LETTERS TO LOVEFRAUD: Leaving the abuser, then expected to co-parent

Editor’s note: Lovefraud received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Gloria.”

I have been divorced from my abusive husband (mental, physical, sexual against me but he NEVER LEFT A MARK ON ME.) for 11 years and we have 3 teenagers together. I have known him 20 years. For most of this time, I have been puzzled about why I could not “move on” after the divorce.

Yes, I left him. During the marriage I did not know the name “abusive,” so I just kept trying to be a good wife and mother, fulfill my marriage commitment, etc., but then I woke up just enough to know that it was “abusive” and I left. We had gone to about 8 couples counselors during the marriage, and I always ended up feeling much worse, and he never took any of the responsibility, just smirked and was derisively contemptuous.

I kept trying to get along with him following the divorce, to “co-parent” (we have joint custody) as the courts seem to require. I have a lot of good will and keep forgiving and trying, but I’m not a pushover! I’m an assertive person and I do assert myself with him constantly, respectfully. Though he is not respectful in return. I tried for all these years to say to the kids, as I was advised by mental health professionals, “your dad is a good man. I’m sure he doesn’t mean it. We just don’t love each other anymore, the way married people should… but I loved him when I married him, and he is your father, and I will always support and respect him.” I am so angry at the mental health professionals for steering me wrong! Seriously, I did all of this in such GOOD WILL, but ignorance. I only, always, wanted what was going to help my children.

After everything I tried, nothing seems to work and now we are barely speaking. I mean ”¦ he has been trying to control and shape how I am “allowed” to communicate with him. Basically, instructing me, I could email him, but only once a week, only one topic per email ”¦ and so I would, and then it would be something else ”¦ I mean, just impossible demands and hoops to jump through. I finally realized, there is no compromise with this man, unless I do all of it. He does none of it.

Scares the children

There are some interesting, colorful problems that go along with my story. One daughter cut her wrists a couple years ago (one time), she was frightened of her dad and refused to see him, and he blamed me (instead of coming together with me to help our daughter in crisis) for her refusal to see him, and threatened me with legal action (he threatens repeatedly).

He attacked her physically in her room, locking the door, menacingly advancing, pushing her to the floor, yelling at her. He has rage attacks frequently. He scares the children.

I should mention that he is very wealthy, a lawyer. Not a con-artist profile! He never bilked me of any money ”¦ but I am struggling financially due to having been focused on raising the kids all these years, and the kids have difficult personalities. He could, for example, take me repeatedly to court, just for the pleasure of impoverishing me further. He did this during the divorce his family has a lot of money. He is an upstanding citizen, good employee, no criminal record except that one time I called 911 and he was arrested and charged with DV

Prized possessions

I have tried to lay low with him. I have tried to “appease” him just to get off his radar. We have joint custody and the kids go back and forth. We have tried a few times to go to counselors to help with “parent coordination,” but the counselors always fall for his lies OR they look at both of us puzzled and say stuff like, “with the two of you, it is hard to know where the credibility lies ”¦”

He is more interested in them as prized possessions than in them personally. This follows the pattern of how he treated me (as an object) during our marriage. It is a very cold thing.

Now not only do we have the one daughter refusing to see her dad, our son is also refusing to see him. He will not say why, “I just don’t feel like it.” This, I should say, is an adamant refusal there is nothing I can do to force it. My ex-husband blames me and has accused me of “parental alienation.” He does his own alienating he needs no help from me!

I have been advised by these counselors, “The conflict between you and your ex-husband is very bad for the children. You need to stop.” And I am so hopeless, hearing things like that. I am not the one doing it. I am not the one attacking, or ignoring, or being rude and disrespectful. Though I do sometimes assert myself to him (not defend, not counterattack, not withdraw). I say, “You are lying.” He smiles and says, “No I’m not, you do it too.” There is just no getting to integrity with this man. It is maddening.

My own parents have admonished me to try to give him the benefit of the doubt and get along with him for the sake of the children. 🙁

College money

My ex-husband is assigning “roles” to the daughters: the daughter who still sees him is the “good;” child and the one who refuses is the “bad” child (they are twins). He has offered $100,000 in college tuition to the “good” daughter, and he has told the other daughter that his $$ help for college is conditional upon her return to a “full relationship” with him. I assume he means that he comes back to live with her not that they have a real relationship based on love.

I should mention ”¦ he lies, lies, lies. He smiles like there is no problem, making me out to be the crazy one. He has been remarried for the past 5 years, and I think she is possibly more sociopathic/evil than he is. For a long time, I thought maybe he has BPD. Then I thought no, he lacks empathy, must be a narcissist. Then, now, I see the sociopathic connection. I see the fake display of emotions. I see the lack of remorse. Well ”¦ both he and his wife have the fakey-nice sing-songy way of talking to the kids, it sickens all of us, and I worry about my one daughter who still goes over there. I worry about my son who sometimes exhibits thoughtless behaviors.


Which brings us to today, where the story got very interesting all of a sudden. I recently got a full-time job, which requires my being gone from the house for the usual number of hours (instead of being home as flexibly as possible, which I tried to do all these years, working part-time or flexibly). The kids were having a rough adjustment to it, but I said, be patient, it’s a transition, we will get through it, but yes you have to help out more (teenagers). I have been a good mom. I have been there, I have done stuff with and for them. I am not perfect. I think I have been utterly normal and healthy. Despite the PTSD I’ve had to deal with.

So, the one daughter who refuses to see her dad, she reacted badly one day when I had a “lecture” to all three kids (it was a stern lecture about wanting them to help out more I have to be very careful and precise and honest in presenting this to you: My kids are not used to me being stern they are used to me being “nice” so this was new and different to them, but I assure you nothing abusive or out of the ordinary in what I think is pretty common and normal parenting especially with teenagers. I really am a very even keel person. So this daughter goes to her counselor the next day and rants about me, she is so upset, and the counselor reported me to CPS, which began an investigation, and I will cut to the chase:

Mandated therapy

We now have mandated family therapy: me, the 3 kids, the ex-husband and his wife! This is very interesting since I would really prefer “no contact,” and that would be much healthier and more appropriate for me. It is interesting and maybe useful for the kids now to see the way their dad really is during these sessions, which send chills down my back (especially the new wife and him together). The kids are getting very angry and fed up with him and his lies and his “impression management” at each session.

CPS “found” me “unsubstantiated neglect,” which is such a sad blow to me. Because I know it is unfounded. I know they did not do a fair and thorough investigation. And I know the investigator had her mind made up before she even came to see me. It was a hostile interrogation and she told me the allegation was that I “hate” my daughter and that I am “mentally unstable.” So this will be on my record (searchable database for prospective employers/volunteer agencies) for the next 5 years, until my youngest is 20 years old. I think this is insane. This is what the system is like ”¦ I think, why would the state expect a victim of domestic violence to be in weekly mandated counseling with her abuser? It makes no sense to me.

And this is where I am now ”¦ some things in the way society views sociopathy, domestic violence, etc. just do not make sense. My friends are even shaking their head and nervous ”¦ they say, “Gloria, if this can happen to you (CPS), this could happen to any of us. You are such a good mom!”

Why all the urging to women to leave our abusers, and THEN we are expected to co-parent with them? And the children are supposed to just be okay with all this?

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45 Comments on "LETTERS TO LOVEFRAUD: Leaving the abuser, then expected to co-parent"

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Hi 20years,

I understand what you’re describing so well. My mother tried to protect me as too, but my father threatened to take me away from her too! In fact…it was for a similar accusation. He told her that she was a bad and neglectful mother because she “let me do whatever I wanted” which was not true at all. My mom had many rules, including bedtime and no rated R movies etc. I saw him scare my mom so much that she’d be shaking as he screamed at her on the phone, calling her a bad mother and telling her that she was being selfish. I was very young at this time. None of this made sense. For the kids in this scenario, I can only speak for myself, but it’s confusing. Children usually think, at first, that their parents can do no wrong. The danger, then, is that I didn’t understand HOW WRONG my father was until I was a teenager, and not even fully until very recently, now that I am in my late 20s. By my teenage years, I’d become used to a lot of his abuse. Later in life, I went through 4 relationships with sociopath men and many other useless chaps before I realized that he’d worn down my sense of how a man had the right to treat me. Since my father had been the first man to abuse me the way a sociopath/psychopath does, that kind of behavior flew mostly under my dating radar. Luckily, I am still young-ish and can still find a healthy relationship. (I only managed to identify the real problem about 1 month ago).

Don’t be too hard on yourself. I know it’s tougher when you have kids. I watched my mom go through it. Would you believe that after he divorced his crazy wife (he is now on wife #6), long after I’d grown up and moved out of the house, he called my mom drunk and tried to convince her to run away to Mexico with him!!!! They really DO NOT GET IT when it comes to the damage they do. After all the crap he’d pulled, he thought she’d actually leave her current husband of 20 years and my little brother to go with him to Mexico!

The only thing I wish my mother would have done differently is maybe stand up to him better (which you are doing) and I REALLY wish she had told me that I didn’t deserve the crap he was putting me through. He broke her into pieces. Just his voice made her shaky, which is something I now recognize as a response to an abuser, as I’ve been there too. He just had to throw threats, and she’d cave in. I didn’t have a good example of a strong woman showing me how to deal with an abusive man. Also, I mentioned she didn’t tell me until much later that I didn’t deserve what he had done when I was young. For years, even after I was 18, she told me that I should have a relationship with my father. One day, I told her that I would be very happy in life if he died. She was appalled and scolded me for having such “dark” thoughts about my “own father!” A few months later, she came to me after hearing a radio program in which a speaker had explained that she was teaching her daughter that she should just “take it” when a man abuses her. She had wanted to raise a daughter with a motto similar to “treat others how you want to be treated” and “always try to be the bigger person.” I know she had the best of intentions, but she was dealing with a psychopath and needed a bit stronger advice for her impressionable daughter, I think. After being through this myself, I really do not blame her. This is HARD.

I can tell you are doing your best for your kids. It’s important for them to know that they are not crazy, just like you needed that validation. And you sound strong, so you’re setting a great example for them.

When the kids are 18, oh yes, you can “totally leave” if they are on the same page as you. I haven’t spoken to my father in years, neither has my mom. It’s like a mutual agreement that his time has FINALLY run out. This might not happen with your kids, but maybe he’ll fully piss them off in the next few years until they all write him off completely. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could all just delete the guy?

I’m sending you the best wishes in your struggle.

Hi Panther,

Some of what you describe your mother saying/doing, describes the way I was operating… the being raised to “treat others how you would be treated” and wanting to pass that kind and good way of being on to my children… and encouraging them to work things out with their father (even though I couldn’t! But I kept trying, so I thought they should too). Jeez, it took a long time for me to see how this programming to always have good will and believe that others are similarly motivated by good intentions was harmful to me and the children. But something shifted in me, as it obviously eventually did in your mother.

It is so encouraging to hear that you do not blame your mother, and that you can understand how she was trying her best under very difficult circumstances, but just was not receiving the right advice because she was dealing with a psychopath, didn’t realize it, and no one else did either (or didn’t tell her). This information is not widely available. Getting more so, though. And I know it is the reason for this website, thank you Donna.

Now that things have shifted for me, in some ways it is MORE difficult for me, because I am bucking what the “experts” are telling me to do. I am validating my children, rather than telling them to have a relationship with their father, because he is “their father.” My extended family thinks I am misguided and I’m judging my ex too harshly. They want me to keep trying to be nice, to “make nice,” to keep the peace, “for the sake of the kids.” And that is just so misguided.

And I’m glad you mentioned, do I want to raise any of my children to just “take it” and be abuse victims? (or abuse others?) NO!!!!!

I do hope very much that things can change in the family court/child welfare system, so that more people in positions of power (who are misguided or misuse that power) will stop destroying families.

Honestly, the way it feels to me is that I am a victim of a home invasion by teenage thugs who have no regard for the careful tending, careful building, piece by piece, I have done over the years, my mothering, my nurturing and safe home, my loving, creative joy in providing this safe haven for my children to grow in (my home for the past 12 years, me and the kids) — invaded by this CPS investigator, two police officers and a student “intern” who threatened, intimidated me with a violent tirade of hurtful, false, preposterous allegation against me… yelling at me, berating me for the awful things I allegedly did (all false). it is a though they took a baseball bat and ran around my home, smashing things, and then left me sitting in the heap of detritus that used to be my peaceful, happy home, and did not even acknowledge the trauma they caused me and the children, through the threats of taking them away from me and telling me that with this “on my record” I will “never be allowed — never — to work with children ever again, in any capacity, employed or volunteer.”

At least they didn’t take my children away from me. I should be “happy” and “grateful” that they didn’t. I am. But I am also stunned at how the State can just barge into people’s homes and do this stuff to them.

Yes — I know it was “abuse.” I know not every CPS investigator is a bully. And I know the CPS two-fold mission is to “protect children” and “strengthen families” and they did anything but, in my case. and they get away with it, no acknowledgement, no apology, standing by their “finding.”

You do not have to believe me… but every one of the eight supporting statements they put behind their “finding” was absolutely false. It is such a helpless feeling, to be able to do nothing.

You guys do realize that they make their finding in secret, they collect evidence and do not show it to the accused “neglector” until after the finding is done and the case is closed… so the way it works is that you do not know the evidence against you until after their decision is made. you cannot challenge the record until after the fact. They do not “work with” you at all. And, for the falsely accused, you have no idea whom they’ve talked to and what has been said against you, until it is too late.

I know I’m not alone. Others have had this experience. I’ll get through it and past it.


Thanks for reading and responding to my post. I just wrote you a really long letter about getting clear about who you are — your values and your preferences — and using that to shape the situations in which you find yourself.

But at the end of it, I realized that I’m not talking about what’s urgent and important in your life. And I apologize in advance for being so blunt with you. But I think it’s that important.

You children are being sexually abused. It’s just beginning. This is how it begins. They’ve come to you with information, and within that information is in implicit request. Partially for guidance, which they will gather from the way you react. And partially for support. Not moral support, as much as real and material support.

I’m a child of an incestuous father, and it started pretty much like this for myself and my sister. He was, like your ex husband, a bully and an emotional abuser — both through tearing us down and emotionally blackmailing us to feel sorry for him and to try to protect the other children. He was always triangulating us between him and my mother. It was a complicated situation for a child to handle, because he was our father and we were attached to him and hungry for the normal things that children (even teenaged children) looks to their parents for.

You are fortunate that they bring their concerns to you. This is an opportunity for you to teach them, by modeling the behavior of someone who does not accept victimization or collaborate with it.

In reading your posts, I think your ability to learn and to distance yourself enough from painful and even scary situations so that you can observe rationally and apply what you are learning is admirable. But I am concerned about one thing. I think your pain tolerance is too high. Probably because of that difficult background you mention. Andl because of this high pain tolerance, you are too inclined to cope rather than fight.

And please forgive me if that sounds like a criticism. It’s not meant to be anything but a personal observation, and one that may be entirely wrong. I don’t live in your shoes, and I don’t know all the pressures and complications that you live with.

But I am suggesting to you that there are lines, boundaries of toleration that, once crossed, become a reason to go to war. And that doesn’t mean getting hysterical or acting in any way without thinking and strategizing. Rather, I am suggesting that you recognize that this situation has now gone over the line, and you are at war.

The impact of any sort of parental abuse is significant, because the child is not just being wounded or violated, but also taught the way the world works in ways that cause the child to develop beliefs and rules for living that incorporate these assumptions of how the world works. Emotional abuse is bad because it’s so difficult for a child to defend herself against the parent’s apparent “truth” about her, the child. Physical abuse is terrible, because it communicates the parent’s lack of concern about whether the child lives or dies (and that is exactly how a child interprets this incomprehensible behavior from the person that she turns to for physical shelter and support). But sexual abuse incorporates both of those things and adds a particularly nasty twist, because it teaches the child the necessity to give up the most personal level of integrity and privacy in order to be accepted and survive.

No matter how emotionally healthy your children may be, the challenge presented by this situation is unmanageable. And to the extent that they are left to their own devices to manage it — that is, sent back into that environment and told to try to handle it, or told to manage their feelings because it’s probably not really that bad, or encouraged to rationalize or “understand” the perpetrator’s behavior — they are being abandoned.

Your first challenge in all of this is to be clear that this is not all right. First within yourself, and then to communicate it to your girls. This is what you believe, you tell them. This is not all right. It is unacceptable behavior. Whatever his intentions, whatever is wrong with him, it would not be acceptable from anyone else, and it is not acceptable from him. The fact that he is their father and so has a closer relationship with them and more ability to go get physically close to them makes it worse. He is taking advantage of his position in their lives. And doing things that go beyond making them feel uncomfortable. This is not good for them. This is how you view it. And you hope this how they view it too. Unwanted, uninvited intimacy is always bad. No exceptions.

You don’t have to force them to agree with you. Just tell them how you feel about it. And stay consistent. If they try to waffle about it, to give him the benefit of the doubt. Say you understand, and that you know this is a difficult situation. And you’ve always tried to help them maintain their relationship with their father. And you are sorry you have to be ademate in a way that they may feel puts them on the spot. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is wrong. And if they don’t think so, ask how they would feel if their friends knew about it, or if he behaved that way with their friends. They already know it’s wrong. But you understand that implications of facing it may be hard for them, because they are big implications. It means that they are no longer safe in that house.

And again forgive me if it sounds like I’m lecturing you, or if I’m telling you what you already know. If you do, and this is what you’re already doing, I hope you take it as confirmation that you’re doing the right thing.

The work you do with the girls will underpin everything else that you have to do about this. It is crucial that they understand you are their champion and you intend to keep them safe. And that you know, even if they don’t recognize it yet, that abuse of any kind is progressive. And if this is not stopped now, it’s going to move into areas will make it increasingly more difficult for them to talk about it and to maintain their sense of themselves. This is not to scare them, but to reinforce the importance of taking it seriously.

Then you need to discuss with them the options of what you can do, not just you alone but you and them. Ask them what they feel comfortable doing about it. Tell them that you can take strong measures to protect them, but you don’t want to do anything that they don’t support. So have a discussion, or a few discussions that leave them time to talk together and think about what they want to do.

They may want to try to work things out with him by themselves at first. If so, encourage them to talk with him about how uncomfortable this makes them feel, until they get a response from him that convinces them that he understands and will honor their need for personal boundaries. It’s important they are honest about their feelings and needs with him. Also encourage them to do it together, so they can serve as each other’s witness in what happens. Confirm over and over that your only objective is their safety and their freedom to grow up without having to deal with things that harm them or are beyond their ability to manage. If either of them suggests that you are “against” their father, ask if they think you should just back away and let this happen to them. If they say they can deal with it, just let them know that you’re there for them when they feel like they can’t. But you too have issues with this, and you are very concerned for them.

Eventually, you should be able to get them on board for your next step, which is action to keep them away from him. Getting them on board is obviously essential, because if they don’t support your allegations of abuse, then you’re not going to get anywhere.

You have a number of options in approaching this. One is to simply stop sending them there (with their support). Another is to bring in child services. Another is to use the police. Another is to reopen the custody case. If he fights, it’s probably going to get legal anyway. But the more prepared you are, and the more clear the girls are about not going back and commited to protecting their own safety, the more easily and quickly this is going to go. They are old enough to influence the judicial proceedings about custody arrangements.

I realize that one of the greatest challenges you face right night is taking this seriously. First you, then them, then the system. And it might have to get worse before that happens. But if there’s anything you get from this post, I hope it’s that one person in the world (me) is taking it very seriously right now. And if you want to be another one, you’re not alone. My email address is under the contributors link, and you’re welcome to get in touch.

So that’s it. I hope I haven’t offended or upset you, and that at least some of this makes sense.


Hi Kathy,

First, no I am not at all offended, and I appreciate ALL of what you have written. As you have noted, I do have this quality of detaching a bit to hover above and observe the situation. I see it both as a coping mechanism (useful in some ways, counterproductive in other ways) and also as a way of discerning facts from emotionally-laden fiction. Yet, I also use my gut (emotions). None of it is foolproof!

So, I never assume that I have finally figured everything out, and I’m always open to new information that might prove my assumptions wrong. Particularly where the safety and wellbeing of my kids is concerned.

From that place, then, I’d like to ask you what it is about what I’ve written so far, which leads you to be so sure that my girls are being sexually abused. I was NOT (so grateful for this) sexually abused as a child, so I may not have the radar. My ex-husband DID sexually abuse me while we were married (this is still hard for me to think and talk about, but mostly involved his own gratification and humiliation of me and simply not caring that I was distressed that he forced himself on me in that dehumanizing way, repeatedly throughout our marriage).

But back to the kids. I, too, saw what the girls told me (2 years ago they told me) about his behavior, as possible “grooming” behavior. I cannot know for sure if this behavior is continuing, though I am pretty sure it is NOT since I called him out on it when I became aware of it (2 years ago), but I believe my one daughter who goes over there would tell me. I guess there is a chance that she would not. Do you have advice for me on how to talk to her about this? (or are there books with advice?)

I need to be careful. I am NOT afraid to get my mind around this, but it is a tricky problem. Absolutely, I would fight for my kids and get over any guilt I feel that would hamper such a fight. I’m a fiercely protective mother!

But what if I’m wrong… how can I be certain, one way or another? Certain that she is safe (safe enough — because I do not feel it is safe for the kids to be around their sociopathic father even if he is NOT sexually abusing them — but absent any PROOF the courts would not deny him visitation based on my assertions that he is a sociopath — you know this).

How can I be certain, alternatively, that he IS sexually abusing them? I would believe my daughter if she told me specific details (as I believed them, what they told me 2 years ago). But what if she says “no Mom, everything is fine. Dad is a dick, but he is not doing sexual abuse on me.” Should I believe her then, or keep digging and not believing her? (because of the frog boiled in water analogy, where she has been so effectively groomed that she does not recognize the abuse, or does not see the danger).

Then there is the CPS finding on me of “neglect.” This occurred within the last 6 months (investigation began 6 months ago; finding of “neglect” was just this month). My credibility has been so eroded by this. I can see how this would go in court! My ex would be believed, and I would be portrayed as a crazy, vindictive ex-wife making false sexual abuse accusations! (perhaps in revenge for the CPS finding, right?).

When I raised this with social services 2 years ago, they agreed that while he was inappropriate with the boundaries, it had gone no further and hadn’t crossed any lines which required that they investigate further (the irony is not lot on me, how he is clearly unsafe and sociopathic and they declined to investigate, yet I am completely safe and all 3 kids would swear to it, but weren’t asked, and they threw everything they had at me — short of removing my kids from my home).

I was also dumbfounded at the time(2 years ago) to realize that they were investigating ME, as well! To see if I was one of those false sexual abuse accusers. (Jeez… I thought those bad women who falsely accuse their ex-husbands do it DURING THE DIVORCE as part of the custody battle — not wait 10 years of reasonably cooperative-seeming co-parenting and then suddenly let loose with the accusations).

I don’t want to divert from the point of your message. It may sound like I’m making excuses. I’m not intending to. Rather, I’m pointing out my caution in proceeding, and wondering what it was in my postings which alarmed you so much, that you think there is sexual abuse (maybe define it for me) occurring right now. So that I need to take some sort of immediate action, and to what degree, and what am I looking for?

I mean, I also think it is entirely possible that he is “just” sociopathic who is doing awful stuff that is indeed sexually abusive but never puts a toe over the line of anything that can be prosecuted or used as evidence to remove the children. He might sidle up to that line and stay just on that side of it, making the children very uncomfortable, keep my daughter on edge (I’m not saying I have evidence of this — just that this is what he would LIKELY do — he has enough impulse control that he would deliberately “tease” that he is sexually abusing, to use as bait to get me to accuse him, then turn that around on me and blame me and use as evidence of my parental alienation . I am not kidding — THAT is EXACTLY how he operates.). He has effectively conned many therapists into thinking I am the crazy one. Ugh.

I absolutely do not want to miss this, though, if it is going on, and I have been looking the other way. I am open to hearing whatever you have to say. But I will be very discerning and measured in my sorting through all of it. And fight hard if necessary.

I will send you my email address. But I wanted to respond here, in case others have valuable insights to offer me. My kids’ safety and wellbeing come FIRST.



I did not realize this happened two years ago. (Maybe you wrote it and I missed it.) And that there there hasn’t been anything reported to you since.

And no, I wouldn’t press your daughter for information on it. You seem to have a good relationship. I’d assume that you’d hear or notice if something like this was wrong.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between symptoms of abuse and the normal “hormone poisoning” of adolescence. It’s normal for kids to be sulky, rebellious or secretive. But sexual abuse tends to have a certain constellation of symptoms that include several of these: Acting out. Depressed or withdrawn, self-identification as a loser or outsider. Self-destructive behavior, especially cutting. Loss or change of friends. Plummeting grades. Weight gain or other attempts to become unattractive. Precocious sexual awareness or promiscuity.

If you’re not seeing that, it sounds like your confrontation worked.

And I apologize for popping off. I am admittedly really sensitive about this.


Thanks, Kathy,

For now, my gut is telling me that things are as OK as they can be, with everything else considered (sociopathic dad/stepmom, the crazymaking gaslighting stuff)… I think my daughter who goes over there is pretty aware and also is a lot tougher and more able to stand up to her dad than the other two children. I also think she would tell me, if anything crosses a line or even just makes her uncomfortable, especially if she is unable to handle it herself (if she speaks up, for example, and he denies or minimizes or shifts blame).

The other things which could be symptoms… I’m not seeing these (but would be on the lookout!). She seems pretty normal, has good friends, is on an athletic team, keeps up with studies, is attractive but not going in either direction (not too much makeup/promiscuous, nor wearing baggy clothing/weight gain).

I think it is always good to be vigilant, and I do not mind at all your pointing out any red flags you see, that I may be missing. Kids’ wellbeing and safety is at stake!

wow, the things you wrote to 20years are going to be helpful to other readers who might be going through that. The step-by-step instructions are invaluable.

I think your tough daughter is feeling out her power to manipulate. She has set the goal of getting her college paid for and she is working toward that goal by playing the game with her dad. Unfortunately, she doesn’t understand how much she is risking. Like all teens, she thinks she is smart enough to take care of herself. But even if her dad doesn’t molest her, playing emotional games with a spath is going to have emotional repercussions. She will lose some of her grounding in reality, some of her sense of self – even if she ultimately wins the carrot he is dangling.

I don’t believe there is anyway you will be able to talk her out of this game because she thinks she can win, she thinks she has him figured out. The best thing you can do is arm her with knowledge: books on psychopaths. And make sure she understands how important it is for her to stay grounded in reality because spaths play mind games. Teach her gray rock and how to change the typewriter keys around. She has decided to become supply so she should know how to do it without getting sucked dry.

I think that if she understands the purpose of this knowledge is to help her reach her goal, then she will absorb it avidly. But there will be a side-effect. As she absorbs it for the purpose of winning her goal, she will begin to understand the error in her thinking. She’ll “get” that there is no winning when you allow a vampire to feed on you. And hopefully she will find a way to detach it from her neck safely. Use tweezers and pull slowly straight back.

Dear 20 years,

I grew up in a family where my stepfather was allowed to do many of the things that your children’s father do. He walked around in his underwear, walked into our room when we were undressing, made sexual innuendos, and seemed to always be trying to push his boundaries with us. At the same time, he was beating us brutally with a thick belt till we had welts all over our bodies – for silly things, like leaving a light switch turned on when we left the room. I don’t have to tell you that a parent like this is also emotionally abusive. My mother was aware of this – it happened for 9 years until I left home at 15 or 16. My sister got the abuse for 11 years because she was younger. I begged my mother to leave him. Even though she had the means, she stayed with him till the day he died 20 years later.

I cannot express to you the abandonment and betrayal I felt and how it has affected me my entire life. Even when I was able to forgive my stepfather, I could never forgive my mother and now have no relationship with her (I am now 50).

I do not have the gift of words like Kathy Hawk has; she really described my life experiences so eloquently – especially the part about feeling like your parents don’t care if you live or die. I tried to commit suicide when I was 14 and was very disappointed when I didn’t succeed. My parents never knew. They knew I was very ill and vomiting, and I lived in abject FEAR that they would find out I took a bunch of my mom’s pills. I feared that my stepfather would kill me for making them spend their time and money to take me to the hospital if he knew.

So from personal experience, a suicide attempt in a child is something to be taken very seriously. Please, please, please do everything you can to protect them and let them know it is your intention to protect them from harm. It will make such a big difference in their lives – you have no idea.


It just dawned on me that my posts about this have triggered some of you with these experiences of boundary (and other) violations which occurred when you were young. I’m sorry about that! I have my own triggers — thankfully, child abuse/sexual abuse is not one of them, but I do know the feeling, and so I want to apologize.

And also express great appreciation to you for writing, sharing what you’ve been through, and offering any thoughts you have about what is is like for a child to grow up in an abusive household where you are not safe… I do feel that there are no set formulas on how to handle this, very little support for the kids, very little understanding of the bind that many protective parents are in, pressure from all sides to “repair broken family relationships” regardless of the capacity of some of the individuals, and I also want to acknowledge that while I feel some very real barriers to 100% protecting my children, I realize some of those barriers may be psychological, of my own making, or not so insurmountable as they may seem.

This is a topic I think needs a lot more research and educating folks — how to identify sociopaths and truly protect all family members (spouse, children, parents) from them. What interventions WILL work, for the entire family? Which relationships can and should be strengthened, and which relationships are best cut off, with no contact for the sake of the mentally healthy (and vulnerable) family members?

I feel so stuck, sometimes. I would love nothing more than to just run away with my 3 children, but I know he would follow, he would take me to court, and he would win. He has a bottomless pit of money and enough family members like him (also with endless supply of money) that it would break me, which would hardly help the kids.

So instead, I’m in this kind of hypervigilant position, warily watching the kids for red flags, trying not to appear too crazy, since he effectively cons the experts and court system. And just trying to wait him out and be the best mom I can. Our son will be 18 in less than a year, and our daughters have about 3 years to go until he can no longer hold legal threats over me regarding the children (and removing them from my home through filing more reports to CPS).

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