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Question: What if you're in an abusive relationship and you need to get out... but you can't bring your kids? Should you stay? Should you leave them behind if you know they're safe?

Dr. Amy J.L. Baker responds:

I am very sorry that you are in an abusive relationship and want to applaud the fact that you are willing to admit it. This is no small feat. Some abused people have a very hard time seeing the abuse for what it is. At the same time, I want to challenge your notions that (A) your children are safe and that (B) you cannot get your children out. Victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse often have distorted thinking, which reinforces the false ideas and misguided objectives of the abuser. In this case the abuser probably wants you to believe that your children are safe and that you cannot get them out. You should be seriously rethinking both of these notions.

First, if the other parent is abusive to you, then s/he is probably abusive to your children as well. That abuse may not take a physical form; but research shows that emotional abuse (spurning, isolating, terrorizing, exploiting, and denying emotional responsiveness) can be as painful and damaging as physical abuse. It is possible that you are not being completely honest with yourself about the real danger that your children are in. Perhaps that would be too painful a reality to admit or perhaps you feel that the situation is so hopeless that you have already resigned yourself to the fact that you cannot get them out so you are trying to convince yourself that this option is not so bad. So, your first step is to reexamine this premise and think through what the reality is like for your children. Are there trusted adults in your life with whom you can discuss your situation and get some feedback? Do they agree that your children are safe?

Second, carefully consider your options for getting your children out. What makes you so sure that you cannot do so? Do you believe that they are so brainwashed that they would not want to come with you, or are their movements so tightly controlled that there is no opportunity for you to take them with you? If they have been brainwashed against you, you might consider staying in the home a little longer with the specific aim of trying to help them develop critical thinking skills and trying to counter the brainwashing. Of course, this only makes sense if your safety is not compromised. Otherwise, you need to get out as fast as you can! On the other hand, if your main concern is that your children's movements are completely controlled and guarded, then you need to consult with a domestic violence specialist (you can find shelters listed in the phone book and on the internet) and see if they can help you. They may be able to arrange for a police escort of your children out of the home and to a secret location. In either event it may be advisable for you to leave first and then come back for your children. If so, make sure that you tell your children that you love them unconditionally, that you value their health and safety, and that should you ever have to go away for a while it is to protect yourself and them, not because you are abandoning them. Make sure that they know how to reach you should they need to and please move quickly so that you do not give the abuser time to hide the children from you. You are not alone. There are many resources available for people in your situation. I wish you and your children the best.

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  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 23 September 2012 14:36 posted by Guest

    Question: My ex husband and I have joint custody of our three children. Last week he dropped our 14 yr old daughter off with me at the festival I was working saying he no longer wanted physical custody. Not wanting her to be on the road with me for the next week, I sent her to visit my stepmother. Now my ex and my stepmother are refusing to allow me to pick her up. My ex says he is signing our child over to my stepmother. What can I do?

  • Comment Link Guest Saturday, 25 August 2012 18:21 posted by Guest

    Ex step mom from 2-9 years old: I have raised my step son from potty training to the fourth grade year in school. His father is assumed to be shooting methamphetamine. I want safety for my step son, and I really need to know where I stand legally to gaining custody of my step son. Thank you

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 03 July 2011 12:22 posted by Guest

    I have a 16 year old friend: I have a 16 year old friend whos parents are getting a divorce but he doesnt want to live with his father but rather live with his Step-Mother....can he do this?