One of the greatest and most damaging abuses that can be visited upon a mother and child living with domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is the disruption it can cause to their relationship. A stark statement to make but there is so much research to show how an abuser will control a mother’s access and response to their child and how this results in long lasting effects for a child.
“According to Humphreys (2007b)domestic violence is an attack on the relationship between the child and their mother”, and in my work with families I have certainly seen plenty of evidence of families who have got the abuse out of their lives but then find their own relationships are fragile, complex and in disarray.
Trying to parent a child when living with an abuser is a mine field every day as responding instinctively or logically to a child’s needs may not be possible and could be dangerous. If some-one else is controlling when and if you can pick up, change or feed your crying baby then it is hard to regularly meet the baby’s basic needs and to get into any kind of rhythm and routine and certainly rules out any time playing with your baby.
Knowing that you have to keep lively toddlers quiet. still and out of the way is stressful for both parent and children and puts a stop to any normal everyday interactions and conversations. Being forced to get your children up in the middle of the night to listen to their abusive parent rant, or having to put them to bed way too early because he’s fed up with them, or having to punish them harshly for a tiny mistake and not being able to comfort them when they are hurting because you are” babying them” all run against instinct and desire.
This is the picture for families where there is DVA, no natural rhythm to their lives, tension, trauma, unpredictability, shame, confusion, overwhelming feelings to repress, lies, fear and despair. Parenting children through this often comes down to trying to protect them from seeing and hearing the worst or being caught in the line of fire. Survival becomes the key aim every day and trying not to ‘upset’ the abuser by focusing on their needs first and foremost which leaves little room to ‘see’ the children and their needs.
Exhausting and traumatising for the non-abusive parent and children. What a relief then when they get away from the abuser and can start again. So true, but with this freedom and safety comes the need to understand the toll living this way has taken on you as an individual and as a parent and the high price you and your children have paid. Parenting will be different now but not straightforward and this is where specialist support is helpful to aid the process of unpicking the effects of the DVA on you and your children and understanding how to move forward together to build the relationship you all deserve.