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Supporting Woman Abuse Survivors as Mothers

This page is an excerpt from:

Helping Children Thrive: Supporting Woman Abuse Survivors as Mothers

How Abusive Men Parent

This material is summarized from Lundy Bancroft & Jay Silverman (2002). The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


If an abusive man involves himself in child discipline, he has rigid expectations, low empathy and an angry style of "power-assertive" (i.e. verbal and physical force) punishment. Discipline is a quick fix to an immediate problem, not a thoughtful strategy based upon reasonable and age-appropriate expectations. He may see himself as a superior parent and not listen to input from his partner. He may swing between authoritarian and permissive, even neglectful, parenting.

"He expects them to be perfect, like adults, but they are just kids who need to run and play."

"Most times he just ignores the kids but if he had a bad day, he explodes at them for no reason."

"I kept telling him: in Canada, girls go to the mall and it is just harmless fun with their friends."

Low Involvement, Neglect & Irresponsibility

While children must respect his authority, their daily care is the mother's responsibility, especially routine or less pleasant duties such as diapers and homework. He may be unaffectionate with children and find excuses to avoid coming home. He is unlikely to sacrifice his needs to meet family responsibilities. His praise and attention, so rarely bestowed, may be highly valued by children. Neglect can alternate with periods of authoritarian control.

"With what he leaves at the bar in tips in just one night, I could buy a package of diapers. Then he tells CAS that the baby has diaper rash because I don't change her enough."

"I got a job but I had to lie and stay on Ontario Works. He took my pay cheques and I had to feed the kids somehow."

Undermining of the Mother

Overruling her decisions, ridiculing her in front of the children, portraying himself as the only legitimate parenting authority. Contempt towards his partner shows children it is okay to insult and even physically abuse her.

"I try and keep it all on track, the homework and baths and getting to bed on time, but then he says it's okay to watch Law & Order and I look like the bad guy who is always nagging."

"My son is starting to treat me just like his father did."


Selfishly expecting the status and rewards of fatherhood with- out sacrifices or responsibilities. May resist changes to his lifestyle when a baby is born. Can be enraged by normal behaviour such as crying in infants. Expects children to meet his needs (e.g., listen to his troubles, provide affection, or keep him company when he is in the mood).

"When the baby cried, he actually thought she did it on purpose to get on his nerves."

"He couldn't tell you the names of the kids' teachers or their birth dates. He really has no interest in them unless he's in the mood to toss the ball around or something like that."


Confuses children about blame for the violence and who is the better parent.

"Since I left, he repeatedly tells the kids that the divorce was all my fault because I wanted to have boyfriends and go partying. They are starting to believe him."

"He told the children that God required him to punish them, and me, to teach us."

Ability to Perform Under Observation

During professional evaluations or in social situations, some abusive men can seem to be loving and attentive fathers. The contrast between public and private behaviour may be stark. Children may feel most comfortable with him in public places.

"When we are with his family or his friends from work, you'd give him a father-of-the year award."

"The judge sent us for an assessment. He turned on the charm so I ended up looking like a liar."

Issues to keep in mind....

  • the more frequently a man abuses his partner, the more likely he will maltreat the children

  • children can be injured when mothers are assaulted (e.g., babes in arms)
  • the emotional abuse that virtually always accompanies physical violence will have a profoundly negative effect on children
  • children face enormous barriers to disclosing abuse or maltreatment in their homes

Some abusive partners can appear to be kind and dependable parents

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Find more information on domestic violence and abusive relationships in these two new resources from 2008.

Helping an Abused Woman: 101 Things to Know, Say & Do

Helping Abused Women in Shelters: 101 Things to Know, Say & Do

Helping Abused Women in Shelters

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