Good parenting requires that parents do not undermine each other, make sacrifices, and be willing to put the needs of their children ahead of their own. Men who use violence may also seek to dominate their households, undermine the mothers parenting, use unusually harsh parenting strategies and often insist that their own needs come first.
In their book The Batterer as Parent, Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman identify the following qualities of partner-abusing fathers:
- Authoritarian: They can be rigid and intolerant, are unwilling to negotiate or accept feedback, and often view children as their personal possessions.
- Irresponsible, Neglectful and/or Under Involved: Batterers expect the rewards of parenting without the challenges and sacrifices. They often have unreasonable expectations of their children due to a lack of knowledge of their developmental needs.
- Self Centered: They lack empathy for family members and expect children to meet their needs.
- Manipulative: Batterers blame partners for their own destructive behavior and create confusion in children regarding who is responsible for the abuse. Batterers may have superdad episodes where they lavish attention and money on their children in an effort to look and feel good and make their partners look worse by comparison.
- Undermining the Mother and Using Children against Her: Abusers criticize and over-rule their partner’s parenting in front of their children and foster the children’s lack of respect for her. They may require children to report on their mother, or threaten to harm or abduct them if she fails to obey him.
- Ability to Perform Well under Observation: They are typically successful at appearing to others be good parents, including at supervised visitation and in contacts with professionals. This positive performance often elicits a warm response from children, who and are eager for their father’s nurturing attention and know that with surveillance comes safety.
Over the past decade new ideas have emerged about how to work with abusive men as fathers. Increasing men’s empathy of his children’s experience of exposure is an important strategy that is finding some promise. Not all men who use violence are the same and each situation requires a balance of holding him accountable and finding interventions that will support his behavioral change. Many men who are in Batterers Intervention programs were once children who were exposed to violence. In that spirit, we must continue to look for ways that engage them in a change process.