Do It For the Kids

grayscale photo of a boy crying

Many abused spouses wrestle with the separating from the abuser by their fears that it is harmful for their children to grow up with only one parent.

They may not have looked beyond the effects behind such blanket pronouncements based on ideal of successful family life.

Of course a strong, protective and wise loving parent, both father and mother, is important for children’s nurturance. However insisting that a male body and a female body is all that is necessary falls short of the reality of what is actually needed for children’s development.

Is a cruel father or a derelict mother really preferable just to maintain the presence of two adults in the home? Or perhaps more important to the church, the image of family life as secured by church membership?

If that one parent is abusive, testimonies and studies of children who grew up in domestic abuse may be able to correct this misgiving.


Bed wetting
Thumb sucking
Excessive crying and whining
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Showing signs of terror such as stuttering or hiding
Severe separation anxiety

Usually concerns for maintaining two parents are also influenced by fears of social image or peer interactions at schools. The stigma around divorce is less outside the church than within.

School staff are familiar with children living in single parent homes. It is not the grim disaster that those upholding male power have painted. Dealing with painful home situations leave persistent issues for children as they grow up, but living in them creates more.

Blame self for abuse
Headaches, stomachaches
Few friends or bully others
Excuses not to bring friends home or go to school activities
Try to be perfect or not try at all; falling grades

Students are usually sympathetic with one another when they learn someone is navigating living with a single parent. They may lend a sympathetic ear as their classmate is dealing with custody visits or other issues that can arise. Needless to say, abusive spouses can use children as political footballs to put pressure on their victims.


Girls tend to withdraw or be depressed
Boys tend to act out in aggression; bully others
Loner or spend all time at school, jobs or sports
Risky behaviors; drugs; alcohol; poor sexual decisions (of course girls sexually abused in home act out sexually) Choose abusive partners.
Avoid drawing attention to self in case parents called in
Try to protect abused parent; boys try to attack father; or identify with abuser and disrespect victim; blame victim

Spouses who do leave may have to live through the deliberate alienation of a child that the abuser fosters by lying to them.

The younger the child, the better it is to leave. But workers have also seen older children pleading with the victim to leave and feeling tremendous relief when they can sleep in safety each night. Also women report that, as the son gets older, the anger builds and he may try to injure or kill the abuser to protect his mother. No one wants to see their child go to court over this tragedy.

In later life, diabetes, heart disease, depression and suicide are present at higher rates.

If you cannot leave

  •  help children feel safe.
  • Talk to them about healthy ways to relate.
  • Take them to safe surroundings as often as you can.
  • Allow to talk about their fears.
  • Talk about boundaries.
  • Find support system.
  • Get professional help.

If your church stigmatizes divorce, know that this is not the stance they should be taking in pastoral care.  Staying in abuse serves those who want power, not the victims. Civil authorities like the courts hold mothers more responsible for child welfare than fathers. If you don’t leave for your own well-being, leave for theirs. The longer you stay, the more deep damage is done to your children. Their welfare is your responsibility. Raising them in abuse is not what they need.

Children do better in a safe, stable, loving environment whether there is one or two parents.  They feel tension and fear. Leaving can teach them it’s not ok.

Published by Fessup

A 30-year veteran educator and counselor, published author, lifelong student of religion and women's issues, educator with, mother, and lover of Far Side humor.

One thought on “Do It For the Kids

  1. Very well done article. I know of case where the courts sided with the stepparent who had alienated the child from its absent parent. The abuser often made excuses for canceling visits and moving away. Abuse can be directed to the absent parent who often has no one on (his, her) side.

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