How to Use this Book

This post follows on from yesterday’s post (25th July 2018) the one prior to that on the 24th. It is the final section in the introductory paragraph of the book I am writing for mothers apart. This section explains how to use the book. All feedback welcome 🙂 I’m not too fussed about the writing at this stage these are just first drafts. It’s more about getting the content right, which means what mothers want to know and read about.



How to Use this Book

Remembering the traumatised and frightened soul that I was in the women’s refuges, desperate to understand and try anything to get my children back, I strove to write the book that I wanted myself. If you’re like me, you may devour this book in one sitting, frantically seeking answers to an impossibly wicked problem in a world where nobody seems to know how to help you or your children. It is imperative that you keep yourself safe if you are still with your abuser, so keep this book out of sight if you are. You may be punished for reading something if it is recognised as empowering or strategic, and may arouse suspicion if you are planning your escape. Similarly, if you keep a journal or notebook in which you write notes whilst reading this book, keep them in a safe place. If you are living in fear, and haven’t already sought help, please find out where your nearest women’s centre or specialist domestic abuse service is, and visit them for support and to begin formally recording your plight. A paper trail devised through records is crucial when pressing charges of coercive control – should you choose to take this course of action.

It is also important that you take care of yourself whilst reading this book because of the feelings that may arise. Many women who answered the advertisement to take part in my research never realised or acknowledged that they were victims of domestic abuse until their involvement in the project. Despite living in fear and being controlled for many years, women found it difficult to come to terms with thinking of themselves as being abused because there was minimal physical violence. Mothers separated from their children often thought of themselves as victims of ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ (more of this later) as if some abstract concept was to blame for their plights without making the association between the concept and the abusive man who was alienating their children from them, such was their denial of their situation. This book may trigger painful and difficult memories and feelings, so look after yourself while you read it. Make sure that you can do something restorative afterwards such as taking a walk, having a relaxing bath, or talking to a trusted friend or ally. It may be that you don’t read it all in one go but in small chunks, as you feel able. However you read it, remember that it will likely affect your mood if the subject and details resonate with you, and that others may notice or be affected in turn. So be mindful of the book’s impact on you and keep yourself safe.

This book does not claim to tell you how to get your children back. However, I have been immersed in the world of mothers apart from their children for very many years now and I believe that what I have to share with you can only help in some way – whether that’s in a small way or something more significant. Because I needed to understand how and why my children were separated from me, I completed one master’s dissertation and one doctoral study of this subject. So, I have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and understanding that I believe will help, support and comfort mothers living apart from a child or being threatened with this situation. So, whether you are a mother who is working out how to leave your abuser without losing your children, are going through court proceedings, or have not seen your child/children for many years, I think there will be something within these pages that will be of succour. Knowledge is power and making meaning out of the senseless can help. I have put everything into this book that I can think of that will help you in some way, and I believe that it will help you in any number of ways – whether you are at risk of becoming separated from their children or already have. What I share with you on these pages has been a labour of love, shaped by commitment to all those involved in my research, and from hope for a better future for mothers and children everywhere.

Let me now take you through what you will find in this book. Following the introduction, there are five chapters that each finish with a list of references and suggestions for further reading. The book ends with a glossary of terms, a selection of resources, and an index.

Chapter One considers the problem of mother-child separation by abusive men through a feminist lens to focus on gender. This chapter explains why there is a focus on the abuse of women as mothers in this book, which is about strategic mother-child separation via coercive control. This form of abuse involves strategies that rely on a seemingly gender-neutral system, which is actually highly gendered in its victim/mother-blaming. In this chapter, I provide you with a historical perspective and chronological account of the ways in which political and legal movements in the US and the UK family courts have shaped parenting practices post-divorce and separation. We begin in 1808 with Caroline Norton, one of the most important figures in changing the law for wives and mothers, and learn of her introduction of ‘the tender years doctrine’ and, then, the move away from this presumption to one of equal parenting and joint custody in the 1970s. I explain how these key changes have been understood as a backlash to second wave feminism by focusing on the emergence of an American theory: Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). I discuss the continuing rise in the UK of this concept and explain the damage caused to women and children who are victims/survivors of domestic and sexual abuse by court-appointed ‘experts’ who use it. I also highlight the prevailing myths around mothers and custody and how they are perpetuated.

Chapter Two introduces the six mothers apart whom I recruited from MATCH Mothers for my master’s investigation into how women become separated from their children in a context of domestic abuse. I provide an overview of their stories in this chapter, which are used as examples throughout the book. I also explain how the interviews with these six women led me to question the usefulness of the concept of parental alienation that is used by the majority of MATCH Mothers to explain their situation, because the concept appears to fail them. Then, I draw on the concept of Maternal Alienation, originated by Australian researcher, Anne Morris, who coined the term to counter PAS. The author understood the danger of this theory to women and children victims/survivors and this book shares her explanations of how grooming and interfering with the mother-child relationship are often integral to both domestic and sexual violence. Finally, I discuss why I chose to dispense with the language of alienation altogether and focus on coercive control.

Chapter Three begins by explaining what coercive control is. There is already a good deal of information on this subject in general, both online and in books. Professor Evan Stark is the author of the definitive text: Coercive Control, which is a first-rate academic textbook that is consulted and quoted by practitioners and academics worldwide. A more accessible book for non-academics (and academics alike) is Lisa Fontes’ excellent Invisible Chains: Overcoming coercive control in your intimate relationship. Women’s Aid also provides a wealth of information on coercive control free of charge through their website, The explanation of coercive control in this book begins with an overall summary of this theory and concept. Then, the chapter narrows down its focus to the ways in which coercive controllers specifically: target women as mothers, interfere in mother-child relationships, use and abuse children to harm their mothers, and engineer mother-child separations. I use the stories from the mothers introduced in Chapter Two to illustrate these aspects of men’s violence against women and children.

Chapter Four begins with a characterisation of the predator and his victim by highlighting a common vulnerability in the mothers apart in my study, which I noticed early on. In one way or another they were all young women made vulnerable through some kind of abuse trauma that left them with low self-esteem and confidence and that motherhood compounded this vulnerability. This is not to say, however, that the coercive controller will not target the most professional and confident woman. Rather, it emphasises that one in three women have been a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual violence – whatever their profession, class and status – and that women’s roles as mothers confer upon them a vulnerability in itself. I draw heavily from the interviews with the six mothers apart already mentioned to explain the mechanisms through which ex-partners abused, controlled, threatened, intimidated and humiliated them through their children. I analyse the women’s account to explain the ways in which ex-partners perpetrated this form of abuse in order to: keep the women entrapped in abusive relationships, prevent them from leaving, punish them for escaping, and continue to abuse and control in perpetuity.

Chapter Five begins by drawing on findings of my doctoral study that emphasise the key roles that professionals have in coercive controllers’ strategies that target the mother-child relationship. I relate the main themes to what has already been said in the academic literature to highlight how these problems have been understood in academia for aeons. I offer an explanation of why, despite this academic knowledge, there are no formal pathways for prevention and recovery. I argue that part of the reason is mother-blaming ideology, culture and practice that exists in the UK and all around the world. Again, I bring a gender perspective to show how victim/mother-blaming is part of the problem. Professionals can be unwittingly enlisted to assist the abusive man who is intent on destroying the bonds between mother and child by favouring his account over the mother’s. My research also revealed that many workers sometimes turn away from helping when they are frightened of a violent or intimidating man – even if it means the child goes to live with him. I reveal a range of hindering and helpful responses by professionals/experts that direct the fate of mothers and children. Coercive controllers have an unexpectedly nuanced understanding of victim/mother-blaming that occurs within systems – and the professionals within them – and they use this to their advantage when: abusing women as mothers, interfering in the mother-child relationship, using and abusing children to harm their mothers, and engineering mother-child separations. This chapter introduces the UK 2015 coercive control legislation to help you understand how to address this form of abuse by using the law. Although, at the time of writing, the law has not yet been used in this way, the first case to do so will lead the way for others.

Chapter Six begins with women’s accounts of recovery from mother-child separation via coercive control, which can be a long and arduous road. People contact me on a daily basis with terrible heart-rending tales of not being able to see or speak to their children – sometimes for many years. I have a message on my blog that ends: I don’t want to live anymore… and some women (and children) don’t make it. Wearing women down to breaking point is all part of the coercive controller’s strategy: isolating her, stripping her of resources and causing psychological/emotional distress that can be interpreted as a mental/personality disorder (and a safeguarding risk) by involved services, all work to the abusive man’s advantage. In this chapter, I will explain how to manage your trauma, prioritise self-care, know the importance of a strong support network and offer hope to carry you along when little else does. I learned though my research that some mothers apart are offended by the notion of acceptance, which following grief and loss is an important aspect of obtaining some closure. But this state will be challenging for those mothers who believe that to accept what happened to them and their children is to agree with, or consent to it. In this chapter, I will help you to understand how coming to terms with the problem in all its terribleness can help you to live through the pain and suffering of ‘losing’ a child in this way and assure you that, coming to terms with what has happened, does not mean that you agree or consent to it. Finally, this chapter offers the possibility of making sense of senseless events by discussing research into post-traumatic growth. We see how suffering need not destroy and how, instead, it can offer the potential for growth from adversity, which comes from creating new meanings, purpose and direction in life.

About Dr Laura Monk

My doctoral research investigated how to improve professionals' responses to mothers who become separated from their children. I developed a training workshop for the professionals who mothers come into contact with - largely at the intersection of health and social care, the family courts and domestic abuse services. I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist and I run self-care retreats for practitioners in Spain and the UK
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2 Responses to How to Use this Book

  1. Shonagh Mc Aulay says:

    This sounds like a marvellous book and much needed.

    Apart from my own personal situation I’m also very interested in the historical legal evolution away from the recognition of the maternal role. I hadn’t considered the seventies as a period of backlash but that makes sense. So hope to learn something.

    I had assumed that the new child human right to be co parented was poorly conceived and damaging when applied to abusive families. . Also that feminism had prioritised workplace and economic parity in a way which weakened status of mothering, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    And then of course the pernicious rise of the PAS fiction.

    Interested too to see whether your experience of acceptance may benefit me. Not sure about that for me – I’ve worked so hard and long in therapy but still pretty damaged – but interested.

    So all the best with the publishers and hope to hear we can soon see book in print.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to give feedback again, Shonagh. Your feedback is very encouraging. It’s good to hear you would find so many aspects of the book interesting.
      I really do hope that the last chapter on moving forward will benefit you and others too. It’s about acknowledging we have scars but accepting those as part of our character, which we know to be strong through surviving so much.
      Warmly, Laura


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