Young People’s Experience of Post-Separation Fathering Where the Father has been Violent to the Mother
My intention in undertaking this research was to examine young people’s experiences of living with their father following parental separation where their father has been violent to their mother. To date there is little knowledge of children’s post-separation experiences of fathering or of the parenting abilities of partner abusive men. This study takes a feminist approach and is informed by scholarship on family issues, childhood studies and the sociology of the child. The study was guided by hermeneutic phenomenology and thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Twenty young people aged 18 to 26 took part in the study and face to face interviews were carried out over a one year period. The findings revealed that some fathers were overly punitive in their parenting style with a number of fathers continuing to be physically and/or emotionally abusive to their children. Authoritarian or permissive parenting practices were also identified and a number of fathers were shown to be neglectful, making little effort to bond with their children or provide quality care. In cases where fathers were unable to accept the break-up and move on this was also shown to have an adverse effect on their ability to parent effectively including an inability to co-operate with children’s mothers. In contrast, the majority of mothers were shown to be central to children’s lives undertaking most of the caring responsibilities. Mothers also recognised children’s changing needs as they grew older, encouraged autonomy, and contributed to children’s social development and maturity by trusting their judgement. However, this was not necessarily a protective factor against difficulties that participants have experienced as young adults. A time-share or full-time arrangement was revealed as being the most problematic for children although weekend contact could also pose a risk where pre-separation violence towards children had been severe. The study concluded that a safe outcome for children will require a shift away from a father’s right to contact, emphasising instead children’s right to a life free from abuse.