A Cry For Justice

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

Why Aren’t You And Daddy Married Anymore?

“Mommy, why can’t you and Daddy be together anymore?” “Why did you leave Daddy?”

All of us survivors who have kids have been, or know we will soon be, faced with these questions. So how should we handle that? Many experts on divorce say you should never say anything bad about the other parent, because it’s damaging to the children and puts them in the middle of the adult problems. But then, these experts aren’t actually referring to cases of abuse when they say that.

Others advise to tell the kids the truth. They need to know. Covering for their Daddy will only perpetuate the abuse and confirm in the kids that they are really to blame when Daddy treats them like he treated you. Telling them the truth stops the enabling and puts the blame squarely where it belongs….on the abuser.

So, with all this conflicting advice, what are we supposed to do? What in the world should we say to our kids? We have to tell them something. Sooner or later, “the big questions” will come up. That’s not avoidable.

I think, the best approach is somewhere in the middle.

You should not denigrate the children’s father because you are angry with him, or want to get back at him for what he did to you (and / or the kids). He is still their father and they will have feelings for him.

They are going to eventually have to understand what their father has done and / or is doing and that will be very hard for them to reconcile within themselves. How can they love him and fear him at the same time? It is a seriously confusing situation for a child and speaking badly of their father can confuse them and shut them off even further from you. They don’t want to betray their dad, because they love him, but here is mom, telling them he is no good. What are they to believe?

This is a decision we can’t make for our kids. It’s a decision they have to make on their own. But, we CAN help them wade through the muck along the way. What we do need to do is be honest with them, in a way they can understand, but is not degrading to their father. We can then teach them what manipulation is. We can teach them what blame shifting is. We can call it out when we see it and help them learn to do the same. We can teach them how to treat others and help guide their character development along, as they grow.

They will begin to see the tactics, and then see their father is using these tactics and when they discover this reality on their own, they internalize the truth much deeper than if we were to simply impose it on them.

When my kids first asked me this, I told them something along the lines of: “Daddy was doing things that hurt mommy a lot and he would not stop and would not be sorry or try to change what he was doing. I wished he would stop and I prayed that he would, but he wouldn’t. So, I had to leave, because it’s not ok to let someone keep doing things that hurt you.” They asked their follow up questions. “Why did he hurt you? Why didn’t he stop?” And I told them, “I think it’s because Daddy thought he could make me do what he wanted me to, by hurting me if I didn’t. But you can’t make people do things. You can’t force them to do things you want them to do or not do things you don’t want them to do.” I also told them that I prayed for Daddy. I prayed that God would show Daddy that he needed to change and make better choices about how he treats people. I told them mommy leaving was not their fault. The divorce was not their fault. They were not to blame in any way.

I tried my best to tell my kids the truth, without resorting to tearing their dad to pieces in the process. I had to respect their feelings toward him, while at the same time, try to protect them from the abusive deceptions he piles on them. It’s a fine line to walk, but I believe, a necessary one.

What I would add, is to use the phrase ‘I believe….’, before telling them what Daddy has done. I didn’t do that, but I think it is wise to phrase it as your opinion, rather than cold, hard fact. It distances them from it a little, which safeguards them if they end up going back to Daddy and telling him what you have said. If they say, “You were mean to mommy”, they could be punished for that. But if they say, “Mommy says she believes you were mean to her”, then it is your opinion they are relaying and not as likely to get them in trouble. It’s safer for them.

Their own opinions will come in time, with education on what abuse is and what it looks like, and with their observations of those behaviors from their father. Your job is to teach and guide them, not form their opinions for them. It is a hard thing to tell your kids the truth. But it is a necessary step, for them, and for you.

Those of you who have been there, how did you tell your kids? How did they react? Those of you who haven’t yet, we know this is a hard thing to do, and we are praying for wisdom for you, in what you will say.

The ultimate key is to be honest and fair. Don’t hide or cover up what has been done, but don’t use it to beat your abuser with either. It won’t do your kids or you, any good.

[September 4, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 4, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 4, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. livingtransparently

    I wish I could go back 3.5 years and heed this advice. I was so determined to never say anything bad about their daddy. I honestly didn’t know what I was up against at that point. I didn’t understand narcissism and covert aggression. I didn’t have the knowledge I do now. I just wanted our kids to love us both. To have a good relationship with us both.

    Since I was the one who left, he used that to tear my children away from me. They didn’t understand and I said very little other than there were things they didn’t know. I did mention that I was scared of him, they told him that (they told him everything) and he twisted it to make me a liar. They believe everything he says. So I was scared to say anything. I see that now as one of his manipulation tactics. It worked.

    Fast forward to today. My children. Want nothing to do with me. I hold on. Fighting for them. I have to endure a tremendous amount of pain to hang on. Snide remarks. A lack of honor. I’m trying to teach them Gods principles and honor. I’m trying to educate them on manipulative people but never say anything about their dad. I’m hoping and praying they see someday. I have to fight hard the fear I feel at times. I feel for their hearts because they are hard and cold. They take pleasure in hurting me. I deserve it they believe.

    So because I stayed quiet, trying to do the right thing, he has made good on his threat that “if I left, he would make sure I never had a good relationship with our kids”. He prides himself in being able to “make them believe whatever he wants about me without saying one bad word”. In fact, he has done this very thing you talk about in this post. Except he lies. And twists everything I do. He takes small truths and turns them into something different and bad.

    I am always tired. But I will continue to fight. I will continue to stand. I will continue to love love love.

    Last night my son turned away from me when I was hugging him and I told him I would always love him no matter what (which happens often). He muttered “that sucks”. Which is sad but it’s different. He usually says or mutters “no you don’t”. So it proved that he KNOWS I love him (small victory!).

    So if you’re just going through this. Pay heed to this post. Be very very careful to not be vindictive and try to keep from degrading him/her. But the facts might help you from being in the situation I’m in. Educate them. It’s so important. Pray a LOT that you say what is needed. At this point in my situation, I’m afraid it’s too late. But I’m trying!

    • Wow, LivingTransparently! Thanks for sharing all that. what pain! what regret! but what wisdom your experience will give to others!
      And BeginHealing, thanks to you too! Your comment was amazing, and I”m sure it will encourage many in your position.

      It’s so apposite to have both of your comments back to back like this.

      I love our blog family and how we all help each other by sharing our experiences. 🙂

    • Elle

      WOW, I could have written nearly every sentence you wrote. I left 3 1/2 yrs ago. Ex did all the same things w the kids. I responded the same ways you did. I am still battling for their hearts. There has been significant healing this year, but I’m still battling. They have been SO manipulated.

      I haven’t heard my oldest (mid teens) tell me he loves me since April 2011. It’s been almost three years since my now next youngest year old has told me that. My other (younger) two do tell me now. (I was a stay at home mom who homeschooled since Kindergarten and we had a wonderful relationship before I left).

      Quite frankly, I am still trying to navigate and figure out how to readdress the past three years with them. It is such a horror journey to navigate through and there are so few people who are walking it who can advise wisely. I just wanted to let you know you are not alone though and to keep persevering for their hearts. Pray pray pray.

      I had to stare all my fears in the face in regards to them and genuinely surrender injustice, rejection, pain & fear in the face and give them to God, even if it meant their dad getting full custody (he has been trying all year – in fact we have court again soon – he has manipulated my kids to testify against me and say they want to live with him). But I have watched God perform a miracle for me this year after surrendering (it’s just what He told me to do) and HE is healing our relationship. It is definitely not fixed but it is radically different from other times in the last three years. We are bonding. He is turning their hearts back to me.

      I got more people praying this year. And I have tried to speak more powerfully and truthfully about situations or their dad (never dishonorable, never accusatory but wisely, powerfully and truthfully). And God is making it happen. Nothing is ever impossible or too late… He loves you and gave those children to YOU to mother… that’s His will, so keep pressing in there and keep after God to battle for you and make a way where there is no way. I’m so sorry for the pain you have experienced – I know it is great. Praying for you and your kids right now!

      [Eds: some details disidentified for safety reasons.]

      • Hi Elle
        welcome to the blog 🙂

      • livingtransparently

        I’m in tears by your story. Thank you for your response and encouragement. I haven’t heard I love you or felt any kind of affection for over 2 years now. I do see moments of improvement, especially in the youngest, but sometimes it feels like a facade. I would love to talk to you more if we could connect via email. Is that possible? I could use a Godly friend who knows what this is like.

        Eds. note: If you both desire to exchange contact information, please do so by emailing twbtc at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com.

  2. "Mom"

    Here is a story I wrote for my grandkids when their mom left her abuser, hoping it would help them make sense of the conflicting stories they were hearing.

    The Dog and the Rabbit
    Once upon a time there was a home that had a dog and some other pets: a rabbit, some cats, and some hamsters. It seemed like the dog got along fairly well with most of the animals and with the people, although he did get into bad moods and growl at them for no good reason. On his good days, he’d wag his tail and play with the cats and hamsters and they ran around and had fun together. However, the dog had a thing about the rabbit. He thought rabbits were wimps and he thought it was funny to growl at the rabbit and chase him and see him scared.

    The rabbit quickly figured out that it had better keep its distance from the dog and most of the time it would hide under the bed or behind the furniture when the dog was around. If the other animals or his owners were around, the dog would wag his tail and pretend to be friendly to the rabbit. But as soon as no one was looking, he’d get fierce and growl and chase the rabbit again, sometimes nipping it in the leg. If someone else came into the room, he would quickly stop chasing the rabbit, and instead start wagging his tail and give his innocent doggy look: “Who me? Chase rabbits? Do I look like a dog that would chase a rabbit?” Because the dog was so sneaky about chasing the rabbit when no one was looking, the other pets, and even the pet owners, didn’t realize that it was a big problem. They only wondered why the rabbit was always shaking and scared and spent so much time hiding.

    The rabbit was so traumatized that it gradually became a quivering mass of nerves and had no appetite and couldn’t even really sleep for fear the dog would come sneaking up on it. So do you think that rabbit might have started thinking about getting away? Would it have been hoping someone would accidently leave the door open so it could escape? You’re right. One day the rabbit saw its chance and shot out the door like a streak of lightning. The cats and the hamsters and the pet owners were all confused….where did that rabbit go and why on earth did it leave their happy family of pets? They did look at the dog, and wondered if maybe he had something to do with it, but he was giving his innocent doggy face and wagging his tail and shaking his head about the silly rabbit who ran away.

    So what do you think? Should the rabbit go back or should it find a new safe place to live?

    • Seeing Clearly

      “Mom,” Such a precious story and clear picture. Children of all ages can get the picture. I hope your story travels to numerous sites so that a growing circle of children begin to understand. Your story also helps the precious abused parent to identify their situation in a loving, affirming way. Thank you.

    • “Mom,” that’s a fantastic story!
      I think we would like to run it as a stand alone post.
      Email us if you want to discuss that idea (email me, Jeff and TWBTC).
      thanks 🙂

      • Sissy

        “Mom,” I would also like to post this story of The Dog and The Rabbit, but I’d love to give you the credit! Can you let me know how to do this? What a GREAT story!!!

      • Hi Sissy, thanks for asking! Here is The Dog and the Rabbit as a stand-alone post.

        We are unable to tell you “Mom’s” identity, as we want to help her keep safe. But “Mom”, if you want to communicate directly with Sissy, click on Sissy’s screen name and that will take you to a Women’s Refuge website — it is the URL Sissy gave when she submitted her comment. I gather Sissy works for that Refuge.

      • Also Sissy, we have a generous publishing policy at this blog. You can read it here:
        Our publishing policy

      • “Mom” gave us permission so we ran The Dog And The Rabbit as a stand-alone post. Here is the link:
        The Dog and the Rabbit: Helping children understand domestic abuse

  3. A Bruised Reed

    I am in this situation right now. My challenge is that my daughter (16 years old) acts just like him in many ways. Manipulative. Lying. Blame shifting. Invalidation. Gaslighting ( he is NOT mistreating you. You are just being bi-polar.) She is also very defensive regarding both him and herself. It has been since I moved out that I see how bad his influence really has been on her. How can I ever tell her anything? It ends up being more abuse on me.

    • BeginHealing

      Oh A Bruised Reed…. I hear you I truly do. I have watched my oldest rage, manipulate, blame shift, gaslight, threaten physical violence, follow through with physical violence, etc. It has been humbling, awful, and wonderful. Why wonderful? Because God is providing me with opportunities each time to reach into my son’s life and love him with truth, boundaries, and consequences. God is giving me a chance to make a change in my son before it is too late.

      I have found that helping his siblings label the behavior for what it is helps, “Your brother is being manipulative, he is blame shifting.” Then I let them know that I understand that it is frustrating and confusing (validating their emotions and reactions). Then I try to give them choices in how to handle it. Things like, when he behaves that way he loses the privilege of your company; let him know what he is doing that is hurtful and leave, stop playing with him. Tell him what you see him doing, label the behavior for what it is. Let him know you are not trusting his promises this time because he lied last time. This gives the “victim” child some validation and empowerment in their situation. It takes time and they are not always going to get the response that they want from their brother but at least they are learning to recognize the behaviors and to stand up for their own feelings and needs, I truly see this as a win-win because my oldest is also being held accountable to the consequences of his actions.

      I also try to keep in mind that at 16 it is natural emotional development to be a little narcissistic. It is now that we must love them by setting boundaries for what type of behavior and treatment we will accept so they don’t get stuck in this behavior pattern.

      I believe that validating my children and what they experience and feel is critical and very important. They have been taught to ignore their feelings, especially their frustration and anger because that could trigger rage in dad (even joyful noise could trigger this rage). It stinks when they are mad at me but I do not want to encourage them to stuff those feelings anymore. If they express their anger in a destructive way I try to set boundaries. I let them know that what they feel and think deeply matters to me but I can’t listen if they are going to attack me. There is so much work to be done but we have been working at this for almost a year and I really do see some improvements.

      I would encourage you to find the positive points in your relationship with your daughter and foster those moments as much as possible. Go out to lunch, talk about her activities, talk about her friends, etc…. Try to make your relationship with her about so much more than your relationship with her father. This has helped me so much with my son. Meeting him where he is and loving him unconditionally, even if he is angry with me (especially if he is handling his anger in a healthy way). They may be adult sized but they are children at heart and the friction between mom and dad hurts them so much . They want to participate and help in the divorce but that can muddy the waters in our relationship. I try very hard to keep that part of my life a very small part of my relationship with my sons.

      I feel what you are expressing so profoundly in my heart. This is really challenging stuff to see the effects of the abuse reflected in our children.

      • soldiergirl

        Excellent advice BeginHealing!
        Yes you Can educate these children by bringing exposure to covert and overt abuse just by identifying it when it rears its ugly head..It has a three fold purpose in doing so..
        It holds the one that is using it accountable, and it teaches the others how to spot what is happening to them, validates their feelings, and bring light to why it is wrong.
        I know that my children were taught many forms of abuse by watching my abuser abuse me and get away with it, while they were growing up.
        Since I did not come out of the FOG until just within the last 2 years or so, so much damage has been done to “their concept of how to relate to one another.
        Had I known what I know today, I would have pulled myself together sooner, and got out while the children were younger.

  4. joepote01

    When I was divorced from my children’s mother, two of my children were in high school and two were in elementary school.

    In discussing the divorce with the children, I tried to keep the discussions age appropriate. I tried to be honest without going into any more detail than necessary. The two older ones had more questions, which I answered honestly. For the younger two, I gave fewer details.

    If questions became more detailed than I thought was good for the child, I simply told them they could ask me that again, when they were older…that I didn’t want to hide the truth from them but I also did not want to unnecessarily burden them.

    To this day, I’m not sure how well I handled all of it. I prayerfully did my best…and trust God to lead them, now.

    It is not an easy thing…but then the same could be said of parenting, in general…

  5. Isaiah40:31

    I’ve noticed something in speaking with others who have been in abusive relationships…. there are those who cover for the abuser, even after leaving, not talking about it to the kids at all for fear of ‘speaking badly’ of the abuser. Then there are those who speak the truth to their children, not in hate for the abuser, but because they feel it is right to validate the kids’ thoughts and fears, and to teach them to recognize abusive behavior, and to encourage them to break the cycle and not repeat the abuse upon the next generation.

    This is my second escape from an abusive marriage. The first time I took Road #1 and covered for him, and I struggled with people believing him over me because he talked when I didn’t. Yes, eventually the truth was known but it took years. This time I took Road #2 and talked about it with the children, even before we had to flee. We continue to talk about it now. These are not bashing/hate-filled sessions. These are truthful communications about what abusive behavior looks like and why it’s not ok. I believe that doing so has created a very healthy environment for all of us. It’s ok to tell the truth about ugly, hurtful things, although we ought to be careful about how we say it so that we don’t become guilty of the same bad behaviors.

    • Isaiah40:31

      And let me follow up by saying that my friends who covered for the abuser have children who struggle because the abuser still manipulates and the kids are caught in the trap of believing the abuser over the victim; while those who discussed the abuse don’t seem to struggle with that. They recognize the patterns of abuse and are wiser to them. I have no idea if that is a coincidence or what, but it’s true of several families in both instances, which I find very interesting. I’d love to see some research on that.

    • minagelina

      My question is this. If the father only abuses mom, I wonder if road 2 will even be believed. My husband does not abuse the kids. He isn’t as able to handle their emotions, and his persona is the “doting dad.” So I am worried that if I say something, it will blow their minds or even be something they won’t believe. I am concerned it will backfire.

  6. StandsWithAFist

    This is so tough, it has so many layers, so many nuances, so many personalities. We want our kids to be loved and to experience loving relationships; we also want them to be safe and to feel safe. We also want them to stand tall. My abuser was not my husband, but his mother (my MIL) and I remember well wanting our kids to have a different relationship with her then my own. I truly believed they could. I played along for decades, hoping and praying and believing that just because my relationship with her was toxic it did not mean that theirs would be. I shielded them from the truth of her evil, never spoke ill of her in front of them, hated it when she “babysat”, cried in private….but they saw. They heard. They knew. They grew. They are now adults, and over the years they pulled away from her on their own, like you would from anyone who betrays you. She was demanding, domineering, devious–she wasn’t fun to be with and since they were no longer babies she couldn’t boss them around. She demanded “respect” from them yet failed to respect them as separate from her, she failed to see them as having their own needs and gifts and personhood. She wanted to be worshipped & revered, and when that didn’t happen, she began to treat them as badly as she treats me. They were taught to respect her “position” as a grandparent, but she herself made it impossible to generate respect as a person (which of course was blamed on me). As they grew, there were times we had to role-play, as they needed words to use in response to her growing demands. (IE: she talks “baby-talk” to them (the clever, subtle, put-down), and so I told them that it is ok to say, “I am an adult now & I would prefer being spoken to in a regular voice”. But I had to prepare them for her “comeback”: “you’ll always be my baby”, so then the follow-up was to repeat the request [to be spoken to as an adult] and if she still failed to respect that, then it was okay to leave, hang up, etc.) I don’t know if this helps at all, but in the end, I realized they already knew what it was that I tried so hard to shield them from. And that it’s never okay to let someone hurt you.

  7. Jeff S

    My son is young enough that I haven’t had to face this yet. He has inquired about it so I can tell he’s trying to piece things together in his mind. It’s hard.

    My commitment is to never use him and to always tell the truth. Both can be tricky in their own right. My struggle to never use him is to never go to him for validation, because that is a terrible responsibility to place on a child. He doesn’t need to agree with my decision to leave, and I should not expect that of him. Always telling the truth is difficult because it’s a measure of what to hold back. There are some things he’ll need to hear when he’s mature enough to process them, and things he’ll never need to hear because they are between his mother and I. It can be difficult to know the difference.

    Mainly, I want to prepare him to have safe interactions and do all I can to facilitate that. I’m blessed in that my ex-wife has become a lot more peaceable since the divorce and, after an initial burst of hostility, has acted very peacefully toward me/us. I know many who comment on ACFJ have exs that are far more relentless in their hostility and manipulation. 😦

  8. BeginHealing

    It is such a delicate fine line to walk. Validating the children and their experiences and observations without undermining their relationship with the other parent. But I agree whole heartedly that it is immensely important to be honest and label the behavior for what it is. They will not be able to become balanced, healthy, functioning adults if they are taught to avoid and deny the abuse. My children were taught very well how to walk on eggshells and live with abuse. I have my work cut out for me in reworking that training. But the most powerful weapon is truth handled with love and respect. If we avoid it and continue to pretend it is not there so will they and that is a recipe for disaster and perpetuating the abuse cycle.

  9. Jill

    this is so incredibly well timed (thank you, Lord 😉 ) as I am constantly second guessing everything I say and do (my children are teens and I also see some behaviors being repeated in them that I’m trying to figure out what to do with / about)…..turns out, when you’re bathing every word in prayer, it’s usually the right thing. 😉 One day I’ll learn to trust God in me and stop the 2nd guessing! And the story in the comments…..that rabbit. It was me, in many ways….for so long. Triggers tears of lingering hurt….but also tears of thankfulness for what He has brought me through….and out of. No more “rabbit” around here.

    Eds. note: Some details were changed to disidentify the commenter.

  10. coco

    This post, and all of the comments, was so so good and so timely. A year in, the kids have started saying things like “you know I can’t say no to Dad” and other comments that make me feel like they might see what he is. At the same time, he’s their Dad so they do love him. Instead of making excuses for him like I did when we were married, I talk them through the feelings they had at the time and they figure out a better way they would have done things if they were the Dad. I don’t denigrate him, but I have started being honest with them about his behavior, and I think this will eventually lead to the “truth” of the divorce. I am 100 percent positive that he speaks badly of me as much as he can. As someone told me (about the rule of never speaking badly about your ex) in abuse cases, the abuser certainly isn’t following the rules, so I totally agree that as long as we aren’t name calling or bringing things up out of the blue, being honest in answering our kids questions and to the truth of who we are is the best way to go.

    • Renewed Spirit

      Excellent! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Seeing Clearly

    Nessa3, is there perhaps something deeper going on that drew you to this site. You describe the marriage in a rather passive way. I am not trying to read more into your words than face value. My hope for you is that you are able to discover what you are looking for on this site, just as I continue to discover and process. There are very few people in my life that grasp the destruction I lived in. It amazes me how often the words of writers here resonate with me and my past.

  12. nessa3

    Im thinking about divorce.My husband isnt physically abusive, but neglect, and irresponsible.Will not take advice, has caused alot of financial issues. Doesnt comunicate and isnt proactive with my needs or the family.
    He just goes to work and comes home to eat shower,sleep.
    Not a Partner, just roomates…Not much of a father, a presence. Not even much of a provider….the bills get paid …but wheres the rest?

    • I hear you, nessa3. Prolonged neglect and financial abuse/financial irresponsibility is very very hard to live with.

  13. Remedy

    This by far is THE issue that keeps me up at night and drenching my bed with tears of anguish. Any wise counsel is welcome!!!
    After a fourth round of Christian counseling in 23 yrs, we are on in home separation. The reason? My 3 teenage boys whom I have been homeschooling from the beginning do NOT want to leave the home. It’s not so much about which parent stays as much as they do not want to leave security of the only home they’ve ever known. And they are adamant about wanting to remain homeschooled. I do not feel their father will leave the home if asked without a very messy ordeal that we would all have to endure.
    Last summer, I offered to pick them up in the morning and homeschool them at a relative’s home where I could have lived for whatever length of time it took me to get settled. They absolutely refused this option. So I stayed for another year on in-house separation.
    It is taking a toll on me in every way. Yet I am tortured about breaking the hearts of my boys if I insist on a formal separation. They adore their dad and I don’t want to interfere with that…..but I don’t know how long I can endure the misery of staying here in these conditions.
    There is no longer a thought of reconciling the marriage. Too much damage over the 25 yr span of time together. PTSD suffering big time, and with all that came out during this last round of counseling, the trust is completely shattered. Because the damage was directed at me, and not acts committed with another, I will never again feel safe with him.
    So….I’m at this place of needing to make a decision, but terrified of the effects on my children. Anyone else here facing or has faced a similar situation and have advice or suggestions? I feel desperate for answers and guilty before the Lord for that…..like I should be content to take one day at a time. Yet doing nothing is taking its toll daily. Thank you to all who take the time to share. You are more help than you know!!

    • Remedy, this dilemma you are in — it’s a really tough one!

      I have a couple of suggestions but they may not work for you.
      In my jurisdiction there is a fairly broad definition of domestic violence which covers not just physical abuse but psychological abuse, financial abuse, isolation, emotional abuse, etc — the whole pattern of coercive control that puts the target into fear. And there are ways to legally get the abuser removed from the family home with a protection order that forbids him from being within so many metres of the home, and sometimes this can be supplemented by the DV women’s services getting new locks fitted to the house, security alarms, sensor lights, etc. If there are such things available in your area, maybe you could think about using them. Consult your local DV Support Service to find out what possibilities there are for you that will help you and the kids stay safe at home while the abuser is made to leave.

      But none of that gets round your boys’ desire to stay living with their dad. My only suggestion for that is that you might at some stage want to bite the bullet and tell the boys that your decision, as their parent, is that the current situation is no longer viable. (You could explain that it is taking such a toll on your health that your ability to properly / safely/ adequately parent them anymore is compromised). And so you, as the grown up, are making the decision that you and dad can no longer live under the same roof, and you know they don’t want that but it’s going to happen anyway. Tell them that sometimes kids don’t see the whole picture and they just have to let you make this decision, and try their best to accept it, even if they don’t like it or understand it.

      I had to take that line with my daughter quite often. Not over who she lived with or whether or not I separated from her father, but over other issues, like the two of us (me and her) moving from one house to another. I just had to make the decision unilaterally and she had to go along with it, like it or lump it.

  14. livingtransparently

    My boys dad thinks he’s above the rules, that they don’t apply to him. He’s super “religious” and uses that to manipulate. After reading this post, I made a decision to be a bit more assertive in the conversations with my children. I had a chance to do this this weekend. They are playing football. They are at a new school this year and their dad found a team he wanted them to be on claiming it is bc they know some kids on this team but really bc of ulterior motives, as always. But this school has a draft. He wanted to go around it, not letting anyone see the the boys, lying about height and weight on sign up sheets, etc. The boys were all in on his plan. I didn’t let that happen. I made them go through the draft like it was supposed to be. Follow the rules! This weekend, we played that team and beat them. One if my sons ended up not playing (for other reasons). My other son who played started talking about how he was glad he ended up on this team. I used this opportunity to talk about how things work out better when you follow the rules. I pointed out the deceit that was behind the original plan and that it is never right to be deceitful. I even had to pull up the texts that their dad sent me during that time to prove that’s what he wanted to do. In all of that, they didn’t even recognize that it was deceit to try to get around the draft. I had a text waiting for me this morning. A threat is how I see it. Him being a bully and trying to hit me where he knows it hurts the most. He said “you should know that when you talk bad about me to the boys, it only worsens your relationship with them”. He really should have changed the word “it” to “I” because that’s what he’s saying. He could care less about my relationship with them so he certainly isn’t saying this out of consideration for me.

    I have to fight this fear of what he can do to my relationship with them. But I’m winning that battle, with Jesus behind me giving me strength. I will continue to try to train my boys in what us right, even if HE temporarily hurts my relationship with them more. I have to hold onto faith that someday they will see truth.

  15. MicroGal

    I am really struggling with this. What do I tell my kids? I have not left yet, but am planning. Planning and waiting. And gathering evidence and paperwork. Ugh.

    My kids are small – all under ten. And they adore their dad, even though he is gone every week for work. It is taxing for me, but I do see how God is preparing me to go it alone.

    Despite how he treats them badly (very harsh, lots of rules or he just “checks out”), they adore him. I feel the kids will be very confused and upset when we split.

    See, the thing is, my husband has been a serial cheater since — forever. He cheated on all other girlfriends before me (I didn’t know), lied to me about many things during our dating / engagement, and has had many adulterous relationships, not to mention having an addiction to porn. He is unrepentant (2 years later, despite promising major change) and I have proof of several other lies.

    How do I explain the depth of his deception, depravity and deceit to my young kids? How do I speak truth without violating any court agreement not to talk bad about him? I have really been struggling with this.

    • Hi MicroGal, I disidentified some of the details in your comment, for you safety.
      You have asked good questions. I’ll try to reply more in depth later, but I have to go now for family business.

    • How do I explain the depth of his deception, depravity and deceit to my young kids?

      I don’t think you try to explain the depth of his deception, depravity and deceit. The kids are way too young to understand or be informed about most of that, especially since so much of it is to do with sexuality.

      I think that the wording Deborah used with her kids would possibly be good for you to use:

      Daddy was doing things that hurt mommy a lot and he would not stop and would not be sorry or try to change what he was doing. I wished he would stop and I prayed that he would, but he wouldn’t. So, I had to leave, because it’s not ok to let someone keep doing things that hurt you.

      If they ask what things he was doing that hurt you, you could just say he was telling you many lies. They may not ask you what the lies were about. But if they do ask that, you could just say “He was telling me that he loved and cared for me, but what he was doing things that actually hurt me.”

      If they then ask “what things did he to that hurt you?” you could just say “That is adult stuff. It’s not for kids to have to hear about that. Maybe when you’re older we can talk about it. But all you really need to know now is that daddy did things that really hurt my feelings deeply.”

      Can you see where I am going with this? You keep answering their questions honestly, but without giving them much explicit information.

      And you don’t raise the subject of how he mistreated them. They think he is wonderful — but at this stage they are blocking out and not allowing themselves to feel or think about their full range of emotional responses to the way he treats them, because that is too scary.

      If the kids at some stage raise the subject of how Dad treated them unkindly, you have that conversation with them when it arises. But don’t initiate those conversations with them. And expect that maybe they may want to talk about dad’s unkindness to them sometimes, but other times they may want to pretend they never talked about that subject. That’s how it was with my daughter. She’d ping pong between wanting to talk about how daddy had treated her unkindly, and wanting to talk about how much she wanted to see him again. . .

      • Renewed Spirit

        Excellent – thanks for sharing!

  16. Dawn Rising

    I am so glad I found this thread.

    I am ready to leave my verbally and emotionally abusive husband, but am afraid for my children.

    I was making excuses to my mom today and finally broke down and admitted those were excuses. The real thing holding me back is my children. How do I leave their father and never tell them the truth because I am determined not to speak badly of him.

    This has helped a lot. Not sure that I am strong enough yet to bear their pain, but this gives me food for thought and planning.

    Thank you for this site.

    • Hi Dawn Rising, welcome to the blog! You’ve chosen a good screen name 🙂

  17. Lindsey

    I can’t believe I haven’t read this post before now. This has been my biggest post-divorce struggle. My son frequently lashes out at me, telling me that divorce has ruined his life, he hates divorce, wishes I hadn’t “broken our home” (I use quotes because my ex is who told him I had broken our home by divorcing)… I could go on.

    But I really thought my focus needed to be NEVER saying a ‘bad’ thing about my ex. After all, my kids had enough conflict in their lives from their visits with their dad, I needed to not add to it. I always told them that the divorce was between their dad and me, and that it had nothing to do with them, and that we both loved them very much… that’s what the counselors always say.

    But then my ex started treating the kids in the same manner he treated me, and they were even MORE conflicted because they didn’t see it coming. I see now that they must have felt so unprotected. FINALLY, I couldn’t bear the accusations from my son anymore, I told my son that while I was married to his dad, he treated me very badly, like I could never do anything right, it was like he hated me instead of loved me (and I told them about the verses that tell husbands how to treat wives), and that it was not how God wanted marriage to be, and according to the Bible, I had permission from God to divorce him. I made sure to let my son know that it had NOTHING to do with him, and that I know he loves his dad, and I pray for his dad a lot!

    Now when my ex abuses my kids (not criminally, just on the verge of criminal abuse, so they still have to go for visitation), they tell me, and we can talk about why he behaves that way. I think that being me able to relate to what happens helps them cope SO MUCH BETTER than before. I felt guilty for telling them that their dad abused me, but after reading this I can am so glad I opened up to them. Communication is so much better, they ask me frequently, “Why did Dad do that?” They feel free to tell me when something happens, and I can talk them through it.

  18. Renewed Spirit

    Thanks everyone – I learn something from all of you.

  19. WifeOfAddict

    How do you tell your kids if addiction is the cause of the divorce? Part of me doesn’t want to say the real reason because I don’t want them to follow in the same footsteps. My kids are preschool age so it’s not appropriate to tell them and they wouldn’t even know what it is yet. The addiction is Marijuana.

    • Hi, I changed your screen name to WifeOfAddict. The reason I did this is that you’d given a name which might be part of your real name, and I want to help you to keep safe from your abuser should he find this blog.

      You’ve asked a good question. Other readers here may have some good suggestions, but here is mine:
      You could tell them “Daddy’s been so selfish, he has put his own pleasures first and not cared about our needs as a family. That’s why I am having to divorce him. I care for you kids a lot. I don’t want you to have to grow up in a home where the dad is so selfish that he doesn’t care enough for you and for me and we suffer from his selfish lifestyle.”

      You can simplify that wording down to a level they can understand. And as they grow older, if they ask more questions, you can consider being more specific about what was it daddy had been doing which was so focused on his own pleasures. But by that time, they will probably have picked it up (observed it) for themselves…. if they have any visitation with him…. 😦

    • And also, dear Wife, please read our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And if you want us to change your screen name to something else, just email twbtc.acfj@gmail.com 🙂

  20. minagelina

    I have always thought about this, how to tell the kids. My parents did the how “we love each other but cant live together anymore” thing, let us know it wasnt about us. But gosh I wish I had had more information. My older sibling understood a lot more what happened between my parents, so now I know, and I dont blame my mom for leaving. I feel like having a little bit more information has got to be helpful for kids. Of course, saying daddy wont stop might induce a child like mine to open their mouth and confront daddy, so there is that. I think perhaps I would be as vague as I could and tell the child that there isnt anything to do to fix the situation. But that the child can always come to me with all their feelings.

  21. minagelina

    I posted a general paraphrase of the author’s explanation in a women’s divorce group (no links, complete paraphrase from my own memory, didn’t even mention the site or source), and I received a comment that this is STILL denigrating the dad. That saying something about the dad doing something wrong is still badmouthing him. If this is the case, then are we to just “hope” that the child gets it down the line?

  22. Seeing Clearly

    [About one decade] past divorce with adult children. When this post was written 3 years ago, I anticipated the day when my adult children would finally realize why I divorced. If I hadn’t, I probably would not be alive today, [over three decade] marriage to covert abuser. Sadly, they appear to be lulled into a 50 / 50 relationship with both parents. Except that dad covertly manipulates times when both adults are ‘home’ for get togethers. He passively reminds them that he can’t be around me. I get a few spots of time with them. I don’t fight for quality time, i.e. holidays.

    Bottom line: I long for them to tell me that they realize I was in an emotionally and mentally abusive marriage. That they are thankful that I am alive. That they are processing having been a child in a very dysfunctional home. They are kind to me, but I don’t hear any of these words. Complacency reigns. I long to run away.

    • Clockwork Angel

      Hi Seeing Clearly,

      Well, I’m glad that you’re alive. I know that I don’t count as one of your kids (though it sounds like I’m roughly young enough to be), but you are part of the family of God. I’m your family. We’re all your family here. I hope that is some small comfort. I know that isn’t the same as one of your flesh and blood kids telling you the same. But as your spiritual family, I do realize what you went through, and I’m happy you’re not in that sham of a marriage anymore.

      • Seeing Clearly

        Thank you, CA. I do consider contributors to ACFJ to be my family. It is a wonderful, safe community, free of all the craziness expressed in my blood family. You encourage me this day.

        I remind myself that what they grew up in is their norm. If it felt natural to me, coming into it as a rather young adult, surely it will take a long time for them to wake up.

        The ongoing question in most circles: why do people readily believe abusers before victims? Why are abusers given the benefit without doubt.

  23. I cannot unsee what I see now

    My precious young adult children have been my biggest concern in divorcing recently after about three decades of mostly covert abuse. … What to tell them has been my biggest stressor. The ex and pastor have lied to them about me. I have a lengthy recording of the pastor talking to a couple in the church in which he lies repeatedly about me and fabricates conversations with me that never happened and pronounces that my ex was never abusive. He also breaks pastoral confidentiality repeatedly including giving out my personal financial information from my ex. He says I just planted those ideas in the minds of my adult children. It has been a vicious, community-wide smear campaign and many people believe their lies that I am mentally ill or emotionally unstable. The pastor told this couple that I am an emotionally and spiritually dangerous woman and the wife was not to associate with me. It has been a slow motion train wreck. (The couple supported me and spoke truth and were encouraged to leave the church for causing problems.)

    My kids are caught between the statements of their covert abusive narc dad and the pastor and what they observe in how I am flourishing after the separation and divorce and the solidness of my relationship with each of them that I have had from the beginning. The kids are pawns to the ex in the competition that he must win – no matter how painful or unfair to the kids. I have found great healing over the last few years with a Christian psychologist.

    My youngest child has asked if there are any resources available for adults whose parents are divorced recently or have divorced since the children left the home. I was just at a conference with 7,000 counselor types and none of them knew of any resources for this demographic. I have domain names and lots of vision for a resource site but I don’t see a way to monetize it (which I need or go to work) or protect the privacy of my children which I insist on doing. It is painful to see how they are manipulated by their father and others in the church (which I am no longer welcome in for getting an “unbiblical” divorce). Fortunately they either live far away or attend another church. Watching their pain of having a fractured family has been my greatest heartache. But I am still gratefully divorced and so thankful to be free. Someone recently told me, “Welcome back from the dead.” I smiled and said, It’s good to be back!” And it is.

    I want a site where adult children and their concerned relatives can go for more information on what is helpful or unhelpful, resources that deal with the “Christian” responses to divorce, practical advice for adults on handling the nitty-gritty of special events, holidays, parents dating / remarrying, finding help with their own grief and pain, resources about abuse, parental alienation, personality disorders, setting boundaries, etc. I am a professional counselor (and I still could not see what was happening to me until I desperately sought out an abuse-savvy Christian psychologist and started a therapeutic separation) and I was lost in the fog after 3 decades as so many targets are. But I have spent the last 3 years researching and know more about so many things I wish I didn’t need to understand so well.

    I would love to provide others with access to the resources that have been so helpful to me – including this site! There is so much the kids don’t know but I don’t want them to feel they must choose which I think they would do if they knew the truth. This post was helpful. Would love to see one on what has been helpful with adult children in these abuse situations. Abusers can seem so “smooth and spiritual.”

    • Hi, Icannotunsee — I airbrushed your comment a little to elide details that might identify you. Please check your comment as published; if you want us to remove or airbrush any more details, email myself and TWBTC.

      You are right: there is a need for a website and resources specifically aimed at adults who grew up in households where one parent was abusing the other parent. When the abuse wasn’t obvious to the children as they were growing up, when the abuse was covert, when the abuser was skilled at making the kids think that nothing was wrong, or skilled at painting the target of abuse as the BAD parent, there is a gigantic learning curve for these kids to climb, when the primary victim of the abuse finally separates from and divorces the abuser.

      So I honour you and your young-adult children for voicing this need. I applaud your keenness to find a way to meet this need. 🙂

      One of the items on our FAQ page deals with that need: it is called What if the abusers were one’s parents? But I agree that we are only scratching the surface of that need.

      In my observation, trying to monetize a website which addresses domestic abuse is fraught with ethical problems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a website do that with integrity. The problem is, the people who want help to understand and respond rightly to domestic abuse are not the cashed up part of the population. The victims of abuse and their children who have chosen not to become abusers are not super affluent, by and large — rather they are ordinary people who don’t have a lot of disposable income because they are working as hard as they can to meet the basic financial needs of their household.

      In my observation, website owners who try to make a personal income from a site which purports to offer resources for the abuse victims (whether those victims are primary or secondary victims of abuse) —- those website owners end up becoming self-promoters. They compromise truth and biblical integrity in order to monetize of their website.

      It sounds to me like you (Icannotunsee) have figured this out for yourself 🙂 — you’ve realised that getting a practical liveable income from a website which addresses domestic abuse is not something that can be done. 😦


  1. Abuse: Walking the fine line – parenting children | reneerobertskopp

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