What children who live with domestic violence say about their dads

“My ‘relationship’ with my Dad? I don’t have one….I feel like I am a pebble at the bottom of a stream and my Dad is this angry stream bashing me against all the other pebbles.”

This is one of the quotes that Stephanie Holt from Trinity College Dublin showed us this week. She presented an overview of her research with children in Ireland.

Domestic violence is a key marker for child abuse and neglect. Stephanie talked about the combination of fathers’ emotional absence on the one hand, and physically abusive presence on the other. She particularly focused on the context of ‘coercive control’, which limits someone’s freedom of movement and expression.

Being different, feeling powerless, and being scared were core themes for the children:

“I felt that I had a neon sign that told everyone what was going on in my family… I felt I wasn’t on the same wavelength as people…I thought that they were all happy families or whatever and I was kind of like the outcast”

“He shouts and curses and calls my Mum really, really mean names. I would say ‘stop Dad’, but he doesn’t listen.”

Stephanie showed that even very young children were able to convey experiences with domestic violence.

The children also talked about the pervasiveness of domestic violence. It was with them from early morning til late evening, even when there were no ‘incidents’:

“….you[re] just getting over what happened before and then it hits you again and you feel…you’re like spinning the whole time. If it’s not happening, you’re waiting for it to happen. When it’s happening it’s almost a relief because, here it is, what I’m waiting for. And then when it’s not happening you’re waiting for it again. “

Can abusive partners be good enough fathers? Stephanie talked about the prevailing assumption that maintaining contact with the father is beneficial for children, and challenged it.

Abusive partners are less likely to be involved parents, more controlling and authoritarian, less likely to allow freedom of expression (she talked about the lack of artwork of children in the home as a marker), and showing more difficulty empathising with their child.

Stephanie’s stories made me wonder what ‘child-centered’ decision making about contact with a violent parent really is. When have we taken enough care to understand a child’s stance and how do we decide what’s really good for them, rather than the expected or the easiest?

Afterwards, Katie Lamb showed impressive digital stories by young people living with domestic violence in Australia. These are absolutely worth watching and sharing; they make excellent education material:

Here is another one:

On a different but related note: next Thursday, our first international research article on the circumstances of children bereaved by domestic homicide will be published. Hopefully it will spur reflection in countries other than the Netherlands where we conducted the study.

And finally, I’m starting an experiment to rally support for the Trauma Recovery Lab. I’m curious what your thoughts are; might this work? Would you have any suggestions?


Key references:

3 thoughts on “What children who live with domestic violence say about their dads

  1. Pingback: Children bereaved by domestic violence need our support | Trauma Recovery Lab

  2. I can appreciate the research and view of others whom have had such an experience. I myself, I have been witness to my mother being dragged by her hair up the stairs by my father and him having another woman other than my mother in his bedroom. I asked him once I was an adult, but he lied to my face. I have tried to maintain a relationship with my father, but while I’m in my mid 40’s, I do not care to hear his voice these days. I have made my peace. I myself have experienced domestic violence from my ex-husband and other relationships as well. It has taken my a long time to focus on me and love me. I never truly felt loved growing up and was looked at as an outcast. I have a good life and love my children, but I have struggled with having a loving relationship and not being disrespected. It has felt like a curse. I do my best to show my children love and affection, but I struggle with being with someone or having someone who truly loves themselves to love me. I am speaking out and telling my story to help others to be good to themselves and learning to love ones self. It’s not easy to love yourself when you have been a witness to abuse and have not had someone encourage you towards success and living a peaceful life. I struggle with trust and having friends that will not abuse my kindness. I go through times when I want to rid this world of those who are inconsiderate towards others and have no idea what one is going through. I don’t care for jerks! I am on a mission to spread as much love as I’m able to. It’s not easy when this world is so full of negativity and is disrespectful. My heart is filled with so much love, but some will drain that energy and not care about their actions. Helping others is a passion of mine and I will do what I can to help avoid someone experiencing such a negative environment. Loving yourself can be such a struggle when you don’t have the love and support of family and friends. I look forward to helping those whom are lost, struggling, and just not knowing which path to take. I am learning everyday how to love me a little bit more.

    • Thank you for expressing your struggle, for your resilience, your capacity for love, and your commitment to supporting others… I hope you’ll continue that path of self-compassion. All the very best, having people like you speak out is so important.

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