Being a parent changes everything. Is no longer just about you, but about someone else – you are responsible for this whole new life. Parenting is influenced by our past, our culture, our ethics, our values, even our surroundings. Parenting has a great significance in a child’s development. Many of us are lucky to have a supportive environment, healthy relationships, and/or be financially stable to raise our child(ren), but what happens when the environment is unhealthy – unstable? What happens when parenting is affected by the violence in a home? As advocates in this field, we understand the million and one barriers our clients face. We understand that leaving the relationship is not always safe. Even more importantly, we must recognize, our surviving parents are not ‘bad’ parents, they are just doing the best they can in the situation they were in (or are in).
The Center for Disease and Control estimates between 3 to 10 million children witness domestic/family violence in their homes. Studies have examined parenting behavior and parenting stress and in a parent-child relationship these two behaviors play a critical role in a child’s developmental stage, including their emotional, social, and cognitive needs. Therefore imagine how the trauma due to violence adds another layer of stress, which attributes to higher parental stress[i]. In addition, previous studies have illustrated children who witness this occurrence have a variety of consequences[ii] including but not limited to psychological, physical, and social developments. Furthermore, children in intimate partner violence household observing this behavior, learn to associate violence as a method to solve problems[iii]. Naturally, an outsider may want to judge the parent and blame them for their child(ren) behavior(s) but as I mentioned before the barriers to leave an abusive relationship are not black and white – is not just about grabbing a bag and walking out the door. So then, how can we help, support, and/or encourage a parent who has left or is still struggling with their abusive relationship?
I do not have a clear solution; however, what I do have is the understanding parenting brings. Without family support, friends, and/or parenting networks, the demands of parenting can be difficult and even complicated when in a healthy relationship. Therefore imagine having to live with someone who has power and control over you. As a consequence this affects your parenting styles and increases your parenting stress. Mothers who were involved in an abusive situation were aware of the negative impact it was causing in their parenting skills[iv].
Even after a parent, in many cases the mother, leaves the abusive relationship and has relocated herself to a safe place, the effects of the trauma are still felt. Therefore, we must continue to ensure we support survivors through their journey of becoming healthy parents by providing effective parenting classes and recognize their past history. As an advocate and a mother, I believe that we can do these three (3) things to support parents who have experienced or are living with DV:
- Discuss parenting techniques in DV support groups: Let’s insure that the topic of parenting is addressed often and use curricula which have been effectively used to attend to parenting and DV such as Triple P (Positive Parenting Program)
- Create or implement a stress management support group: We understand the extra concerns survivors encounter upon leaving the relationship, therefore they need to learn healthy coping skills as they move forward.
- Advocate for parent child organizations to get involved in supporting survivors and their children develop a healthier relationship. As part of community involvement and participation, organizations which specialize in child development could take part in this social issue by offering free or reduced-fee classes to survivors, or even partner with other organizations.
[i] Hughes, H. M., & Huth-Bocks, A. C. (2007). Variations in parenting stress in African-American battered women: Implications for children’s adjustment and family intervention. European Psychologist, 12(1), 62-71. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.12.1.62
[ii] Hughes, H. M., & Huth-Bocks, A. C. (2007). Variations in parenting stress in African-American battered women: Implications for children’s adjustment and family intervention. European Psychologist, 12(1), 62-71. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.12.1.62
[iii] Jaffe et al., 1990 as cited in Molina, Gomez, & Pastrana, 2009).
[iv] Levendosky, A. A., & Graham-Bermann, S. A. (2001). Parenting in battered women: The effects of domestic violence on women and their children. Journal of Family Violence, 16(2), 171-192. doi:10.1023/A:1011111003373