Teaching Children to Respect an Abuser

I want to address this subject in more depth at some point, but for a starter, I am posting this from the comments with a little amplification. Please note, while this was written about an abusive father, this would apply equally to an abusive mother or other abusive authority figure:


I had asked recently in a comment (which I can’t find now) about verbal abuse of the children. The teaching from many sources is that a wife should not “correct” her husband in front of the children because its “disrespectful” to the husband. I think the teaching is wrong. If a child is being verbally abused, I am responsible to stand in the gap for the child in his/her presence.

As my friend Molly put it “What is more important: making sure a husband is feeling good when he’s in sin, or a protecting a child from injustice?”


You are absolutely right about standing up for our children. We are responsible to do it with a right spirit in our own hearts – which is very hard. But I will say the fruit of that in our lives is very powerful – learning to stand against evil boldly in truth WHILE maintaining a right heart before God and the offender – is rich learning that pays off in other areas of life.

This was a HUGE issue in my marriage. And I was reprimanded by counselors for “teaching my children disrespect” – because, of course, that was how he perceived it and what I was accused of. If I didn’t back him up 100% – even if he was hitting them with fists and when he was screaming profanities and vile names! – then I was teaching them disrespect.

I could not do that! God made me responsible for my children’s protection – in every way, not just extreme physical safety. That obedience to God trumps “respecting” a husband who is being evil. That is NOT respect because respect acknowledges the truth. I can still respect that this man is created in God’s image and does not to be mistreated by me in any way. But that does not extend to me supporting him in evil or lying to my children by my actions and communicating to them that these lies are the truth.

And, by obeying him in that, what would I be telling my children is the truth about their Heavenly Father? My oldest son definitely “got” that message. That was why he hated God and the church. He said, “why would I want another Father like that?” It was a hurdle he was almost unable to overcome.

Respect for an abusive parent is not more important that respect for God, respect for God’s Word, and even respect for the child involved. Abusive treatment is disrespect of the child. Why is the abuser “worthy” of respect but the child is not?

There are many who will say that respect for the husband/father is not about “worth.” And this is true. However, the same is true of the child, mother, and everyone else. Every person is deserving of the same respect as a creation in God’s image. A parent can be respected – not spoken to in anger, rebellion, etc. and with an accompanying heart attitude – while speaking out in the truth and refusing to cooperate with evil being perpetrated by that parent.

This leads to another important point to remember in this issue of respect for an abuser – this is not an “either/or” situation. The only two choices are not “support the abuser absolutely” or “disrespect.” There is also respectfully standing up for righteousness and refusal to cooperate with or to enable another person to continue in sin – respectfully. I am responsible to give my children the example of how to stand up for righteousness respectfully. This is a lesson we will all need other times in life.

If I back up their abuser as he demands I am teaching my children that 1) they are worth less than every other person on earth since all anyone has to do to be worth more than them is aggressively abuse them, and 2) unrighteousness dominates over righteousness and we are helpless against it. These are both lies! If I am walking in righteousness I cannot support an abuser in the name of “respect” when he is mistreating others.


5 Responses

  1. I completely agree. Another thing I was told by counselors in this situation was to wait until AFTER he had calmed down and talk to him privately about the way he treated the kids. It makes me sick to think about it! When I would approach him later, the damage to the children was already done, and I, the dutiful wife, had just stood there. The message being sent to the kids was that mommy would not defend them when they were being treated badly. And when I would try to say something to him later, he would use his mental gymnastics to defend and/or deny his actions. He would never apologize to the kids or admit he had done something wrong. And he would get mad at me because I didn’t “approach him correctly” or some excuse.

    So I gave up waiting and started defending the kids right then and there. I would do it as calmly as you please: “That’s not what our daughter said, she actually said . . .” or “I’m not sure why you think our son did what you are accusing him of. Can you give us more information?” or “You’re anger seems a little above and beyond the issue at hand–is there something else bothering you?” Of course none of this worked, but it let my kids see that mom was going to come to their defense.

    Great topic, danni. You are so right about the murderous spirit that is behind ALL abuse.

  2. True respect for an abuser is to say (in words or in actions)
    “I respect you so much that I will not condone or cooperate with your sinful mistreatment of others. I respect you so much that I do not want you to become even more ingrained than you are in the besetting sin of abuse.

    “Therefore, out of respect for the image of God (which still resides in you, despite your attempts to deface and defeat it) I want you to stop sinning in this evil manner.And if you will not listen to me, I will do what I can to prevent you from sinning like this. And if that means removing myself and the kids out of your reach, that’s what I shall do.”

    Of course, such a statement would probably be made in actions, not words! As soon as you got half a sentence out the abuser would interrupt you with another tirade of denial, blame-shifting accusations, blows or all of the above.

    I found the best way to deal with abusers is the NO CONTACT rule. Try to maintain absolutely zero contact with the abuser. No physical proximity, no eye contact, no verbal contact, no phone contact, no reading his text messages… But that’s really that’s hard to achieve when kids are involved, or when the abuser continues to stalk you.

  3. Thank you, Danni. I appreciate your addressing this.

    I was told by the pastor- with my husband right there in the room for marriage counseling “MY wife never ‘outs me’ in front of the children! As long as you keep confronting him in front of the children, you will not have peace in the household”

    I told the pastor right then and there that GOD had led me to stand up for my children and I quoted ‘Jesus said, I have not come to bring peace but a sword”, that he had been calling our children names our entire marriage, I never liked it, and approaching it behind closed doors DID NOT WORK, that my 7 yo son was sensitive and was acting out, had been in a lot of trouble for bullying in school last year and this year- now that I am standing up for him- he is doing much better.

    I really felt like that pastor colluded with my husband and abandoned the youngest sheep of his fold.

  4. Zoeygirl says she was calm. I was very angry..

    One time my husband took two of the children hiking and they came back and he was all bent out of shape, chip on his shoulder because “they RUINED his trip”.

    My 10 yo daughter wanted to talk to me in private with her brother. The two of them told me the story of how the 7 yo had walked 9 miles the first day and his ankle was sore and when he was limping and could not do it the second day, was dragged by the arm and called by profanities which we have NEVER used (it was a serious escalation!) My 10 yo daughter was crying when she recounted how daddy had acted and how she was scared and helpless to do anything but she had tried to comfort Timothy in the back seat of the car. 😦

    I looked at my son’s ankle and it was swollen to twice the normal size, yet he was abused for not being able to hike. I picked him up and brought him down and plopped him down next to my husband. I was extremely angry. “LOOOK at his ANKLE! What are you THINKING accusing him of being a faker and calling him such horrible names and dragging him around by the arm over not being able to walk on this? WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU????”

    He did wind up apologizing to them for that, and I think it was essential for me to confront that head on. I think putting the light on it has helped prevent a recurrence.

  5. Amazing ladies! The funny thing is, I USED to ‘think’ just this way! Somehow over time my mind got fuddled. I wish I found this blog 3 years ago, or found Some of the other great material I have read sooner, but to all things there has got to be a reason…I’m sure we can all relate to Mary, the need for validation and the torment…I really don’t think one can truly understand until they have walked in those shoes…
    Danni, and all of you are SO wise! Good company here!

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