Helping a Parent in an Abusive Relationship

Helping a Parent in an Abusive Relationship

how-to-helpWhen abuse is happening in a relationship, it can affect whole families, including children who are witnesses to the abuse and violence.

Watching your parent deal with an abusive relationship is extremely tough and can cause a range of emotions, like resentment, guilt, fear, grief, and anger. It can be especially difficult if you are still living at home or have younger siblings still living at home. Having feelings of love and attachment to our parents is very normal, even if one of them is abusive in some way. If you feel like something isn’t right in your family, but you also have those feelings at the same time, the situation can become confusing, complicated, or overwhelming.

We are often contacted by people of all ages whose parents are in abusive relationships. Like anyone who witnesses the abuse of someone they love, these callers and chatters want to know how to help the abused parent. They are understandably focused on making the situation “right” and ending the abuse. While every situation is unique and there is no “one size fits all” approach, we try to emphasize a few things:

It’s not your fault!
Above all, you need to know that the abuse is never your fault, and it’s never the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive is the abusive person’s; only they are responsible for their behavior, and only they can change it. It is also not your responsibility to “rescue” your parent(s). It’s normal to spend a lot of time and energy looking for a way to fix something that’s causing so much pain, but you don’t deserve to be under this kind of pressure.

Why does a person become abusive? That’s a really tough question to answer, because every person is different. What we do know is that abuse is about power and control; an abusive person wants all the power and control in their relationships. Their abuse might be directed toward just one person, or their whole family. No matter what, no one deserves to live with abuse.

Leaving can be very difficult for a victim, for a lot of reasons
Leaving might seem like the best decision, but often a victim has many reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. Since an abusive person will do anything to maintain his or her power and control in the relationship, we know that leaving can also be a dangerous time for a victim. Leaving could be something your parent might want to plan for and work towards, but in the meantime it’s important to focus on staying as safe as you can and taking good care of yourself.

What can you do to help?

It’s really great that you want to help your parent, but something to remember is that we all have boundaries and that those boundaries should be respected. If your parent is being abused by their partner, their boundaries are not being respected by that person. Even though you may have the best intentions in helping your parent, it’s important to be respectful of them not wanting to talk about it at that moment. If that happens, you can work on the following suggestions:

Offer loving support
It’s hard to know what to do in situations like this, but what many victims need most is support without someone telling them what they “should” do. You can be a source of support for your parent if they are experiencing abuse. Finding ways to spend time alone with your parent – like watching a movie at home together, going to lunch, or doing an activity together – can give you the opportunity to talk safely and let them know you love them. You can remind your parent that you are concerned about them, and that they don’t deserve to be treated badly. If you don’t live with your parent(s), you could send your mom or dad funny or loving texts or emails, or call them to say you are thinking of them and you love them. It may not seem like much to you, but letting your parent know that you care about them can be incredibly validating and supportive for them. (Communicating directly about the abuse, especially through text or email, may not be safe.)

If you feel comfortable doing so, you might give your parent the number to a local resource or encourage them to contact the Hotline. Remember, though, that your parent has to take these steps for him or herself only if/when they feel safe and ready.

Encourage self-care, and practice it yourself
By self-care we mean taking care of yourself in any way that feels good to you, supports your well-being, and brings you comfort. People who experience abuse often don’t do self-care because they are made to feel like they don’t deserve love or care. It’s normal to lose sight of ourselves when we’re dealing with very stressful and scary situations. But self-care is just one healthy way to cope. Remind your parent that self-care is important for everyone – and try to practice it yourself.

Why is taking care of yourself so important? Because by doing what you can for your own well-being, you can enable yourself to continue being a source of support for your parent or siblings. Being able to create a safe mental space to help you stay grounded when things get tough not only helps you, but also the people around you.

Create a safety plan together
A safety plan is a personalized plan that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave, or after a person leaves. Safety planning can involve how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more. Whenever you can, sit down with your parent and your siblings, away from the abusive parent, and make a plan together about how you all can stay safe. If you need help brainstorming or finding resources in your area for your safety plan, you can always call the Hotline or our friends at loveisrespect.

If you are living with an abusive parent and they ever become abusive toward you, you have the right to seek help. If you are under 18, you can call the Child Abuse Hotline to speak directly to a hotline counselor.

We understand that this is such a difficult thing to experience and that you know your situation best. These tips are very general, and you should never follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. Looking for support, help, or information is a huge step and shows incredible strength. Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. Our advocates at the Hotline are here for you 24/7/365 if you need to talk to someone; just call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or chat by selecting the Chat Now button right here on our website. Just be sure to call or chat from devices that your abusive parent doesn’t have access to. *Chat en español 12-6 p.m. Hora Central.

Comment section

28 replies
  1. Why is it a person will be charged with attempted murder on a complete stranger ?
    Why is it when a husband tries to kill his wife it’s a misdemeanor ?
    A husband can threaten to kill , beat, kick, punch & choke his wife but justice is by his side by given him a plea deal ! Why didn’t the DA speak with me ? Why wasn’t I part of his plea deal ?Why is it a husband can choke your pets and he gets away with trying to kill your two four legged 8 pound babies ?
    Why is it victim assistance puts a cap on therapy ? The victim will have nightmares and memories for the rest of there life of the abuse.

  2. Jerilyn,

    I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the justice you deserved. It’s terrifying when an abuser is able to cause so much hurt and damage without any major consequences. You are right in that trauma sometimes takes more time to heal than what is provided for with victim’s assistance, health insurance, etc. Although it may not be exactly what you’re looking for, we’re always hear to listen and offer support. Please call 1-800-799-7233 to speak to an advocate. We’re here 24/7 and completely confidential.

    Hotline Advocate VG


  4. Dear HHS,

    This is a great question. Many people ask this question regarding their abusers. It is difficult for an abusive person to change because they often do not take responsibility for their behavior. Instead they blame their partner for how they act. There are programs that we recommend, the Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) but unfortunately many abusers refuse to get the help they need. Please give us a call to discuss this and to get resources that may be helpful. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233.

    Hotline Advocate MT

  5. I’m being abused by dad. Punched, yelled and sworn at, and being told, “I can’t wait till u leave this house.” “I’m the adult, your the kid. So get the f**** up.” He said these things just today and being abused makes me feel like the world is against me. “My friend”, I tried to tell her about it but she said that her dad doesn’t do that to her so she doesn’t care.
    Once, my dad punched me in the mouth so hard that I broke a tooth. He force me lie to the denist and say that I tripped. I would tell you how that made me feel but words can’t describe the hurt and anger I was feeling.
    Living in a higher middle class family, so my life should be great just like the other kids that go my school but its not even close. I understand how it feels to be abused…

  6. Hi Teen #1,
    It’s never okay for someone to be abusive towards you. Your father doesn’t have the right to treat you this way and other people shouldn’t ignore it. It is awful that the person who is supposed to help you and protect you is the one who is hurting you. Your dad knows what he is doing is wrong and that’s why he is trying to hide the abuse. We know abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their background. Turning to your friend and having her say she doesn’t care is awful and painful. What she did is not okay. It doesn’t take being abused to to sympathize with someone who is being abused.

    If you would like to talk one of our advocates about what is going, please call 1-800-799-7233. We’re here 24/7 and completely confidential. You might also consider contacting ChildHelp at 1-800-422-4453 or Boystown at 1-800-448-3000. Both agencies deal with child abuse and are confidential as well.

    Take Care,
    Hotline Advocate VG

  7. I know that arguments between spouses happen, but the argument I just went through with my parents in the house was one of the worst yet. I’m 24 and my siblings are younger than I am. We have a four year old in the house. My father was very upset about a comment my mother made yesterday, and it lead to the most explosive disagreement I’ve ever seen them have. Things are fine and calm now, but it really peaked the anxiety problem I already have, and I fear that if there are any more intense arguments like this, it may lead to their divorce or separation, and I don’t want to think about how it’ll affect my special needs brothers. I just don’t know who to talk to about it, because I don’t want to get any further involved and cause more conflict.

  8. Dear Jade,

    Thank you for sharing your situation with us. I am sorry that your father and mother had such an explosive disagreement. It sound like this upset you and possibly your younger siblings. I can imagine that it is hard to know how to deal with this situation. It makes sense that you are extra concerned because you have special needs brothers. Please give us a call so that we can talk about this. Remember our line is confidential and anonymous. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233.

    Hotline Advocate MT

  9. What do I do if my dad is hitting my mom, he keeps hitting her, he cheats on her and she only stays with him because she has 4 kids and he pays the rent, she tries to go to school But it’s hard for her, my dad verbally and physically abuses her so today I pushed him off her then he pushed me against the wall. My mom is a really good mom and doesn’t deserve that kind of behavior. It’s even worse because I have a 5 year old brother and 3 year old sister that tries to separate the fights. I’m afraid she might get hurt too. I’m only 12 and there is nothing I can do. My mom is crying right now. I skipped school today to look after her. How can I pay attention in school if I’m constantly worried.… someone please help

  10. Zach,

    Thank you so much for reaching out, and I’m so sorry to hear what you and your family are going through right now. It is a very scary and upsetting situation, and I can understand that you are very worried for your mom and your siblings. This is more than anyone should ever have to got though. It sounds like your mom has several reasons why she doesn’t feel like she can leave right now, and that’s very understandable in an abusive relationship. But there are people and programs out there that can help her, no matter what she’s wanting to do at this point. One way you could maybe help would be to connect her with us here at The Hotline. We would be happy to talk with her about her situation and some possible options for support, as well as help her make a plan for how to keep herself, you, and your brother and sister safe. We are here 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233, or by online chat from 7am-2am CST at http://www.thehotline.org . And we would also be happy to talk with you and maybe help you come up with more ways to help her and to stay safe. Due to laws about chatting online with people under 13yrs, we wouldn’t be able to talk with you through online chat, but we would be happy to talk with you on the phone.

    A couple other resources that might be helpful to share with your mom would be http://www.womenslaw.org, which offers online legal information, as well as tips for keeping your family safe during an abusive relationship. And this guide to making a Safety Plan, which could be helpful for thinking through ways to stay safe.

    You’re being so strong and doing so much to take care of your mom and your siblings. Please remember to take care of yourself too. We can’t help others if we’re not taking care of ourselves, so it’s okay to get the space and time away from this that you need, and it’s important to keep going with the other aspects of your life that help you feel good and inspire you. Thank you again for reaching out, and please know that we’re here for you and your mom anytime you want to talk.

    Take care and stay safe,

    Advocate MT

  11. just feel so helpless.my sister and her 16 yr old are being verbally,emotionally and physically abused by her husband.my sister lives in utter denial.my niece is currently with my mother after her father hit her so badly that cops were called in.my mother cant look after her and i don’t stay in the same town.i want so bad to give my niece a chance of success and happiness in life.no idea how to help.

  12. Marco,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to us. I’m so sorry to hear about what your sister and your niece are going through; no one ever deserves to be treated with abuse, and watching loved ones deal with abuse can be so distressing and difficult. I’m glad to hear that your niece is currently (even temporarily) in a more safe environment, but it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to go from here. This page on our website for friends and family may have some tips that are helpful to you: .

    It may also be a good idea to find out what resources there are near your sister and her daughter that may be able to support them. If you would be interested in contacting some resources in their area, we would be happy to find some for you. Our advocates can also help you talk through other concerns or options, or brainstorm ways to help. We are here 24/7 by phone at 1-800-799-7233 and from 7AM-2AM CST for online chat at .

    Thank you so much for your time and for your concern for your loved ones. I wish you the best of luck.

    Advocate AC

  13. My mother in law is being abused verbally abd physically by her husband. I’ve been witness to several accounts of him yelling at her, threatening get, and I’ve heard him hit her before. He doesn’t always hit her but every time my and my boyfriend visit them there’s always at least one fight over very little things. My boyfriend is so use to it because he grew up listening to it so he just sits there saying “not again” and apologizes to me for having to witness it. While I want to help and call the police because there were times where I swear he is going to really hurt her. But I think of my safety and how I’m currently pregnant and don’t want to get hurt by him for trying to help. I’ve been witnessing this for a little over a year but it would be obvious that I called the police since the only time he beats her is when nobody is really there, and since I’m mostly quiet half the time they forget I’m even here visiting while my boyfriend is at work. I feel terrible for letting this continue especially since I’m not the only one to witness this. Close friends have to and we question why she is still with him why nothing has happened but usually I’m the only one who says I want to intervene and stop this. It didn’t help that my mother in law doesn’t want to seek any help she knows it’s wrong when I bring it up to her but just continues on throughout her day like this is completely normal. I want to help but also don’t want to further involve myself in this situation or get my mother in law in any trouble with him because I said something.

  14. Hi Deidra,

    Thank you for reaching out. The situation your mother-in-law is in sounds really abusive and violent. It is normal to be concerned and to want to help stop the abuse. The most frustrating thing of having a loved one being abused is not being able to make them leave. She won’t leave until she is ready and feels safe doing so. There are many reasons why leaving an abusive relationship is difficult. The most important thing you can do is to let her know that you are there for her if she ever wants to talk. This may sound small but since abusers often isolate their partners away from other sources of support, this can make a giant difference. If she isn’t able to leave right now, possibly you could help her create a safety plan. If you would like to reach out to an advocate about how to support her, we are always here. You can call us 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 and we are reachable by chat from 7am to 2am CST.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate LC

  15. —–
    To: ———–
    ————————,I am a British citizen
    I am 19 years old and currently living in Egypt
    I’ve been in this country for the past 6 years and a half and haven’t been England since
    my parents have been abusing me and torturing me since I can remember
    it got so bad that they got tired of it and then they start paying Egyptians to torture me
    I’ve tried everything I could to get away but nothing ever worked and they always find me and I go back to the dark hole i am in now
    please I’m reaching out to anyone who can help get out of this misery

  16. Hi Hassan,

    It is never ok for anyone to treat you with any form of violence or abuse. It is really traumatic to have your parents go to such lengths to harm you. I want to make sure you get the best help possible. Our services are focused on those that are in the United States of America. Reaching out to a British organization would allow you to connect to local resources in your area. We do have some pages that focus on staying safe in abusive situations that may help you.

    Path to Safety
    Emotional Safety Planning

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate LC

  17. This post has been modified to remove any personal information per our community guidelines.

  18. My mom is being verbally abused by my dad. It’s gotten worse and worse and money is tight. Last time she left he kept harassing her at work and calling her a whore to her co workers. She doesn’t tell anyone about what’s going on. He tries to bring me and my younger sister into it. I’m afraid to go anywhere because of what he does. My mom needs help and i dont know how cause she won’t listen to me but she keeps taking the abuse. It got to a point where she was hysterically crying and my dad blames everything on her, as usual. After that point she started throwing up. My mom used to have depression and anxiety. She does anything she can for us. And I don’t know how to help.

  19. Hi Teen 2,

    It is terrifying to see your mom in such a painful and abusive situation. There is nothing that your mother could do to deserve the abuse and it sounds like you are already doing the most important thing by being there to support your mom. It is incredibly frustrating to have someone you love being abused and not able to save them. Navigating an abusive relationship is not only emotionally painful but also potential physically dangerous. Your mom may not feel able to open up about the abuse or feel that leaving is a safe option. By letting her know that you are there to talk and that she doesn’t deserve abuse can let her know that you are willing to help support. If you feel right mentioning it to her, we are able to chat or talk with your mom. We are here on chat from 7am to 2am CST and reachable 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. Your mom doesn’t have to be planning on leaving to contact us. We talk to everyone regardless of where they stand in their relationship. If you would like to find out more about supporting your mom, you are welcomed to contact us as well.

    Take care,

    Advocate LC

  20. My mom is an illegal immigrant and my dad is in the country legally. He has withheld her citizenship for 15 years. She is being physically abused. I am 12 and the oldest in our family. I would turn my dad in but I fear this will get my mom deported. My dad has anger problems which make his outbursts very bad. My mom is unconscious and mentally ill right now and dad isn’t home for weeks. My mom doesn’t have a job because she’s in the country illegally. Please help us.

  21. Hi. Thanks for reaching out to The Hotline. We hear you. I’m so sorry you’re going through so much. This situation sounds really emotionally draining, scary and confusing. I want to commend you for being so brave at this young age and for being so caring toward your mom! I’d also like to invite you to get in touch with our advocates at The Hotline so they can help talk through what are your options at this time. They might be able to provide you with more resources if needed. You can call at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing). You can also chat Click the “Chat Now” button to begin a chat. Our website is: http://www.thehotline.org By the way, we have a language line in more than 200 languages in case it’s difficult to chat in English. I hope this helps!

  22. Hi,
    My mom is staying with me and my dad since my mom lost her job about a month ago and this is the only place she can stay. My parents have been divorced since as long as I can remember, I am 16 and have been living with my father for about a year now and this month that my mom has been staying here I’ve noticed my dad acting in abusive ways. He also acts like that towards me and has always acted like that towards my mom saying that she can’t have custody over me since my dad makes more money than her. I do online schooling but before this I would remember whenever I went to school my mom would tell me my dad would sneak into the room that we shared and rape her while she was sleeping. Since I am now 16 and old enough to realize what is going on the environment feels toxic and I feel like I can’t put up with this any longer. Please help, I can’t stand being a witness to this any longer.

  23. Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for reaching out to us. I am sorry to hear about your family situation, it sounds like you are going through a lot. We’d be happy to offer any support you might need. We do not provide our advocacy services via private messages, as it’s not a safe or confidential method of communication. We encourage you to contact us directly by calling 1-800-799-7233, remember we also have a chat available via our website, http://www.thehotline.org We are here 24/7/365. I hope this helps. Please hang in there!
    Take care.
    The Hotline Admin

  24. Are there any penalties that apply to men who abuse their wife? Also, can they be condemned es for causing emotional damage?

  25. Dear Teen 6,
    Thank you so much for reaching out to The Hotline. Since we make assessments based on a case-by-case basis, we would need to know more information in order to help you. You are more than welcome to reach out to our advocates, as they have an extensive database with access to legal resources and referrals that may be of help to you. If you are in danger, they could also safety plan or come up with ideas to keep you safe. If you are unable to reach out to us via 1-800-799-7233, remember we also have a chat available via our website, http://www.thehotline.org We are here 24/7/365. We are here for you whenever is safe for you to call! I hope this helps!
    Take care!
    The Hotline Admin

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