REBUILDING CONNECTION BETWEEN CHILDREN AND PARENTS WHO USED VIOLENCE
In the aftermath of family violence, it takes a great deal of work to ensure a child’s safety and...
Hundreds of studies have documented the adverse impact of intimate violence on children. Some have focused on the parenting styles of men who use IPV, which might be authoritarian, self-centered and manipulative, irresponsible, neglectful and under-involved, devoid of empathy, and sometimes controlling and abusive. Some fathers who use violence continue to use threats and violence after separation, undermine their partners or ex-partners’ authority and interfere with their parenting, involve children in violent events and use them as weapons, and create divisions in the family. Some have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and describe their parenting as better than their partners or ex-partners. Fathers who use violence also often try to manipulate the courts, child protection, and other systems to control their families.
Knowing all this, it’s natural to ask, “Why should we work with these people?” There are many answers to this question, but the most important one is that some survivors want their partners or ex-partners to get help; they want the abuse to end, but not necessarily the relationship. Others want to leave their abusive partners, but if they have children together, many would like the father to stay involved in their children’s lives if it can be done safely. Other reasons are that many fathers who use violence often have legal and illegal contact with their children, whether we like it or not, and many children long to have a healthy relationship with their fathers. Moreover, research shows that many abusive partners can develop empathy toward their children more easily than towards their partners, and to gain awareness of the harm they are causing can be a catalyst to start the process of change. It is important to remember (but not use as a justification) that many people who use violence grew up in abusive households and have lived through the cycle of violence and that breaking the cycle might also be a powerful motivator. Ultimately, giving abusive partners more opportunities for change and healing is an essential component in ending intimate partner violence.
“How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing while at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
Considering all of the factors mentioned above, Doctor bell hooks has asked, “How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing while at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” The answer is complex, but there have been practitioners who have achieved the balance between accountability and support for positive change. Some call this approach duality in practice or compassionate accountability. At FUTURES, we call it relational accountability. In the last two decades, we have developed tools, materials, and strategies to help fathers who use violence take responsibility for their behavior, change it, and when possible, repair their relationships with their children.