Accessing the right kind of help and support can sometimes be difficult for mothers who are at risk of becoming separated from their children. They might not know where to go or who they can talk to, especially if they are frightened that getting help with domestic violence, substance abuse or mental health problems will put them at risk of having their children removed from their care.
Mothers might experience extreme levels of fear, anger and stress when there is risk of mother-child separation that can make engaging with services difficult. They may not know which service is appropriate, especially if they do not have evidence of violence or have not identified domestic abuse when it is of the non-physical type.
A controlling, coercive partner might have threatened the lives of them and their children or told them that if they leave or go for help they will never see their children again. They may not realise that their mental health problems or substance misuse are caused by the abuse they endure, particularly if they are being psychologically abused by a partner who is encouraging drug and alcohol use, isolates them from family, friends and sources of support, and makes them believe they are worthless. An abusive man may tell them and everyone else that they are an ‘unfit mother’. He might make false allegations about them if they do find the courage to go for help. A mother might find herself being scrutinised by the local authorities, accused of violence and abuse when it is she who is the real victim. A woman might come to believe what her abuser tells her and blame herself.
A mother may become separated from her children despite her best efforts to protect them. Her ex-partner might turn her children against her out of revenge or punishment or just because he enjoys the feeling of being powerful and in control, post-separation and in perpetuity. A perpetrator may even decide that his ex-partner deserves the ultimate punishment for leaving him and will choose to kill her. If it is his intention to cause her the maximum amount of mental anguish he might spare her life and separate her from her children by killing them instead or by programming the children to hate and despise her – and refuse all contact. Men who annihilate their families often do not have a history of domestic violence. Coercive control is strongly linked with revenge attacks like these but there is often no evidence, which makes it incredibly difficult for a mother to get the right kind of help even when she knows something is wrong.
Women sometimes talk about knowing something is wrong but not being able to put a finger on anything specific. Victims of violence and abuse can become seriously mentally ill when their abuser is playing mind games with them – controlling every aspect of their life through coercive control, emotional and psychological abuse, and gaslighting. It can be hard to know what type of help to look for when the abuse is sometimes so intangible, indescribable, especially when an abused mind is a confused mind.
The ‘use of children’ is common in these tactics and children can be used as a means to an end, especially in strategies of revenge and punishment when women manage to escape their abusers. Many women also experience mother-child separation when their abuser ends the relationship also though. No matter no who left whom, a determined, coercively controlling, abusive man can engineer a situation in which children never have contact with their mother again. This is really not that difficult to do but very difficult to get help with.
Mothers who have become separated from their children in such situations didn’t get help until it was much too late. As described, women just may not realise that they are living with domestic abuse when it is not obvious. Additionally, this can be because these tactics of grooming and coaching children involve secrecy, lies and manipulation where turning children against their mothers is done without the her even realising it is happening. This can happen when the parenting is shared and there is less opportunity to recognise the abuse. However, this can also happen when mum is the primary carer. This might be hard to imagine but it happens.