Most victims attempt to present to their children a “balanced” picture of the relationship and of the abusive spouse. In a vain attempt to avoid the notorious (and controversial) Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), they do not besmirch the abusive parent and, on the contrary, encourage the semblance of a normal, functional, liaison. This is the wrong approach. Not only is it counterproductive – it sometimes proves outright dangerous.
Children have a right to know the overall state of affairs between their parents. They have a right not to be cheated and deluded into thinking that “everything is basically OK” – or that the separation is reversible. Both parents are under a moral obligation to tell their offspring the truth: the relationship is over for good.
Younger kids tend to believe that they are somehow responsible or guilty for the breakdown of the marriage. They must be disabused of this notion. Both parents would do best to explain to them, in straightforward terms, what led to the dissolution of the bond. If spousal abuse is wholly or partly to blame – it should be brought out to the open and discussed honestly.
In such conversations it is best not to allocate blame. But this does not mean that wrong behaviors should be condoned or whitewashed. The victimized parent should tell the child that abusive conduct is wrong and must be avoided. The child should be taught how to identify the warning signs of impending abuse – sexual, verbal, psychological, and physical.
Moreover, a responsible parent should teach the child how to resist inappropriate and hurtful actions. The child should be brought up to insist on being respected by the other parent, on having him or her observe the child’s boundaries and accept the child’s needs and emotions, choices, and preferences.
The child should learn to say “no” and to walk away from potentially compromising situations with the abusive parent. The child should be brought up not to feel guilty for protecting himself or herself and for demanding his or her rights.
Remember this: An abusive parent IS DANGEROUS TO THE CHILD.