Background: Witnessing intimate partner violence (IPV) causes physical and mental health problems for children. Children are one of multiple factors that a victim weighs as she manages the abusive relationship. Little has been written about how children affect the mother's decisions about the abuse or what assistance a mother wants from the children's physician in creating a nonabusive home.
Objective: To consider the role children play in their mothers' management of abusive partners.
Methods: Thirty-two mothers living in midwestern IPV shelters or participating in support groups were interviewed about their abuse stories, perceptions about the effects of the abuse on their children, and desires about IPV management in the health care setting. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed by a team of researchers using thematic analysis.
Results: Children were an integral factor in the mothers' management of their abusive relationships. For more than half of the participants, something the children did or said catalyzed their seeking help. For some, the children's attachment to the abuser was a reason to delay seeking assistance. Based on these findings, we explored what mothers wanted from their children's physicians regarding their abusive relationships. Mothers talked about the delicate balance between education and blame, between offering help and becoming too intrusive, and between wanting the best for their children and fearing the involvement of child protective services.
Conclusions: Children play an important role in mothers' management of their abusive relationships. From their children's physicians, participants wanted IPV screening and IPV resources. Some wanted the physician to educate them about how the IPV affected the children in a nonblaming manner.