living with domestic abuse. These mothers are faced with limited choices, and are often left to choose the better of several bad choices. Efforts by battered mothers to protect their children may be difficult to understand or assess. Their protective actions may be invisible to observers, difficult to understand, or may look like poor parenting. In addition, battered mothers may be reluctant to explain themselves to outsiders, fearing that the abuser will retaliate or that others will misunderstand their behavior and take action against them.
Parenting is challenging enough without the threat of abuse from one's partner. Those that suffer from this day-to-day occurrence of violence find everyday a struggle to function as normal as possible, feeling there is nowhere else to turn. If you feel you or someone you know is suffering in this manner please call Project Hope's 24-hour confidential hotline at 1-877-966-4357.