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Parenting practices and abilities

Parenting practices and abilities

Research has found children living with domestic violence:

  • are more likely to experience coercive and controlling forms of discipline
  • are less likely to experience parenting that is sensitive, consistent and structured
  • may experience a father’s violence, intimidation or control through harm to the mother
  • may experience violence at the hands of the mother or as a reaction to her experiences of violence, or as a way of trying to avoid worse violence inflicted by the father.

Fathers as parents

The majority of research on domestic and family violence and parenting has concentrated on the impact violence has on the mother-child bond without recognising the importance of the father-child bond as well.

This imbalance in the literature is a symptom of the unfair parental load society and the child protection system have placed on mothers as victims of domestic violence. 

Practice reviews find risk assessments often focus on violence, ignoring how fathers parent. This has meant that if a father stops using violence (by choice or because the relationship has ended) practitioners have made assumptions that the children are safe. This overlooks how a father's parenting practices may place children at risk. Expect higher standards for men as parents that aligns with most legal systems’ understanding of parental responsibility, that is, that  both parents are equally responsible for meeting children’s basic needs.

Talking with fathers about parenting practices

Be particularly curious about a father's expectations of a child’s developmental stage and what he thinks a child should and should not do. Ask him about discipline and how he thinks a child should be treated if they misbehave.  Explore his views about parental or gender roles.

Look for:

  • authoritarian or controlling behaviour
  • a sense of ownership over his children
  • biases, based on gender, towards children in his care.

Ask questions like:

  • What do you do for this child?
  • What do you like about having children?
  • What do you dislike about it or find challenging?
  • How do you discipline the children or think they should be disciplined?
  • What do you think about housework?
  • Who should do the chores?
  • Who should take care of the children — feed them, change nappies, get them ready for school?
  • How do you and your partner deal with money and the cost of raising the kids?
  • What do you think a child of (this age) should be able to do?
  • What do you think a child of (this age) is able to understand?
  • If you yell at the kids, what do you think they will do?
  • If a child is tired, hungry or hurt, what do you think they might do? And how would you respond?

Learn more about parenting practice in the part of this practice kit that focuses on Working with fathers.

Mothers’ parenting

While the breakdown of mother-child bonds may happen in response to domestic violence, it does not always happen. A 2015 paper on children’s exposure to domestic and family violence found mothers will often go to great lengths to protect their children from the violence.


The same study found ‘maternal protectiveness’ or the desire to shield their children from abuse was the most important thing to mothers, but living with domestic violence limited the ‘space to form a relationship with their babies’. Despite this, many mothers in the study did manage to create the time and space away from violence to develop a bond and connection with their babies. Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence, (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2015).

Some studies suggest that when mothers act as a ‘buffer’ to violence, children are able to be protected from many of the negative consequences. But this places the onus of protection onto mothers who are also victims.

Read more about how violence impacts on the parenting practices of mothers in the part of this practice kit that focuses on Working with mothers experiencing violence.

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