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Advice on dealing with an abusive ex - don't lie to your children about what he did but don't slag him off either...

(48 Posts)
Namechanger2015 Mon 04-Jul-16 10:47:24

Can I ask you how you do this? I am struggling with my 8yo DD who saw my exH hit me, but asked me what other reasons were that I left him.

I tried to be honest and stick to the facts, one example I used was that he never wanted to do anything as a family, so I would take the 3 DC (aged 6, 5 and 1) on holiday or with my parents, whilst he holidayed with his friends, because it was boring to come on holiday with me (my parents came to help me but would not have come otherwise).

DD struggled with this and asked me a few weeks later - does that mean daddy thinks I am boring?

I was very upset for her, and reassured her that he does not find her boring, he comes and sees them at weekends (usually once a month even though he could come more often). He makes little digs at me, to the children directly, but does not speak to me at all (I initiated no contact).

They know he was violent and not interested in them, but they struggle with this now, as they see him and spend time with him alone and their love for him grows. Ultimately he still doesn't deliver as the decent dad, calls them once a week, sees them once a month, underpays CMS maintenance etc, wilfully hiding his cash during finance settlement proceedings, etc.

I don't know if I want the children to love him, to be honest; we seem to be much happier when he is not around, DDs are now very settled, have lots of family, friends, social life is great, etc. But he wants to see them, and they want to see him, my gut feeling is that this is better than the alternative of forcing the relationship apart.

bibliomania Mon 04-Jul-16 11:13:58

Hi Name, this is a question I ponder myself. It's a hard tightrope to walk, being honest about bad behaviour without "slagging him off". When exH behaves in ways that hurt dd, I've explained how it fits the pattern of his behaviour to me, because it helps her to understand that it's not her fault. Abusive men are masters at making their behaviour out to be their victim's fault, so it's a high priority for me to challenge this.

Outside that context, I don't volunteer information about his past (or current) vileness, and I do attempt to make neutral-to-positive statements about him being good at music or whatever.

That's in addition to challenging the harmful behaviour through court etc. I've been able to reduce the harm, but not eliminate it.

The renowned Lundy Bancroft has a book called "When Dad Hurts Mom" which I read a few years back, although I can't remember much from it - something about teaching your dc's to be critical thinkers so they don't get taken in by anyone with an agenda to push, including an abusive parent.

Namechanger2015 Mon 04-Jul-16 11:41:55

It's really difficult isn't it? My exH has told my DDs that is was ok that he hit me (he strangled and hit me in front of them), and that I am the selfish one, I shouldn't have left him and destroyed the DDs lives just because of one fight.

So I try to counter this by saying yes I should leave, and the DDs should leave if someone hits them in the future, but also that I didn't leave because of one fight, there is a lot more going on. DD1 is 8 (nearly 9) and very very emotionally mature/aware for her age. She really wants to know and understand why I left him. She understands that life is so much better now, but her heart aches for him, and for things to be 'normal' again, I can see this so clearly.

But it's very hard to explain emotional and financial abuse to an 8 year old without upsetting her or damaging her with the information.

I don't volunteer information about his past (or current) vileness, and I do attempt to make neutral-to-positive statements about him being good at music or whatever. this is really admirable. But then I worry they will only see his positives and won't see that I had good reason to leave.

duckwalk Mon 04-Jul-16 11:47:19

This is something I really struggle with too. I left my ex when my dd was 5, this was 7 years ago (I'm happily married now).
She remembers some of the violence but unfortunately it's only the stuff when it escalated to me defending to her it seemed as though we were both fighting each other. Before she was conceived I pressed charges against him for d.v but then dropped them due to pressure from him and his family (who included high level police officers). I was 21 at the time, and not as strong as I am now. DV runs in his family and the sight of me with a black eye would not spark much shock from them.
My ex is a narcissist who abused me emotionally too. He had little interest in my dd and sounds like yours in that he didn't want a "baby on board" sign on his car as it would make it 'uncool', and he wasn't really interested in family days out etc.
When I left him I had to constantly encourage him to see her and it's the biggest mistake I ever made. She used to cry to me saying that he didn't love her. Despite my constant encouragement he saw her 2-3 times each month so I took matters into my own hands and applied for CSA and low and behold he started having her 2 overnights each week (to reduce his payments). The CSA payments didn't last though as he made threats against me if I didn't drop my application (and I wasn't as strong a person back then to just tell him to fuck right off).
I never ever told my dd about the abuse I lived with, or the complete lack of support from his (and her) family. I grew up estranged from my mum and it had awful psychological effects on me, and I was so torn about what to do in terms of keeping my dd away from her dad.
He repeatedly assured me he loved her and would never harm her. 3 weeks ago, aged 12, she self harmed. She has since told me that his behaviour contributed to it; she told me that he was basically emotionally abusing her and had done for years. I had her referred to CAMHS and he told her that he was ashamed to have a daughter who needs counselling. Then after a very small argument, he back handed her across the jaw 2 weeks ago.
As soon as she told me I contacted the police and they arrested and charged him.
Social workers are now involved and she is not allowed contact with him. Unfortunately, as she does not know the history she is absolutely miserable without him in her life and is completely blaming me for going to the police. I absolutely wish I had just been honest with her instead of protecting him. Obviously I'll never know how she would have felt or been affected without him in her life but what I do know is that I have a dd with little confidence, trouble maintaining friendships and displaying manipulative behaviour that mirrors his.
Don't protect your ex op, you have to think of your kids. I feel like the shittiest mum ever as I pushed my dd to him even though I knew what he was capable of sad

LilaTheTiger Mon 04-Jul-16 11:48:29

I just read this today. It's the first useful thing I ever read on the subject.

springydaffs Mon 04-Jul-16 11:57:36

You don't need to add any other details than that he hit you and tried to strangle you! There is simply nothing else you need to add! That is ample reason!

Sorry for plentiful !! but I hope you get it - and make it clear to your kids.

But I get the walking the tightrope between telling the truth but not putting him down. Practically impossible, of course. I eventually told the children that 'dad' has problems with control and because of that we couldn't be together. I made it clear he has problems with needing to be in control and, for that reason, it makes it hard for anyone to have a deep relationship with him. But he loved them blah blah blah.

RedMapleLeaf Mon 04-Jul-16 12:26:44

I don't understand why you'd tell her private details of your relationship with her dad. Surely him bitching about your company being boring is an adult topic? No wonder your child was turning it in on herself.

bibliomania Mon 04-Jul-16 13:33:01

Your poor dd, duckwalk. This is all very recent, and I hope things get better now that it's all out in the open.

I don't know if I've got the balance right. I try to criticise the behaviour, not the person. School seem to talk about people making good choices v. bad choices. I think it's easier for a child to understand daddy making bad choices v. daddy being bad.

Namechanger2015 Mon 04-Jul-16 14:08:47

I don't understand why you'd tell her private details of your relationship with her dad. Surely him bitching about your company being boring is an adult topic? No wonder your child was turning it in on herself.

Yes, I agree, I think I got this totally wrong, I really, really don't want to do it again. DD really wants to understand why I left him, so I was trying to explain to her that I was very unhappy for a multitude of reasons, and this was one of them. He wouldn't spend time with any of us at all, but was happy to holiday/drink/socialise with his friends all of the time. He had checked out of the marriage basically.

None of these are topics for children, they are all adult topics as far as I can see. I don't know how to walk the fine line between being honest with them and making sure they don't make the same mistakes, and telling them too much. They already modify their behaviour around him, and try to appease him by forgoing things they really want to have or do.

I don't know if I've got the balance right. I try to criticise the behaviour, not the person. School seem to talk about people making good choices v. bad choices. I think it's easier for a child to understand daddy making bad choices v. daddy being bad.

This might be a better approach - I will try it. He will tell them on the phone that he doesn't want to see them this weekend because he already saw them two weeks ago, so they already pick up on this poor choices, but they are young and don't hold him accountable for this (as is only right at their ages). I don't want to compound their sadness, but at the same time they want to know what happened and why we don't live together anymore.

Hitting and strangling is not enough for them, they have been told by their daddy that this is no big deal.

Namechanger2015 Mon 04-Jul-16 14:10:08

Duckwalk I am so sorry about your daughter. It sounds like you were doing a very noble thing by encouraging their contact, I really don't think you should be blaming yourself for his abusive behaviours. I hope your DD is getting the help she needs.

bibliomania Mon 04-Jul-16 14:10:52

Hitting and strangling is not enough for them, they have been told by their daddy that this is no big deal.

Maybe that's the point to emphasise to them then - it is a very, very big deal.

Namechanger2015 Mon 04-Jul-16 14:23:13

Yes, I most definitely have told them that it is not acceptable. I think it makes them sad that it's not acceptable so they want other reasons.

It's all relatively new to them as I only left last year, so the disappointment will be there for a while I think.

He went through a phase of telling them if they don't like their new school they can always go back and live with him (different city). So DD1 spent a year telling me she disliked her new school but didn't know why. Reality is he doesn't want them to live with him any way, but it's very confusing for my children to hear him say that.

I don't want to leave her caught up between two warring parents, I really need to be able to stop and manage this. I totally screwed up by telling her about him finding us boring.

bibliomania Mon 04-Jul-16 15:28:20

Don't beat yourself up about it. I don't think it's the worst thing anybody has said to a child! Do you think it might be useful to have a follow-up conversation to contextualise it a bit more, ie. it's not that she/you are boring, but more than some people aren't good at valuing family life?

I think that your dd's struggle is healthy, in a way, though painful to watch. My dd is a similar age, and she's gone through a tough adjustment to realising that her beloved daddy treats her in problematic ways (not from anything I've said - all down to his behaviour). It was always going to have to happen, sooner or later. She's adjusted her expectations of him - she can have a nice, chatty, happy time with him on the surface, but underneath it, she's always braced for him to turn nasty. I'm sad that it has come to this, but in a way, it's a kind of protective mechanism she needed to learn.

RedMapleLeaf Mon 04-Jul-16 15:51:26

We all make mistakes, and we're all doing the best we can do. I think all you can do is explain that when daddy hit you, you had to split up. Just present it as a fact, don't get in to further discussion (what's to discuss about that??) and change the subject to something else.

Hissy Mon 04-Jul-16 17:03:17

Age appropriate truth and undo the Disney dad lies he tells. Like telling me he's not sending money, then phoning up ds to ask him what daddy can buy him...

Luckily my ds sees through him now, and none of this crap fools him

I don't have to slag he ex off to make him look bad, the truth does that. He is owed nothing. My ds is owed protection from a substandard abusive prick.

You're allowing WAY too much influence in their lives from this vile human. It's not yo, it's not hem, it's him. They can choose to be different, they don't have to emulate him. If they are sort they will learn not to be like him.

He reaps what he sows. You're protecting your children.

Hissy Mon 04-Jul-16 17:06:11

The most I say is that ex loves ds, but he does not know how to love properly like others do, and to never base his self worth on any thing his dad says or does. Have confidence in himself and please himself, challenge himself to be better or happier and not to allow other people to make you responsible for their happiness.

amarmai Mon 04-Jul-16 17:35:06

As abusers always blame those they abuse,your dcc will the warped version that it was your fault if you do not tell them the truth. My dccsare in their 40s now and have long come to the conclusion that their father is someone to stay clear of. They saw him punching and kicking me and they never asked me So I never talked about it. When they got to the teen years and he saw them as A threat to his shakey self image so he made them afraid of him too . HE was not invited to weddings. Has not met gcc,. Knows nothing of his cc's lives. He gave not. A Penny to their upbringing, I paid it all. He gave nothing and is due nothing.I say tell the truth as and when they ask and never forget, the abuser will be blaming you to your dcc , his family, friends , everyone, as he desperately needs to believe he is a human being.Animals do not do to the mothers of their offspring what some men do.

donners312 Mon 04-Jul-16 17:44:51

yes i wonder about this a lot. 'professionals' seem to believe that a relationship with a parent no matter how bad a parents behavior is better than no parent at all and i cannot get my head around it.

my ex uses the children to manipulate me and has done so many thing s that would indicate he couldn't give a toss about them that i really struggle to understand what is beneficial to them?

But i do my best to encourage their relationship and hope i am doing the right thing?

I also say things i regret often "no we can't afford it because dad doesn't give us any money" which i don't think is a great thing to say but sometimes i can't help it.

I tell them that their dads behavior is not a reflection of them and that he just doesn't know how to behave properly?

DailyMailEthicalFail Mon 04-Jul-16 17:48:21

this is a very interesting thread.

mummytime Mon 04-Jul-16 18:01:15

I think it is crucial that they understand that being hit never mind being strangled is enough to end a relationship - for their own future safety. Does their school have a home school worker? Or could you get them some counselling?
An outside adult could be very helpful.

RedMapleLeaf Mon 04-Jul-16 18:29:30

yes i wonder about this a lot. 'professionals' seem to believe that a relationship with a parent no matter how bad a parents behavior is better than no parent at all and i cannot get my head around it.

I'm not sure about the premise of your statement (due to my own lack of experience with professionals in this matter) but your point got me asking, "what's the alternative?". It's a very rare situation where one parent can prevent the other having a relationship, so what are you thinking that they should do?

noteabagsintoilet Mon 04-Jul-16 18:45:07

this is an issue close to me - my kids are learning the truth - i wasn't aware i was in an emotionally abusive marriage (20yrs)until after it ended - the abuse continues right through the divorce process - the x thinks its all me & is being backed up by his OW - I have had depression for 20 years - always thought it was me - now I know the truth. There is no way I am going to let our kids be emotionally controlled by him - if I don't show them that there is another way how will they learn - i thought my parents marriage was "normal" - i now understand there was a lot of control here too - and I would say I had a good childhood. When our kids misbehave we dont tell them we dont love them as a result of this behaviour - its the same with their dad - they can love him & do - but I have to teach them how to handle him & stand up for themselves. My kids are teens - its bloody tough & there are immense struggles but I am not going to let them be subject to what i've been through by "protecting" his image

donners312 Mon 04-Jul-16 18:50:54

Hi redmapleleaf, what i can't get my head around is the fact that 'courts' and counsellors etc seem to think children are better to have a relationship with a parent even if that parent has hit the other parent, shows no interest in the child/children/refuses to pay maintenance or care for th children etc.

Apparently research (according to a court ordered course i recently was forced to attend) shows children should have a relationship wth both parents and fare better if they do.

In my case i do encourage and support my children to have a relationship with their Dad. But in my case he shows no care for them and is even cruel to them having no empathy for them at all (even commented on in court). I wasn't trying to stop contact BTW we weren't in court for that.

So i do not understand how a child can be better off having a relationship with a Dad who hits their Mum? who shows no respect for their Mum? etc etc I just don't get it?

What am I thinking they should do? I guess change their behaviour to conform to something resembling decency and respect etc. Failing that just go away and allow the other parent to deal with everything with out the stress of dealing with their stupid crap?

donners312 Mon 04-Jul-16 18:52:08

BTW referred to it as Dad who hits mum etc of course i mean whichever parent behaves badly irrespective of sex.

noteabagsintoilet Mon 04-Jul-16 19:08:12

donners Im with you on this - i have encouraged the relationship but at the same time will not let his behaviour go by - several times I have had to get involved when things are impacting on the kids - i believe the kids are scared of him not from a violent perspective but if he can treat me like he does after apparently loving me for 20 years what may he do to them - my dd has already said he doesnt care about her & puts OW above her. I will continue to support the relationship whilst they want it but i will not support his behaviour.

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