Here are the 7 most important things to remember when you’re searching for advice on how to help your mother leave an abusive relationship. I was inspired to write this article for a teenager who asked for help getting out of a bad relationship when you have nowhere to turn.
“I am 16 and trying to help my mother get out of an abusive marriage,” says Ellie on How to Get Out of a Relationship When You Have Nowhere to Go. “My father was an alcoholic and ruined her career by calling the cops and lying to them. She has had a disorderly conduct for 10 years now, and it still won’t get off of her record. She has a hard time getting a job as a teacher, like she used to be. He calls her names, threatens her with calling the cops again, spends thousands of dollars on drugs, and is very controlling. My dad has also abused me by cutting off almost all my hair, choking me once and calling me mean and nasty names. Thankfully he has done nothing to my 8 year old sister. I do have settlement money coming to me, but that won’t be for two more years. We have no money and no long term place to stay until we get on our feet. What do I do?”
You call the police, Social Services, and women’s helplines until you find a place you’re safe. You talk to teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers until you learn how to help your mom leave an abusive relationship.
And, you make the difficult choice to let your mother run her life and make her own choices – even if her choices include staying in relationships with men who abuse her. You are the child and she is the parent. The best way to help your mom end an abusive marriage is to ensure she knows the phone numbers of women’s shelters and domestic violence helplines.
You can’t get your mom out of her abusive relationship. It is her relationship, and she will end it when she’s ready. She can’t leave her husband or partner – no matter how much he’s abusing her – until she wants to end the relationship. You cannot make this decision for her.
7 Ways to Help Your Mother Leave an Abusive Man
It’s heartbreaking to see your mom suffer physical, emotional, or mental abuse by a man she loves (especially if he’s your father!). I remember seeing my mother get physically attacked by someone who is staying with us for a few days. I’ll never forget the feeling of helplessness, fear, and horror of seeing my mom get hurt by somebody. It was horrible, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I understand what it’s like to want to help your mom leave an abusive relationship and get safe. But, you can’t help her do something that she doesn’t want to do. Does your mother want to leave a man who is abusing her? This may seem like a silly question – of course women want to leave abusive relationships, right?
But it’s more complicated than that. I often write about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. This article is no different, because knowing what your responsibility is in your mother-daughter relationship is one of the most important boundaries of your life.
1. Allow your mother to be an adult (weird, right?)
“My mom makes bad parenting decisions,” said Angel, my 16-year-old neighbor. “I love her, but I don’t think she’s handling her life right.”
Angel is beginning to realize that her mother isn’t doing the best job as a parent. And, Angel is smart enough to accept that her mom is an adult who is running her own life and making her own decisions. Her mother was in an abusive relationship with Angel’s father, but it wasn’t until her dad left that her mom was free.
Leaving an abusive relationship is complicated and difficult, and there may be nothing you can do to help your mom. She is an adult woman who is making choices in her life for reasons that she may not even understand. You can’t save her from herself. You have to let your mother go and allow her to be an adult.
For a glimpse into what moms in bad relationships might experience, read How to Get Away From an Abusive Husband After 20 Years of Marriage.
2. Learn what healthy boundaries are
Your mom – especially if she’s struggling to leave an abusive relationship – is dealing with emotions and experiences that you don’t know anything about. Yes, you see your mom with this man (your own father!) who is abusing her, but you don’t know what’s going on in her heart, head, and soul. You can’t understand her or her relationship with your dad.
Part of allowing your mother to be an adult is knowing where she begins and ends, and where you begin and end. This means not taking on emotional struggles that are not yours to begin with. You have your own emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and academic struggles. You need to learn how to separate yourself from your mother.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is an excellent book about relationships. It’ll help you see what – and who – you are responsible for. You’ll learn what you can do to help your mom leave an abusive relationship, and what you have to let her do.
It’s important for you to learn what you can control in your life, and what you can’t. This means giving your mom space and freedom to decide what she needs to do about leaving this abusive relationship. You can offer to help your mother leave, but you can’t do it for her. You might not even be able to convince her that she needs to leave a man who is abusing her.
3. Get an adult to help your mom
You are your mother’s child. It doesn’t matter how old you are, whether or not you live with your mom, or what she is asking you to do. It’s important for you to learn what it means to be a daughter. You are a child — not your mother’s best friend, counselor, social worker, or life partner.
The best way to help your mother leave an abusive relationship is to connect her with people and resources that can help her. Call a women’s shelter, a helpline for women in abusive relationships, social services — ask for their advice on how to help your mom. Talk to someone who has experience helping women leave abusive relationships.
And, remember that women don’t “just leave” men, even when abuse is rampant. Often there are stages of leaving an abusive relationship. Men who abuse women are manipulative and threatening. Your mom – if she really wants to end the marriage – needs help from experts who know how to untangle dangerous situations.
This is not something you can do for your mom. You can give her phone numbers, you can sit with her while she makes the phone calls, and you can help her pack. But you can’t make your mom leave an abusive relationship until she decides it’s time to go.
4. Allow your mom to decide to leave her abusive relationship
Does your mother really want to leave this marriage? She may say she does, but is she doing anything to actually get away from her abusive husband? Women who are being abused are often aware of the abuse and they may even want to leave the relationship, but often they stay because they believe things will change. Their husbands or partners promise them that the future will be different. And, the “I’m sorry, I love you, it’ll never happen again” honeymoon phase makes a huge difference in a woman’s decision to leave an abusive relationship. So abused women may say they want to leave, but they may not be ready to actually and the relationship.
Here’s how to help your mom leave an abusive relationship: tell her that if she decides time to go, you will sit beside her when she calls a domestic violence hotline, or the police, or Social Services. Or all three! You will walk alongside her as she carries out the decision to leave and follows through with it. That is the best way that you – as a daughter – can give your mother the help she needs.
5. Take good care of yourself…be a mother to yourself
How are you doing? Probably not 100% happy or healthy! You’re watching your mother struggle in an abusive relationship and you want her to leave. You yourself are suffering from the outfall of your father’s abuse. You don’t know what you can do to help your mom. And, if you’re a teenager living at home and your dad is the abuser, then your whole life revolves around your mom’s decision to stay in this marriage.
The best way to take care of your mother is to take good care of yourself. Honestly, the best thing you can do for your mom is to get yourself as emotionally, spiritually, physically, academically, and socially healthy as possible. Your mother doesn’t have time or energy or strength to parent you properly. You may not know how to help your mom leave an abusive relationship, but you can save yourself by learning how to take good care of yourself.
6. Call a victim’s support line or Social Services
My mom wasn’t in an abusive relationship with a man. She was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to me. I left home when I was 14 years old – I called a social worker and said that I couldn’t live with my mother anymore because of her abuse.
I thought I probably end up living in a foster home, and I was okay with that because I couldn’t stay in an abusive home anymore.
I had to take care of myself because nobody else was taking care of me. Actually, that’s not true….God was taking care of me. I just didn’t know it! He walked alongside me while I called social services and made arrangements to move in with my grandmother. I didn’t have anybody offering to help me leave my mother’s abuse, but I found my way home.
And you can, too. This is the time for you to save yourself, to start becoming the woman God created you to be. What do you need to do for yourself? Do you need to stay with a friend while your mom sorts out her marriage? Do you need to call Social Services and talk about different options? Maybe you need to talk to a teacher at school, for the guidance counselor.
Read How to Cope With Difficult Parents for ideas on how to take care of yourself, set boundaries, and deal with abuse in homes.
7. Trust, have faith, and let go
Let your mother be the adult. Let your mom make her own choices and decisions. Accept that you can’t guide her life, and you can’t give her help she’s not willing to accept. Don’t pressure your mother or tell her she needs to leave this abusive relationship. You can’t convince her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, and it’ll only drive a wedge between you and her. Instead, reassure her that you will be there for her whenever she needs you – especially if she needs help leaving her abuser. But don’t push her to make a decision that she’s not willing to make.
Trust and have faith in that still small voice that is leading you on. You’re here – and you’re reading this article – because God led here. Trust that He will keep guiding you till you, too, find your way home.
How are you feeling? I know it’s not easy, and I didn’t give you the complete guide on how to help your mom leave an abusive relationship! There is no guide…unless you’re looking upwards and listening for that still small voice.
Feel free to share your thoughts and story in the comments section below. The more you write about your struggles to help your mother cope with abuse, the more clarity and insight you’ll find.
If you have questions about abuse in relationships, read 12 Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Boyfriend.
Fear not the night shadow nor the daily arrows, for you are surrounded by legions of angels.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.