Father Christmas, Father Ted, your Father. The word Father can have various connotations – whether it makes you think of a jolly gift-giving fat man, a long suffering but well meaning priest or the person that gave you life, Fathers are influential. For better or worse, we can probably all talk about how our own Fathers have shaped us, even if it was by their absence. We can also, for better or worse, reflect about how our Fathers have impacted our Mothers’ lives. Whether it’s through their presence or absence, a Father can have a lot of influence over the whole family and household. But, as Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility” and some Fathers don’t use their influence for good, but rather deliberately use it for ill. Continuing our series on The Dominator, this article is going to focus on the persona of ‘The Bad Father’ – a person who uses children and parental roles to abuse their victim.
How does a Bad Father and maintain power and control over their victim?
A Bad Father uses children (whether biologically his or not) to control and abuse us. He uses the idea that childcare is ‘women’s work’ to his advantage. Our society continues to reinforce these attitudes – we can often hear someone talk about a single Father ‘Oh he is so good looking after them on his own’ etc. And of course a single Father can be congratulated on their committed parenting, but the problem is that we don’t hear single Mothers being talked about in the same way. A single Father is a saint who is going above and beyond, whilst a single Mother is simply doing what she should be doing. The Bad Father believes that whilst child-care is a woman’s responsibility, the children remain his property. Some of the tactics a Bad Father might use are:
Says you are a bad mother. He will make you – and even others around you – think that you are a bad mother. When he doesn’t enable you to buy new clothes for the children, he will berate you that they look scruffy. If they cry whilst you row, he will blame it on you. If you say you are going to leave him, he will say you are a bad mother for ‘breaking up’ the family and depriving the children of a ‘happy’ home. If the kids are unhappy in any way, it is your fault. He may even prevent you from attending to your new born baby (by locking you out of the room or by threatening to hurt the baby if you don’t obey his commands) and so when the health visitor or social worker visits and notices something isn’t quite right, you get the blame.
Turns the children against you. He calls you derogatory names in front of the kids. He gives them whatever they want which you wont allow/can’t afford them to have. He tells them any separation is your fault or choice. He undermines your discipline – you are always the bad cop to his good cop. He tells them lies about you. During access visits, he blames you for their limited time together. He buys them expensive gifts to gain their affection, whilst never paying you any maintenance.
Uses access to harass you. Even if you have managed to separate and are living in separate places, the children are always a seemingly valid excuse to contact you. He keeps getting in touch to see how the kids are or to arrange visits. He then doesn’t turn up on time or at all and you have to deal with distressed children. He demands to see them in your house where he treats it like his own. He sends them back with dirty clothes. He makes you provide all the nappys and baby food. He finds out information about you through the kids and sends messages to you through them. He uses access to drag you through a lengthy court case to remind you that he can still control you.
Threatens to take the children away. He prevents you from leaving him or disobeying his commands by saying he will take the kids away from you. He threatens to report you to social services for being a bad mother and so they will take the kids away. He convinces you that if you leave him, social services/the courts will grant him custody rather than you. At the worst end of the spectrum, he threatens to hurt/kill the children if you leave him.
Persuades you to have his baby, and then refuses to help you care for it. According to Refuge, women are three times as more likely to be hit when pregnant. Pregnancy brings a vulnerability with it, a woman is less likely to leave her abuser when she has a baby on the way – where would she live, how would she afford to care for the baby etc? A Bad Father knows this so persuades the victim to get pregnant but then doesn’t see it as his job to care for the baby once it arrives. This traps the victim both in the house and in the relationship. You can’t go out to see friends, or to work or continue with your education when you are the only person looking after the baby (don’t forget, he has probably isolated you from other support networks by this point too. See The Jailer). The Bad Father will refer to any childcare he does do as ‘baby sitting’, something he is doing as a favour to you – that he will make you pay for in the future.
What to do if you’re living with a Bad Father
As we state in each and every article in the series, if you are living with The Dominator, no matter what persona(s) they use, there is a way out for you. You do not have to believe their lies and live under their power and control any longer. As we also state in each article, we aren’t going to tell you how to leave your abuser in this article. Each relationship is different and complex – even more so when children are involved – so we want to make sure we provide the right advice for you. So please come and see us at one of our One Stop Shop or Drop In services. In the mean time, here are a few tips for how to stay safe (physically and emotionally) whilst living with the Bad Father:
Don’t believe his lies you are a bad mother, even if he has also made other people believe it. That’s what he wants you and others to believe. If you are making decisions to do everything within your power to keep your children safe from harm then you are a good mother. The fact that your abuser has limited your power and choices is not your fault, it is wholly his.
Partner with agencies which try to help you. Social Workers can understandably seem like the enemy which want to take your children away from you – your abuser has probably told you this is true. But Social Workers rarely take children away from mothers who are communicative and work with If you feel like your abuser is pulling the wool over their eyes, try and get an appointment without him. If you work with us at SATEDA, we can help advocate for you with your social worker. Being honest and open with social workers, health visitors, GPs and schools can broaden your support network, build your reputation and evidence base that you are a good mother.
If your abuser seeks to make you pregnant when you don’t want to be, talk to your GP about some contraception which you can take without his knowledge.
Keep a log of all of his abusive behaviour, particularly when it involves the children. This will be helpful if you ever get into a court case about access and custody.
If you are concerned your children are being turned against you, trust one day they will become adults and will be able to see the truth of the situation. Your consistent love, affection and support will stand out as better parenting when compared with inconsistent indulgences.
Don’t believe the lie if you leave your abuser you will be the one responsible for your children not living with both of their parents. If your partner wasn’t abusive, you wouldn’t be needing to leave him, he is the one responsible for the impact on your children, not you. You can’t be blamed for him being a bad father.
If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, call 999.
Please don’t live with a Bad Father any longer than you have to. It might not seem like it, but taking your kids out of an abusive home will most likely be better for them in the long run – as well as for you. The impact of being in an abusive home on children is inescapable, even if they are not directly abused themselves. Safe Lives have published a report on this here. Please get in touch with us and let us help you break free from abuse.