When a father is abusive, children can be closer to their mother, and even be very protective of her. However, the effects of abuse, and children’s strategies to cope, can sometimes result in an apparent closer bond with the abusive parent.
Even more bewildering, both for the victimised parent and custody evaluators, is that children’s coping strategies can induce them to reject their non-abusive parent altogether.
How abuse affects children’s views
Abusive men typically manipulate their children in a number of ways, deliberately shaping their opinions of both their parents.
Children hear their father’s criticism and contempt of their mother, and gradually absorb his view. Behaviours and events are interpreted to encourage the children to blame their mother and minimise the abuse.
Undermining is a common tactic, eg abuisve fathers can be particularly attentive and entertaining with the children immediately after abusing their mother.
Abusers often cast themselves as victim, so if the father is arrested or the mother initiates separation, for example, the children can feel sorry for him, and angry with their mother.
Children learn that abuse is justified and the mother is at fault, and can even join in with the abuse.
How abuse damages the mother/child relationship
Children can have mixed emotions towards an abusive father: sometimes he may be more lenient or fun than their mother, and at other times he may be angry or violent.
Children can feel they are only able to express their difficult emotions with their mother, and can therefore exhibit emotional and bevhavioural difficulties with her, whilst appearing well behaved with their father.
Children do not understand how the complexities of abuse undermine their mother’s ability to care for, and protect, them, and can express anger and aggression towards her.
How children’s coping strategies can cause them to reject their mother
Siding with the father, and distancing themselves from their mother, both emotionally and physically, can be a perceived route to safety for a child – like siding with a bully at school to avoid being targetted.
Another coping strategy observed in children exposed to domestic abuse is ‘switching off completely … to go completely blank’ towards their mother.
Children many also choose to live with their father as a means of protecting their mother from further abuse.
Originally posted here on the site Maypole Women a site for information and support for women and children through separation and divorce. Please pop over and take a look at their wonderful resources.
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Domestic abuse damages in whatever form and here at Many Small Voices we hope to gather the stories of those who have survived abuse into one resource to help and support those who are still victims. We also hope to support survivors through recovery once the abuse has stopped because the scars are still there and will remain forever. Support after abuse is just as important.
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