The Batterer as a Parent

Characteristics of Men Who Batter

Batterers often tend toward authoritarian, neglectful, and verbally abusive child-rearing. Other characteristics that can have an important impact on children include manipulativeness, denial and minimization of the abuse, and resistance to change. The effects on the children may be intensified by the trauma of witnessing physical assaults against their mother, and the tension produced by living with a high level of conflict between their parents.

The greater the amount of violence against a spouse, the greater the probability of physical child abuse by the abuser. Research shows an overlap between domestic violence and child sexual abuse. Fathers who batter their children's mothers can be expected to use abusive power and control techniques to control the children too. Battered mothers often fear for the safety of their children — especially after separation when they are not present to protect the child. A child doesn't have to be physically or sexually abused to be harmed by domestic violence. Children exposed to domestic violence can suffer emotional and behavioral problems similar to children who were the direct victims of physical or sexual abuse.

Influence of Battering on Parenting


One of the areas of life heavily controlled by many men who batter is the mother's parenting. An abuser may cause or forbid his partner to terminate a pregnancy, overrule her parenting decisions, or assault her when he is angry over the children's behavior. Battered women are far more likely than other mothers to feel that they have to alter their parenting styles when their partners are present.


A man who batters considers himself entitled to a special status within the family, with the right to use violence when he deems it necessary. He may become irate or violent when he feels that his partner is paying more attention to the children than to him. It's difficult for children to have their needs met in such an atmosphere. They can also feel they have to take care of the battering parent.


Men who batter often perceive their partners as owned objects. This attitude sometimes extends to their children, partly accounting for the dramatically elevated rates of physical and sexual abuse of children. They also seek custody of the children more often than non-battering fathers do.

Negative Impact on Children

Creating role models that perpetuate violence

Boys who are exposed to domestic violence tend to batter their own partners as adolescents or adults. This is due more to learned attitudes and behaviors than the emotional trauma of being exposed to abuse. Daughters of battered women show increased difficulty in escaping partner abuse in their adult relationships. Both boys and girls learn to accept various aspects of the batterer's belief-system, including that victims are to be blamed, women exaggerate their abuse, and males are superior to females.

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Undermining mother's authority

Domestic violence undermines a mother's authority because the batterer's verbal abuse and violence provide a model for children of contemptuous and aggressive behavior toward their mother. Children have increased rates of violence and disobedience toward their mothers. Some battered mothers report they are/were prevented from picking up a crying infant or helping a frightened child. They are also stopped from providing other basic physical, emotional, or even medical care. The children may feel that their mother does not care about them or is unreliable. The batterer may reinforce those feelings by verbally conditioning the children through statements such as, "Your mother doesn't love you" or "Mommy only cares about herself."

Retaliating against mother

The abusive parent may assault or intimidate the mother if she attempts to prevent him from mistreating the children. He may harm the children more seriously to punish her for standing up for them. The mother may be forced over time to stop intervening on her children's behalf. This can lead children to believe she doesn't care about the batterer's mistreatment of them. Child protective services may label her behavior as "failing to protect."

Sowing divisions within family

Some batterers use favoritism to build a special relationship with one child in the family. The favored child is often a boy, and the batterer may bond with him by encouraging a sense of superiority to females. Batterers also may create or feed existing familial tensions. These manipulative behaviors contribute to the high rate of inter-sibling conflict and violence.

Using children as weapons

Many abusers use children as a vehicle to harm or control the mother. Abusers may destroy the children's belongings to punish her, require the children to monitor and report on their mother's activities, or threaten to kidnap or gain custody if the mother attempts to end the relationship. Post-separation, many batterers use unsupervised visitation as an opportunity to further abuse the mother through the children.

Source: "The Batterer as a Parent" in Synergy (Winter 2002) by Lundy Bancroft Back to top


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