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When a Child Is Being Abused by a Father, and the Mother is the Witness

Updated on June 8, 2019
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Grace is a mother of a lovely daughter and enjoys sharing her experiences as a mother with other mothers.


Abuse is a very sensitive issue, its sensitivity increases even more when there is a child involved. Children are supposed to be protected and guided, and not terrorised. They are young individuals, who are still growing and yet to learn a lot about life. Every experience or incident they come across during childhood years, will to some extent influence their mental and social stability in the future.

Children are dependent on their parents to protect them, and give them emotional, spiritual and financial support. It becomes very confusing for a child when someone who is supposed to be their shield, begins to be the main reason behind their misery. It is very frightening when a child is abused by their own father and the mother is also there to witness the abuse. In this article, the focus is mostly on abusive fathers, and the role played by the mother as the witness of the abuse.

Child sexual abuse

We are all from different backgrounds and families, and there are children who are constantly victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Child sexual abuse is very complex, it is a situation whereby a child is involved in a sexual activity with an adult or another child, and they are not completely aware of what is happening. The child is unable to give consent and the individual the child is sexually active with, somehow benefits from the activity. One would wonder, what is it that influences fathers to be sexually abusive towards their children, and why is it that mothers allow this to happen?

Physical abuse

Giving a child a little smack whenever they are misbehaving as a way of instilling discipline is completely different from brutal physical abuse. The fact that you are a child's parent or guardian does not give you a right to brutally attack the child physically with your body or objects. When a parent physically attacks a child, it gives the parent an advantage of overpowering the child. The child is also disadvantaged as children are often taught that attacking an adult, either physically or verbally, is an act of disrespect. A child brought up in a household where physical assault is a norm, does not only get affected physically, but psychologically as well. They grow up believing that physical violence is acceptable, and the possibility of physically attacking other children at school and in the community increases.

Emotional and/or verbally abuse

This is probably the most common type of abuse. As a parent, the manner in which you communicate with your child is very important. Parents should be well aware of the kind of words they exchange with their children and the language they use. For instance, when a parent constantly uses negative words and negative affirmation when addressing their child, there is a possibility of these words building up in the child's mind and affecting the child's emotional stability. It could have an impact on how the child sees himself/herself and what they think of life. For instance, the child could end being convinced he/she is not important, not valued, or not capable of achieving desired goals.

Helping an abused child

The type of approach to be adopted to end child abuse will depend on particular aspects such as what often influences the act of child abuse, why is the father abusive, when does he get abusive? Other aspects are of significance as well, for instance, is the mother financially independent or is the father the breadwinner of the family, is the mother extremely afraid of the father, is the mother fearful of losing the father as her partner? Various approaches that could be adopted include confrontation and communication, asking for help, distance, parent-child bond strengthening.

Confrontation and communication

It is the responsibility of the mother to confront and communicate with the father. It would give the mother the opportunity to determine whether the father is aware that his actions are unacceptable and inappropriate. For instance, in some cases, fathers are abusive whenever they are under the influence of a substance or alcohol, and cannot even recall what they did the previous day. Confrontation and communication is not always an alternative, as there are individuals who are unreasonable and stubborn, they often refuse to listen to another person's opinions and suggestions. This approach is also not an option, if the mother is afraid of the father or if the father is also abusive towards the mother.

Asking for help

This approach is best adopted when the mother is fearful of the father or when other approaches have been adopted but did not work. For instance, if the mother has confronted the father but the father still continues with the abuse. The mother could choose to report the father to the police, whereby the father could be arrested and there could be a protection order in place to prevent the father from being in the same space as the child. This could be the most challenging approach to adopt if the family is financially dependent on the father. What this means is that, when the father gets arrested, the standard of living of the family would be affected, leaving the mother with various responsibilities she is not used to. The mother could also choose to ask for help from close family and friends. These should be individuals that are not afraid of the father and the father often listens to their opinions, suggestions and advice.


The mother could possibly create a distance between the child and the father. For the abuse to take place, the father has to be in contact with the child. Therefore, it is to some extent impossible for the father to abuse the child if there is distance between the two. The child could be sent to a boarding school, live with close family and friends, the father could move out to live elsewhere or the mother could take her children and live at a different location.

Parent-child bond strengthening

Throughout the whole experience, it is important for the mother to strengthen and maintain the bond she has with her child. It is significant that the mother reassures the child that she can be trusted, and she will do everything possible, and in her power to protect the child and end the abuse. This is where the mother explains to the child about the approaches she adopts in an attempt to end the abuse. The child has to be aware of the changes that are going to take place in his/her life, and be advised and guided on how to respond and cope with the change.


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