Coparent Academy Podcast

#92 - Abusers as Parents

December 25, 2023 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
Coparent Academy Podcast
#92 - Abusers as Parents
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In episode 4 of our series on domestic violence and coparenting we talk about what kind of parent abusers often make. 

If you would like to participate in our domestic violence series as a guest, please contact us and let us know. We are interested in all perspectives and backgrounds for our conversations.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To learn more about becoming the best coparent you can be, visit coparentacademy.com.

Speaker 1:

Welcome everybody. This is episode four in our co-parenting and domestic violence series, and today we're gonna be talking about the abuser is parent, because if we're gonna be dealing with co-parenting and domestic violence, parenting fits in there and we have to understand what these folks are like as parents who have these folks who have committed domestic violence. So, Linda, I think something that doesn't necessarily cross your mind all the time, but it's kind of obvious, I think, is that when you take a person who is committing domestic violence, there are different reasons why they do that. They have different personality traits or psychological problems, emotional problems, and they don't exist only in the relationship between the abuser and the victim. Right, those same personality traits, psychological problems, emotional problems remain in that person in all of their relationships, including their relationship with their children.

Speaker 2:

And they can even pop out at the job or when they're driving a vehicle or other situations like that. But for the most part, research shows us that they tend to be more likely to occur within their home context. And yes, that would apply to the children as well. Some of them are able to confine most of it to their intimate partner, but it's really difficult in a household, especially if the house is kind of a normal size, for the children to at least have experienced the yelling. They can sometimes tell me exact words that are being said from another room. It's you know their context. Once again, as children in whatever developmental stage they're in tailors and colors, that a lot. But it's you know. Many times they can be at risk themselves for trying to interject themselves to especially the older child, especially the older child's. A boy may frequently see himself as the protector of the parent that is being abused.

Speaker 1:

Right, and so the context for today is we wanna think about. You know, what is this person who's committed to massive violence? What are they like as a parent? What kind of characteristics do we need to be thinking about? Because, ultimately, where this is gonna go is we're gonna be thinking about how do we keep a child safe if they're gonna have a visitation or any sort of custodial time with the abusive parent, and how do we address these deficiencies in the abusive parent To turn them from if there's any chance of doing so, an abusive parent to a proper nurturing parent. You know, to know how to make that transition, we need to know where they are to start with, and so part of this conversation today is understanding the characteristics that the abuser is a parent, so that we know how to structure a visitation, we know how to put in place programs to help heal that abuser, to make them not be abusive in the future and their domestic relationships. So we know that Well, there's a lot.

Speaker 2:

There are a lot of characteristics.

Speaker 1:

I know for sure. So we know that people who were abusers tend to be entitled and self-censored. They tend to like to take control and they view the people in their lives as possessions, and that includes the children, doesn't it?

Speaker 2:

Oh, definitely, and I say the child. I mean I think all parents say their child in some ways as an extension of themselves, and you know what? That child would be a better version of themselves or something when it comes to academics or sports or whatever. But I think especially this particular parent is doing that, and anytime the child is not measuring up. That's why so many children have told me through the years that they fear the ride home with the parent, that they have not measured up to those expectations they realized during whatever game they just played Right.

Speaker 1:

I mean, and we all have negative self-talk, right, we all? I mean, I don't know how many times I think you told me this, Linda, Maybe it was Connie who would say this to you. Like, stop talking that way, you're my best friend. Yes, Is that what?

Speaker 2:

you're talking. Yes, definitely yeah, because you know, we talk to ourselves.

Speaker 1:

We talk to ourselves.

Speaker 2:

My negative self-talk only comes out aloud around her. That's when she knows it's happening and she can go whoa, no, that's not going to continue.

Speaker 1:

Exactly. We all have that negative self-talk, this negative perceptions of ourselves. When you're viewing the children predominantly as an extension of yourself, for as a possession of your words rather than an individual person in a developmental stage, that negative self-talk can be extended to them. You could be speaking to them as negatively as you're speaking to yourself. How horrible is it for a kid to be the received recipient of the harsh level of negative self-talk that we adults put on ourselves.

Speaker 2:

Then you've got the better, typically having that sense of superiority, even if they weren't the greatest baseball player. Their child doesn't know that and they're going to perceive themselves as having been ready for the majors and telling the child all about what they did wrong during the baseball game, whether it's intelligence or competence or anything. They're going to have been superior to that Once again. The child may be hearing that sense of superiority or entitlement coming out toward their other parent for weeks, months, years and start to believe that it's true about themselves and their parent.

Speaker 1:

That superiority goes to moral superiority as well. So lots of times the abusive parent will view any misconduct by the child not as some unmet need or something that is very common to that developmental stage and maybe attempted individuation, but they view it as some personal assault on them, as something morally wrong, giving the children much less moral slack than they give themselves in terms of any mess up.

Speaker 2:

Then that's very confusing to the child when they notice those slip-ups with a parent. But heaven forbid they confront the parent with that.

Speaker 1:

Right, exactly so. You have a child who has gone through an abusive household and may be coming out the other side, and that is a child who is fragile. They've gone through a lot, no matter how resilient they are. They've had a lot of trauma and they need really consistent authoritative parenting. But unfortunately, consistent authoritative parenting is not the hallmark of abusive parents. They're not known for that. So abusive parents tend to swing between authoritarian parenting, disinterested or permissive parenting, missing that authoritative, good parenting kind of all together.

Speaker 2:

Whether they're coming from the disinterested or the authoritative, they are authoritarian. They are frequently blaming the abused parent or the child for their acting out about, whatever the behavior was that they did. If you had only been more aware of something or if you had only done this like you were supposed to do it.

Speaker 1:

Right, then our child wouldn't be acting so poorly.

Speaker 2:

Or the child themselves wouldn't be doing whatever they had done.

Speaker 1:

Right. So when the abusive parent is sort of in that disinterested mode, which is, I mean, maybe children might actually like that because they're not being at risk of every moment of the parent coming down on them. But the difficulty is that the parent doesn't look at this child as someone that they love and cherish. They look at like a hindrance or an annoyance, like this is someone who's causing me to have to do stuff I don't want to do, and so they have this lack of connection with the children and they're less physically affectionate with them.

Speaker 2:

And the child is craving the pair to be kind and affectionate, and sometimes most typical, the pattern with a better is that they are occasionally doing so. You know they will occasionally Apologize, even if they're not quite owning what they did. They will apologize usually in some sort of Defensive way, like I was, you know, just so frustrated from work today, or you all were just to know to noisy, or whatever you know the situation was. And so the child learns that typically there is some positive to be found after the abuse of some kind.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and that's sort of that's a swing from the disinterested to the permissive. I think you know they have those cycles of Abuse and then sort of a honeymoon period, and I think that honeymoon period that you would see between the folks, the adults in abusive relationship turns into sort of permissive parenting with the parent-child relationship, and so it's that calm between storms and the kids. They recognize that they have a brief window when they may actually get some things that they want. You know, they could be taken out to do something fun or maybe get a video game, and so they learn to sort of try to ride the wave of the permissive post-abuse phase.

Speaker 2:

I think and that becomes. You know, whatever you are Raised in feels normal to you and so Even worse so than it feeling normal to the abused parent. It's going to feel normal at a very, you know, young developmental stage to a child and Then they're gonna have a very difficult time as an adolescent being attracted to somebody who is really just calm and easy-going and and Might be a potentially great mate for them, because that person seems dull and boring and, you know, probably doesn't really care where you know they've seen the, the abusive parent be someone who Professes to really care when they're in their good phase right and, like you were saying, you know, depending on the developmental stage of the child.

Speaker 1:

One thing that these abusive parents don't really necessarily Understand is what is developmentally appropriate for a kid, because they spend so much time being disinterested and Self-centered and just focused on themselves that they don't have a connection that lets them spend the time with the kids to understand what's developmentally appropriate and what their expectations of the child should be. So you have this person who is expecting the child to act like a little adult, to be seen and not heard. It's only be seen when you want them to be seen and to only be doing the exact right things. You mix that with someone who tends to be harsh and then you swing them into an authoritarian phase. It's just such a recipe for disaster.

Speaker 2:

And I think it gets worse and potentially more frightening for the outcome on the child as they do become teenagers that are starting to get into that individuation growth phase where you know sometimes they do push back at their parents and get a little malvy or sarcastic or something and that is just not going to be met with a good reaction from an abuser parent.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, for sure. I mean one of the reasons we know that the abusive parents are not good parents in addition to the fact that they're being abusive, I mean that de facto is poor parenting. But that's the kind of personality type that is not open to correction. I mean, I think it's fair to say, because it's all bell curves, right, it's all standard deviations, it's all you know. We all fit somewhere on that and I think generally men are raised to be less nurturing, less outwardly affectionate. And part of being married and having kids as a guy, from my perspective, having done that is learning from your spouse how to be more nurturing and how to be softer and gentler with your children and accepting feedback and criticism. And if you're this abusive person who's self-centered and into a course of control, you're not going to be open to feedback or criticism, so it stunts your ability to grow as a parent.

Speaker 2:

Oh, not at all on any level. And if they're not going to take it from the other parent as a co-parenting situation in the same home under the same roof, then how would they ever take it from their child? Or how would the child ever be able to say you know, it really hurts my feelings when, yeah, I think almost every parent has a hard time with that. It's really hard to hear that and I know this because I observe parents and children talking all day long in my work and it's really hard to hear anything, even if it's put in the context of constructive criticism, because I'm there to offer the constructive part of it. It is so difficult for any parent to accept that and own it and apologize for it and state what you're willing to do differently next time. And that's just normal, ordinary, everyday parents, not abusive parents.

Speaker 1:

Right for sure, and you know when you get that. You know and you mentioned you know, as the children grow up and they're trying to learn to individuate, be their own people, that requires pushback. It requires the ability to fight back with your family a little bit. You know like I used to encourage my son to disagree with me. And if he could convince me, if he could give me rational reasons, even if I didn't agree, why he should be able to do something or go somewhere or have something, then I would give in and I would tell him in advance like look, if you can just provide a reasonable argument, even if I don't fully agree outside with you, because you know you've put forth the effort and you've outlined valid reasons. You can't do that with an abusive parent, because that pushback isn't going to be accepted and that pushback is really necessary to help raise a child who has good self-esteem and views himself as an individual agent in the world.

Speaker 2:

Right, and they're just doing their developmental, their developmental job. You know they are doing what they're supposed to be able to do, and so what you did there with your son was to provide the boundary expansion to be able to do that without bumping into something negative from you as a result.

Speaker 1:

Right, and I think that's partly being a lawyer. I used to have an argument all the time, and not necessarily agreeing, but we're like you know. That's a good point. So I think, that was part of that.

Speaker 2:

I remember doing that as the, and I don't know how I learned it, but probably about how you learned that I learned with very gifted kids I mean qualified as such. With the testing in the public school system years ago, I learned that the last thing I could be in the classroom was an ultimate authoritarian and somebody who did not provide a chance for them to structure some of the boundaries in control in the classroom, because if they weren't allowed that, they would do it anyway. They would take over and they were smart enough to make it happen, and they outnumbered me like 36 to 1. And so I had to. I learned a lot from those gifted kids in terms of you know how to how to do the just mutually respectful kind of environment that they need, and I did a lot of that too. If you can, can you know, describe to me or put on paper what you think needs to change about whatever we're doing in the classroom? I'll definitely entertain it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, for sure. But when a child in an abusive household tries to do that, then they're likely to be met with harsh responses. People who are abusers of their spouses or significant others tend to be physically abusive towards their children as well. You know they tend to use corporal punishment more frequently, and when they use it they tend to hit harder, they tend to be more physically aggressive in that corporal punishment. So they're starting off with lots of difficulties in terms of being good parents. And then also, you know, they tend to have poor boundaries with the kids, and part of that's because the abusers typically going to be self-centered. You know, they're focused on their needs rather than the children's, and part of what a child needs is the creation of proper boundaries, and so a lot of these abusive parents have improper boundaries with the kids.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and once again flipping from the authoritarian to the permissive. You know they might have very inconsistent boundaries, depending on their own entitlement or their own mood, or they might have, you know, extremely too high boundaries that stay extremely too high for many years beyond, when the child developmentally needed some relaxation of boundaries.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and so a lot of times, you know these boundaries can be improper in multiple different ways. So you could have a parent who's abusive, who has this narrative that they need for their own sanity about why they're not the bad guy or a bad lady, and so they have a view of the world in which they're the victim and they like people to know that that they're only responding, as any person would, to being damaged or being attacked on all fronts by all the people in their lives are always the victim, and so maybe they will have improper boundaries by sharing that with their kids. You know talking about, you know, oh, maybe I should just jump off a bridge. You know, maybe I should just kill myself. Or you know, abusing substances in the children's presence, getting emotional support from the kids All of those are improper boundaries with the children.

Speaker 2:

And children learn to accommodate that. Yeah, I've seen children even exhibit that in office with me, with their parent, what I'm doing in observations, and the child is the caretaker. The child is essentially parenting the parent by being so caretaking, and sometimes it's because a parent is alcoholic or drug abusing, but more often than not it really is just because the parent has built that foundation of emotional support need from the child and it's really, I mean, it's something to behold. When it happens, you're you just are kind of so struck, it's so foreign, it's so unusual that you're really just kind of taken effect by seeing what's happening and how strong the control is on the child in that situation.

Speaker 1:

And it's a way that the parent, the abusive parent, may inappropriately use the children not just for emotional support, but also as pawns against the other parent, and they can teach the children to be abusive towards the other parent.

Speaker 2:

And they can make the child believe that the other parent is causing whatever reaction they're having. That is very inappropriate or scary and, once again, that that takes a lot of manipulative ability to cause that to happen, because you would think most human beings would be. I observed this. I'm scared of that person. I want to get away from that person, but many times they have manipulated the child so much that the child believes the other person is the liar, is the abusive one, is the one to distrust, and it's once again pretty shocking to observe if it really is. And that's where the use of the child as a pawn is is one of the, I'd say, most prevalent situations in separation and divorce situations where whether whether as our last week podcast was about the false allegation whether a parent is putting out a false allegation that the child is supposed to follow up with their behavior of maybe using to go with the other parent or something, or or whether it's the abuser that is using the child as a pawn. And you know, if you leave me, you're going to lose your child or whatever.

Speaker 1:

Right, yeah. And so when you have a parent who has indoctrinated the child to feel sorry for them, to sort of take their view of the world to see them as the victim, the other parent as the abuser, then it's not really that far a distance to go to understand that the child, especially at different developmental stages and depending on their gender as well, will start to incorporate into themselves, into their own identity, some of the same conduct against the other parent. I mean, if you truly think that one parent is the victim and the other is the aggressor, because you've been manipulated to think that it's not unusual for a child to want to come to the defense of the parent that they think is abused, and that can turn into all sorts of externalizing behavior towards the other innocent parent.

Speaker 2:

And I've, I've even had. I remember seven years ago there was a mother with three daughters and all three daughters had professed to be afraid of their father and afraid of what they had seen him do to their mother, until mother and the three girls were living alone and she had separated from father and the older daughter became just as verbally, emotionally and physically violent toward the mother as she had observed the father to be.

Speaker 1:

And why? Why that one child, do you think?

Speaker 2:

Actually, it does tend to be the oldest male or female child in the family when there is that vacuum that is missing. First of all, they're used to that much chaos and violence in the home, and so they are uncomfortable with what most people would consider normal and peaceful household, and so they've got to stir it up. It's, it's missing and they're going to stir it up.

Speaker 1:

And so that is a downstream effect of the improper parenting of the abusive parent on the child, sort of forgetting about the child's need for individuation and the child's own separate emotional needs and putting their self-centeredness and their manipulative air against to the forefront, and that's the result, right, okay? So with that sherry bit of parenting discussion, next week we are going to get into determining risk of visitation with the abuser parent and hopefully in this episode we've given you a lot to think about in terms of you know, how are we going to safely set up visitation? Because it's not just the idea that the parent may physically abuse the child. It may be that this parent would never physically abuse the child, but it still may be unsafe for the child to have visitation with the parent for other reasons. So next week we'll start delving into how do we determine the risk of visitation with the abuser parent. Remember, we would always love to hear any feedback from you. Go to podcast at coparentacademycom If you want to learn more about the parenting education that we have. If you've heard some things about improper parenting in this episode that sort of rung a bell for you or struck a cord, check out the materials that we have at coparentacademycom with co-parenting principles, communication, conflict resolution, all sorts of things that can help. If you are a parent who is sort of stuck in a co-parenting relationship with an abusive parent, and if you've been the abuser and you're looking to up your parenting gain, there's materials there for you as well. So we hope you all have a fantastic week and we'll see you next time.

Speaker 2:

Goodbye.

Understanding the Abuser as a Parent
The Impact of Abuse on Parenting
Parenting Resources and Support at CoParentAcademy