Most boys look up to and imitate their fathers from preschool age-up.It's a natural, normal, and unconscious process, especially if they're in regular contact with Dad or he's living in the home.
Unfortunately, this process can set up a lifelong, intergenerational attitude about women and the right to control them in the sons of abusive men. These boys (4-teens) are often charming, attentive,and co-operative in my groups. Their participation during the "work" part of group is usually not inappropriate and the themes of their stories or discussions may not be violent. Many seem to mellow if they stay at the shelter long enough.
Like their abusive male models, however these boys have two sides. They may act great with me, their teacher, relatives and outside people. Their moms, or sometimes another woman, however, may complain to me at dinner about the child's problematic "attitude" with them or other children.
This "attitude" may be a minor,even age-appropriate defiance of Mom's requests, or the beginning of a systematic wearing down of her patience and strengths by "dissing" her, treating her like his servant (way beyond 4-yr-old "imperialistic" behavior), expertly manipulating her, and in general, seeing her as less competent, intelligent, or independent than he is.
Often this negative, controlling behavior isn't seen before the family arrives at the shelter. Sometimes, however it's one of the reasons why women leave their abusive partner.
One important way battered women living at or outside the shelter help each other is by attending support groups. The group facilitator and the women themselves help a mother understand why her son is "becoming" like his father figure and how to cope and turn him and herself around.
I doubt if any woman loves having to live in a shelter, but some recognize it as the blessing it often is: a transitional time when they can begin to understand themselves and their children; a time to gain enough strength to set and achieve personal goals; a crucial learning and sometimes lifesaving experience.
And what about the girls at the shelter? They have their own problems. To be continued...