A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

One Son’s Journey to Seeing the Truth about his Abusive Father

Children, teens, and adult children often have problems due to domestic abuse. Sometimes the kids blame the protective (non-abusive) parent. Sometimes they feel their life is wrecked because their parents divorced. Quite often the abusive parent turns the kids against the abused parent. Children can model themselves on the abuser, which abusers often encourage as it makes the target-spouse even more isolated and abused. Kids can be very messed up because of all the abuser’s lies, impression management, and rewriting of history.

You may remember Moody Student’s post What is Moody Bible Institute teaching about divorce? A reader called “Mom” recently asked Moody Student to share something that might help her teenage son not feel he needs to find fault with her or with his Dad. … Something that might help her son have sense of agency and a future — instead of feeling that he is stuck in a ruined life. (You can read Mom’s request here.)

Moody Student wrote such a great reply to Mom that with his permission we are featuring what he said as a stand-alone post. And at the end of this post we are giving links to other posts that parents with this kind of dilemma might find useful.

*****

Dear Mom,

First, remember that you are strong and that leaving takes courage. Do not let his constant threats deter you or his lies persuade you. You did what you had to (and still have to) because you love your son. Always remember that. I just want to encourage you that you are strong and (from a child from an abusive home’s perspective) you did the right thing. I can see that now, even though I couldn’t when my mom left my dad.

Also please know that these are helpful suggestions. I don’t want to lecture you. This is just what has helped me.

One thing that helped me was seeing the truth that my father was abusive. When we first left, I did not see why we had to leave. However, as time passed, my eyes were opened to the truth and I found freedom in that truth.

My eyes were opened when I connected the dots. When I was outright told the truth, I wouldn’t believe it or even consider it.

When my parents first separated, I somewhat saw the abuse that happened but I closed my eyes to it. However, one thing that helped was being away from my abusive father. Being separated helped me to start thinking clearly. While I was with him, I believed the lies that he told me because that had become my natural response. Being separated allowed me time to step back and (with the help of my mother pointing me to the truth) find the truth. She would talk about what methods abusers use, which would remind me of what my father did. I would start making the connections that my father is an abuser.

Before we left my mother talked with us children about having to leave. She never said that my father was abusive, but she did imply and say that something was wrong with him.

A second thing that helped me was talking through the reason we left. Rather than my mother just up and leaving one day without any explanation ever, she talked it through with us why we were leaving. She didn’t tell us all of the details all at once, but she gave us enough information to explain why we separated.

A third thing that helped was seeing my father’s reaction after the separation. Seeing how he reacted in comparison to what a normal reaction would be helped me to see more clearly that all was not right with him.

For me, I had to see the truth that my father was and is abusive. Until I had seen the truth, I believed his lies that my mother was the reason that there were problems.

My suggestions to you (again I do not want to preach to you or act like a know-it-all; this is just what has worked for me) is to talk with your son about the tactics that abusers use. Without using his father’s name, you could mention in a non-accusatory way how abusers do _____ (whatever his father did that your son remembers).  That way, your son won’t think that you are accusing his father of being abusive. In a different conversation, you could ask him “remember when ____ happened?” My mom would read a passage out of Bancroft’s book about how abusers break promises. Then she would ask “remember when x, y, and z were promised to you but it never happened? What do you think about that? Do you remember any other times promises were broken?” Something like that. For me, I was helped by my mother not accusing my father, so I would suggest being careful to avoid coming across as accusatory towards his father.

Another way you could introduce your son to the tactics of abusers is by saying something like “I’m doing a lot of research on abusive relationships. I find this fascinating because of what I’ve been through. I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned. This is what abusers say. This is what abusers do. These are the patterns that abusive people fall into. These are the common things that abusers share. I’ve seen this and that before with me. What do you think?” He may react defensively, but truth seeds will be planted. You could phrase what you tell him as this is about what you’re learning, or how you feel, since he can’t argue with that.

Another thing that helped me was seeing the patterns after we had separated. When I had to visit my father, I would start to see the patterns that were described by my mother. I would also start remembering the patterns that I had seen before we separated. For instance, I remembered when we used to hang out with friends when I was younger. Whenever we spent time with them, I had the nagging feeling that something was different between us and them. It had seemed like our friend’s children had a better relationship with their parents than we did with our parents. Looking back I can realize that I was noticing the abuse without fully realizing what it was.

Also, when I and my siblings started to see the truth my father accused my mother of tainting our thoughts.

Another thing that helped me was not being forced to deal with the separation. Rather than my mother trying to make us see everything at once, she let us discover things in our own time. She still did present new things for me to learn, but she did not try to force it all upon us at once. Along with that, my mother was always willing to talk about the separation or abuse that had happened (and was still happening). Whenever something new would crop up with my father, my mother wanted to talk with us about it and to help us process what happened. Again, she did not want to force us to conclusions, but she helped us see the truth.

I was helped when the “idol” of my father came down. I thought I knew my father, but I realized I was devoted to an imaginary figure of sorts. The person I thought was my father was in reality not my father. When I realized that I was believing a lie, I saw the truth. I realized I was believing in a lie through reaching my own conclusions (with the help of my mother), and through interactions with my father post-separation that I realized reeked of abuse.

I hoped this helped. I again want to encourage you.

Moody Student

*****

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Further Reading

A child who was allied to the abuser but then came back to the non-abusive parent — a post by Cindy Burrell

Restoring Relationships With Estranged Children

The Dog and the Rabbit: Helping children understand domestic abuse

Why Aren’t You And Daddy Married Anymore?

When the kids blame the victim too

Defiant Boys: one mother’s story of the problems of parenting after domestic abuse

Poem by a survivor’s daughter

How I Teach My Children to Honor Their Abusive Parent

Code Word Safety — a way to handle some dilemmas kids have on visitation

12 Comments

  1. CMP

    Older children blame the mother and the cycle is re-perpetuated. If a woman remarries an abuser the second time she is really blamed and the stigma within the family is very great. These issues are horrific as whole churches turn against her for divorce or telling the truth: I am being abused. The abuse comes from everywhere she turns and pastors turn against her believing the nice husband’s lies. She is labeled as a psychiatric case: she is very angry. This makes the children believe its all true… the LIES prevail against her. Her emotions destroy her.

  2. Amy

    What a great response!
    I’m not sure how old this person was when his mother left his father, but my two boys were 17 and 14 when their father walked out on us and then spread lies that I kicked him out and was not willing to reconcile.

    My oldest had the hardest time and eventually was so angry at me. But he was also spending a lot of time with his dad and one time told me how he had just spent six hours with his dad [where his dad was] telling him the “truth” about me. I was always baffled how my oldest blamed me so much when I felt like he must remember how things were for him growing up. His dad, my ex, used to tell the boys how stupid they were, how they’d never amount to anything, etc, etc. So I just didn’t get it. I wanted to scream at my son, “DON’T YOU REMEMBER?!”

    But I never said anything, I figured one day the boys would come to see the truth. And eventually they did. My oldest son who is 24 now is more loving towards me and we have a better relationship, but at times I feel like he has still never really accepted the truth just swept things under the rug in a sense. I always pray that when the time is right there will be an opportunity for us to have a real talk about all that happened.

    Thanks for sharing this response, I hope it helps other parents who have or are considering leaving an abusive marriage.

  3. Anthea

    Wow, I would like to think this was written just for me, and my son…I have not yet the strength to leave yet though.

  4. Sunflower

    Sigh! 20 years later and I’m still the bad guy. Lies and spins have poisoned my children, my friends, my family………. I didn’t do the things suggested because not even I had the information about abuse then that we have now, so I didn’t know what to say and said nothing. I keep praying to get opportunity to talk about this (now that I understand it better), but they are so brainwashed……

    • Oh Sunflower, I feel for you! And I will pray that they wake up.

  5. Diana

    I read this on facebook as soon as I sat down to wait for my 10 year old son’s counseling appointment to begin this morning. It was perfectly timed from a God who sees and cares. Thanks!

  6. I try to do the same things with my son, but we have to be so careful to avoid what the court considers parental alienation. I try to help my son see the truth of his father’s actions by explaining concepts like gaslighting, grooming, and manipulation. But if I try to specifically spell out that his dad did those things, then I am risking my custody.

  7. Joy

    Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! At last, someone writes about what effect this has on the children, whether they are preteens, teenagers or adults! It takes years to fully understand what happened in one’s life — just what in their lives was so wrong. I would love to read more articles and have more support groups for children who were or are being abused. So far, I’ve looked up the links in this website to another and offered to help out but no one contacted me. I haven’t been to the website, since then.

  8. Anonymous

    I remembered when we used to hang out with friends when I was younger. Whenever we spent time with them, I had the nagging feeling that something was different between us and them. It had seemed like our friend’s children had a better relationship with their parents than we did with our parents.

    My parents –both abusers– hung out with “friends” who were worse than themselves because it made them feel that they were superior to them. I was raised in a cult that encouraged dysfunctional behavior and I had truly rarely witnessed healthy relationships until I was older and actively looked for them. Few and far between even now.

  9. standsfortruth

    This post offers some good insights, and since I have come out of an extremely toxic and controlling relationship, the Lord has allowed me to restore a more truthful connection with my children since then.

    While I was in the marriage my abuser was an expert at creating “splitting disorder” between the children, pitting them against each other and me as well. I noticed he would target the children by selecting them one by one to spend “alone time” with him by taking them out alone to eat with him. (To give the appearance as if he was giving this child special attention)

    But I noticed when they came back, it seemed like that child’s ideas and perceptions about certain family members were altered in a negative way. (Including how they treated me afterwards.) Apparently my abuser seemed to use this “alone time”, to prep them to only trust him.

    He was most comfortable with the children remaining at odds with each other. This created an environment in the home where conflict and chaos were the norm, along with walking on eggshells… And when the conflict and arguments between the children happened, my abuser would sit back to watch it all unfold acting as if he had nothing to do with it, while also not doing anything to stop it.) I suppose it was much more entertaining for him to watch me as I tried to put out all the fires he started behind the scenes.
    (Circus music playing 🎼 as I portray my role in his game)

    But now that I am fully divorced, and no longer living in that contrived environment, I am able to show the children (when visiting) that they are much better and stronger if they work “together,”and support each others interests”,- than if they are against each other.
    This type of impact that is being made with them, could have never happened if I had not gone through with the divorce, and ended up getting seperate mediated time with them, by notification or 24 hour texting advance notice. (litigated through mediation in the final proposal )

    Slowly but surely in my personal time spent with the children, I am able to describe certain abuse tactics and expose them without pointing any fingers. And I am also able to help my children protect what’s important to them by sharing the fact that abusers like to target whats meaningful and important to their victims, in hopes that their victims will disclose more of what is important to them so as to maintain control over them. So I am also able to share how to substitute diversion topics to throw an abuser “off track” so as to prevent sabbotage on what’s valuable to them, again without pointing any fingers.

    This allows the older kids to add two and two together and gives them knowledge, and ability to protect themselves even more when they are with any abuser. I am finding that so MUCH MORE can be done to help your children “outside an abusive marriage”, than I ever could have imagined while being bound up inside it.

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