A Cry For Justice

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

Grumpy old man? Or abuser?

A reader is concerned that her mom’s husband is treating her mom unkindly. Is it abuse? What should she do? How do you care for your elderly parents who might be enduring abuse? I don’t have the answers, but I have some thoughts and I’d like to get a conversation started.

My email to a concerned daughter:

It’s not ok for anyone to call your mom names or tell lies about her. The last person on earth who should do that should be her husband. For him to do so is anti-Christ. Christ loved us and gave himself for us. He doesn’t shout or rant. He doesn’t accuse and insult.

So often these situations are difficult for family members to sort out because people reserve their cruelty for certain times or certain people yet they can be so very nice, so very wonderful that we think that there must be something causing them to behave cruelly when they do. There is. It’s sin, plain and simple. Your mom isn’t failing her husband or disrespecting him and inciting his wrath. He is mean because he can be and he probably thinks no one will stop him.

I know that this is very very difficult for you. To tell your mom that she can draw a boundary and separate seems to be anti-marriage, but I see it as FOR marriage; for what God means marriage to represent. When a marriage is another means of power and control, where a person feels trapped and helpless, instead of a union where Christ’s love is given and shared and where people are treated with honor and respect, that marriage has become toxic. The vows taken at the wedding ceremony are manifold, much more than “don’t commit adultery” and “don’t leave if you’re not dead.” It sounds like your mom is keeping her vows but her husband is not.

One thing you could do for your mom is to ask if she feels safe. She might say “yes” at first. But ask her many times and in many ways.[Internet Archive link]. You can ask if she’s afraid of her husband and if he’s ever threatened her. Where I live, threatening a person is a crime. It’s hard to prove, but it helps some people to know that it is a crime.

You could also give your mom options. You could ask her what she’d like to do. You could ask how she’d feel about leaving home for a while. Sometimes just knowing that they have an option helps bring some people peace because they don’t feel trapped.

The hard thing about acknowledging if a particular behavior is abuse is that then people get concerned that if that behavior is abuse then this other behavior must be abuse and now everything is abuse and what do we do about that? Well, that’s looking for a law to govern things instead of the Holy Spirit and I also don’t think it’s the right question (It’s also the logical fallacy called appeal to consequences). It should be does  this behavior honor God? Is this sin? Is it a pattern of sinful behavior? Is this behavior classed under the works of the flesh?

Galatians 5:19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

If so, there’s a bigger problem than the marriage. If that verse is true, the person in question has his eternal inheritance at stake! Calling attention to the problem and calling it sin could deliver his soul from Hell and it’s the most loving thing anyone could do for him.

I am praying for your mom.


  1. When I was deep in denial, just creeping out of the fog, one of my grown daughters cornered me in the car while driving to the hardware store. She expressed her concern, told me what she’d observed, then allowed me to hold on to my tattered pride while I made all sorts of excuses for the beast’s behavior. She just sat there and listened.

    Her last word on the subject was this– “If it gets too bad, you and my brother will come live with me.” It wasn’t an offer for help so much as a statement of fact–as if she’d looked into the future and opened up a door to a possibility I’d never thought existed. And it rattled my cage big-time.

    My daughter’s words threw out a lifeline that I clung to as things escalated so far out of control it’s a mercy we didn’t end up on the evening news. Six months later, I was packing up my laundry baskets at four in the morning with no earthly idea what came next. We lived with her for two and half years.

    To the person who’s concerned about their parent, never doubt how powerful your support can be, even if you never see the evidence at that moment. Seeds sprout and grow and if your dad keeps watering them, you’ll want your kindness and love and willingness to help right there in the dirt along with all his thorns.

    • Suzanne

      Your daughter was wise in how she chose to speak to you, but it was more important that you finally saw the truth of your situation and wanted to leave. I begged my mother for years to leave my father but she never did. Even knowing how much pain it caused her children to see her being abused didn’t move her. She wouldn’t leave even though she had children who would have helped her.

      • Suzanne–All goes back to free will, doesn’t it? In the end, it was love for my kids that got me out because I had no love for myself anymore.

        For decades, I had no idea how badly my kids were hurting. As long as they were limping along in some semblance of normalcy, I deluded myself into thinking they were fine. Then there came a single day when the last of the covers were ripped off (metaphorically speaking) and I was out with no foresight, no planning and no idea I was leaving and I kick myself on a regular basis for how long stayed and let that beast hurt them.

        I appreciate so much that you’re here and speaking up! People dadgum forget the torment children go through and I get sick to death hearing about the evils of divorce on children when, so many times, the divorce is the blessing and the evil man is the curse.

  2. MeganC

    I love this, Ellie. And this, right here, sums it up so beautifully and helped me this morning:

    “So often these situations are difficult for family members to sort out because people reserve their cruelty for certain times or certain people yet they can be so very nice, so very wonderful that we think that there must be something causing them to behave cruelly when they do.”

    Your letter is well-said and brings clarity. I am praying, this morning, for this mom, as well.

  3. DianeFliesFree

    That was MY ex! The only time he was “happy” was when i complied, and he got his way. I realized he loved himself above anyone else, even God and especially me. I left him three years ago. I’m finally getting settled and settled down, and i can’t believe how peaceful my life is. My only regret is that i didn’t give up on him decadres ago, instead of trying and blaming myself for 37 years!

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      I caught my kids trying to explain to my daughter’s boyfriend how to talk to the ex-idiot. They made comments like ” don’t apologize but agree with everything he says”. Don’t apologize because he automatically associates apologies with weakness but you have to agree with everything he says. Wrong answer!!

      • Brenda R

        SS, That is sad and difficult to hear that your children feel they must agree with everything their dad says. Now they feel the need to program a new person to react the way they think is necessary. That has to be difficult for you and you family trying to deal with ex-idiot. I know how your children feel. I walked on egg shells around my step father and tried to keep my friends away from him. ((((Hugs)))) to all of you.

    • Brenda R

      DFF, I hope you don’t waste time regretting. Let all of the blessings of each days freedom come over you and the Holy Spirit guide you. There will still be valleys and mountain tops, but on what a blessing each one will be with your God given freedom.

      • DianeFliesFree

        Thank you, Brenda. All you say is true!

  4. Brenda R

    Nothing worked with my Mom. It was her second marriage after my dad had abandoned us. We all suffered for her decision to stay with him. No matter how much I begged she’d only say that she’d just end up with worse. She lived with that vile man for 53 years, until he died. I do understand where she was coming from. For so many years I believed the lie that if you weren’t married you were less than complete. Now, after the divorce, I realize that I am far more complete than I ever was with a man.

    It meant the world to me when my oldest daughter wanted to share an apartment with me, but I stayed 3 more years and in the meantime she moved to another state. But, her confidence that I could make it on my own was helpful in my confidence building.

  5. anewfreelife

    Wow! I really, really needed to read this right now. Thank you so much. Recently a close enough to be family member reared her ugly–and I believe true–side and damaged relationships, memories, and trust. It has eaten me up. It has bothered the children. I needed reminded this is sin, plain and simple. Whether or not it’s classically abuse doesn’t really matter at this point. She’s wallowing in her sin nature. She needs prayer, and we need boundaries. And, my son needs our support, not our rejection because he “sided” with her in her “fits.” He needs to know that he has his family’s love and support now more than ever. I was wincing as I read the comments of the support those daughters gave because it brought to mind an off hand comment he’d made about us keeping her if he ever broke off the relationship with her. He obviously doesn’t feel he has that kind of support from me. Yet. I guarantee he will now! Thanks so much for such a good and timely word!

  6. Finding Answers

    Ellie wrote:

    Christ loved us and gave himself for us. He doesn’t shout or rant. He doesn’t accuse and insult.

    Peace. Quiet. Truth.


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