Emotional Abuse of Children Post Separation

Children commonly suffer emotional abuse by fathers intent on continuing to exert power and control over their former partner.

  • Possessive men will use children in an attempt to persuade their mother back into the relationship.
  • Jealous men who wish to monitor their former partner might use their children as spies.
  • Men intent on revenge may actively turn  children against their mothers in order to punish her.
  • Most insidiously, some men will emotionally abuse their children for the sole purpose of upsetting their mother.

These fathers appear to have little regard for the damage they cause to their own children.

They will generally purport to love their children and may give all the appearances of being a good father to anyone looking in. They often make big displays of being the doting father when there’s an audience. Manipulating the opinion of others is something abusive men are often skilled at.

The children too may be taken in by them, unaware that their father is the reason for their unhappiness and confusion.

The survivor may also be conflicted and confused by what is happening. She may feel some blame for leaving the relationship and being unable to defend her children against the abuses of their father. And she too will often claim he is a good father despite his abuse of her and their children.

If mothers hope that professionals might positively intervene, they are likely to be disappointed.

The fathers involved are often charming manipulators who may claim to be concerned about their former partner’s mental health and the safety of the children in her care. They may also suggest that the mother is motivated by parental alienation – alleging she is wilfully alienating the children against him. Coercive control can be very subtle and confusing so proving what the father is doing can be challenging. Children will feel conflicted, confused, scared and will often side with their father against their mother. They may feel safer taking his side, but they may also have been successfully manipulated to feel hostile towards their mother.

Getting a straight account from the children as to how their father is emotionally manipulating them can prove very difficult.

Emotionally abusing the children in an effort to entice her back

Using children to manipulate their mother back into the relationship will emotionally burden them whether his efforts succeed or fail. Using children in this way can be an effective strategy to entice her back – women may see the damage their children are being exposed to and return to protect them.

Whether or not his tactics are successful, she is certain to feel tormented by his efforts and worried for her children – her distress may satisfy him too.

With protestations of undying love one moment and death threats the next, children can become very disturbed by their father’s tactics. Younger children are less likely to understand their father’s manipulative behaviour and may prove very useful in exerting pressure on their mother to return to the relationship. Older children may understand his manipulation but can still feel very sorry for him, and because of this may exert pressure on their mother to return.

Matilda’s story

“I feel intense hatred towards Eric. Since our separation he has been doing and saying everything to encourage the children to feel sorry for him. He knows he is upsetting them and doesn’t seem to care. His intention, it seems, is to use them to persuade me to rekindle the relationship. This is something I will never do. 

“The children are 4 and 6, too young to understand the games he is playing. They are taken in by what he says and plead with me to ‘marry daddy again’. I hear:

Daddy’s sad and lonely and he loves you lots and lots.

Daddy said we can all go on holiday if you come too, please can we go?

Daddy says he cries every night because he misses us and he said it’s good for children to grow up with a mum and a dad.

“The kids are upset, confused and feel responsible for their dad. This is such a burden on them, they shouldn’t need to worry about him. They also feel angry towards me for leaving him and refusing his many demands. I used to tell people he was a good dad despite his abuse of me. Part of me thinks he loves them, but I can’t understand how he can use them as he does.

“I have emailed Eric countless times to spell out to him that I will never have him back, and that he is emotionally abusing our children. He either doesn’t get it or he doesn’t care.

“I can’t tell the kids how daddy used to call me names, control me, financially abuse me, monitor my movements and rape me. How could I ever explain this to them? His emotional abuse of the children has been going on for two years since we separated. I feel worried that he will never stop. I fear for the emotional wellbeing of the children and I don’t know what to do.” 

For the remainder of this blog, please visit Sandra’s own website 

What can mothers do?

This area is difficult and complex and each situation unique. Here are some suggestions of what you might consider if you and your children are being subjected to this form of abuse.

Make a note of instances of abuse directed towards you or your children. You may not know if or when you are likely to need an accurate account of events, but an account given using notes made at the time will be viewed with more credibility.

Seek professional domestic abuse support for the post-separation abuse you are being subjected to. You need support to deal with this abuse and to be the best mother you can be in such difficult circumstances.

Tell your children’s school what is happening. They need to be aware and may positively intervene and provide one to one talking support for the child where appropriate. Staff may also make child safeguarding referrals on your behalf if necessary.

Consider making a child safeguarding referral to the Local Authority yourself if you feel this is necessary. However it tends to be better if these referrals can be made by  professionals such as school or a domestic abuse worker as there is less likelihood of you being accused of parental alienation – wilfully alienating the father from his children.

Consider reporting the abuse to the police if it’s serious. This said, it can be very difficult to prove more subtle, non-physical forms of child abuse so carefully consider this and take advice before doing so.

Consider applying to Family Court for a Child Arrangements Order. Again, carefully think through what you hope to achieve by this course of action because unless abuse towards the children can be proved or it is established that the father is unfit or a danger towards his children, it would be unlikely a court would deny him access.

Where possible, access support from your wider family and friends. This type of abuse involving children is damaging to all concerned and support from others will help you and your family to navigate it with the best possible outcomes.

Listen to your children, validate their feelings, be understanding and patient, show them love and be the best mother that you can be for them. Remember that children’s behaviour can be challenging at the best of times and it’s not realistic for you to be perfect, especially when you’re suffering abuse too, but your children will know when you’re trying your best.

For the remainder of this blog, please visit Sandra’s own website 

Blog written by BWP Outreach Worker, Sandra Reddish.

Buy Sandra’s Books & Support BWP

Sandra hopes to reach thousands more women by sharing her wisdom in a new book One in Four Women,  which is now for sale on Amazon. In the self-published book, Sandra shares her incredible knowledge of the vital steps to recovery for women who have been abused. Starting with their gaining a solid understanding of the complexity of abuse they’ve faced, and perpetrator’s behaviour.

Sandra has now written a second book, which is also available on Amazon. Beyond the Break-up – understanding and surviving men’s domestic abuse and violence against women post-separation.

Sandra very kindly donates the proceeds from the sale of these fantastic books to BWP, which we are really grateful for. Thank you Sandra!

You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.