Many forms of partner abuse spill over onto the children, but some are hard to put a name to. What do you call it when a man, furious at his wife, peels out of the driveway in the family car, so that the mother has to drag her three children across town on a hot bus to their doctor’s appointment? What label do we use when children develop a strong attachment to their mother’s best friend, who is like an aunt to them, and the father abruptly decrees one day that she is no longer allowed in the house because he does not like her, so the children cannot see her? What do we say of the impact on children when a mother gets the news that she is pregnant with a fourth child, her second unwanted pregnancy, because her partner refuses to use birth control and won’t take no for an answer when he wants sex?
If children don’t see or hear the abusive man’s mistreatment of their mother, they feel the aftershocks. They see her pain, they feel her withdrawal, they hear whisperings among their older siblings about what happened.