Not so…… Happy Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is a celebration when mothers are particularly honoured by their children. It’s also a celebration of motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society.
In an ideal world, children and adult children would show their mothers how much they are loved, respected and appreciated on Mother’s Day. Sadly, not all mothers will feel so valued.
Domestic abuse of mothers by their adult children is an all too common form of abuse, but one that gets little media attention. This type of abuse has features that make it very challenging to cope with as a survivor. As we know, it’s difficult for women to end an abusive relationship with an intimate partner, but when the perpetrator of abuse is the adult child, moving on from that relationship is far more challenging. The emotions of the survivor are generally more confused and conflicted and however serious the abuse, these women will rarely pursue a criminal prosecution. To many survivors, their son or daughter is still their child, no matter what age they are. That’s why it’s so difficult for survivors to report the abuse or get out of the relationship, they don’t want to get their children into trouble.
When adult children abuse their parents, feelings of parental responsibility together with shame and guilt for having ‘failed’ as a parent often inhibit the mother from seeking help to protect herself. It might be that the adult child was brought up in a domestically abusive household and the mother blames herself for not protecting her children from witnessing the abuse and believes that this is the reason for their abuse now. If the abusive adult child is a carer for their mother, she may fear reporting the abuse knowing the likely outcome will mean her going into a home. Above all, maternal love is often so strong that even in the face of serious abuse, few mothers will report their children.
The survivors of this type of abuse are generally older women who by nature of their age can be more vulnerable. Age related physical decline can make them more susceptible to serious injury if assaulted. But women suffering from cognitive decline are arguably the most vulnerable, especially to financial abuse, and they can be particularly targeted because they will not make good witnesses in the unlikely event of abuse being reported.
Abuse of mothers by adult children takes many forms. The alcoholic son who taps his mother up for money when he needs a drink, becoming increasingly menacing if the money is not forthcoming. The daughter who fears loss of inheritance so cancels her mother’s care plans saying, “Mum has changed her mind”, only to lock her in her bedroom to suffer malnutrition and bed sores. The son who has lost his job due to drug abuse and has moved back to his mother’s house and has become increasingly volatile and threatening as his mental health declines. The daughter who over medicates her elderly mother so that she becomes passive and caring for her is easier.
As with all forms of domestic abuse, unless there is immediate danger, it’s important to respect the views of the survivor. Most survivors will want to maintain their relationship with an abusive adult child. In these cases, professionals need to look at how the survivor can be better protected while still maintaining this relationship. This might include supporting them to manage their banking, so they are less vulnerable to financial abuse; ensuring their health needs are monitored and well managed; ensuring they have access to a phone and someone they can contact if they are frightened, suffering and in need of help. Just being listened to is very powerful for a survivor and helps put their experience into perspective. Like abuse in intimate relationships, these abused mothers will often believe it’s their fault they’re being abused, if they’d just been a better mother, if they hadn’t divorced their child’s father, if they’d loved their child more maybe things would have been different. Talking about their experience will help them to understand that domestic abuse is never the fault of the survivor, even when the perpetrator is their child.
Arguably, the way in which older people are viewed within our society has much to contribute to the problem of domestic abuse by adult children. As a society we increasingly show less respect towards older people than we have in times past. We’ve thankfully moved on from the times when children should be seen but not heard, but have we broken down too many barriers to the point where parents are commonly afforded little respect by their children? Addressing gender inequality and ensuring respect for women is central to stopping violence against women, so is overcoming ageism. Promoting the dignity and inherent value of older people is a crucial component in preventing domestic abuse of mothers by adult children.
At Broxtowe Women’s Project, we are committed to supporting female survivors of all forms of domestic abuse. We are also aware of the importance of encouraging our community to provide an appropriate response to abuse. Domestic abuse does not occur in a social vacuum, it is happening all around us. If we ask, listen, question, notice and report, women of all ages in our community will be safer.
If you would like advice or support or know a woman who does, please call us on 01773 719111.