Back to school time! Reflections for those living with post-separation abuse 

By Demelza Desforges - MIN Ambassador, 18th August 2022.

Back to school time! Reflections for those living with post-separation abuse 

It’s that time again, August is drawing to a close and the next academic year will restart in just a few weeks. Going back to school can be nerve-wracking for all involved. 

School runs, uniforms, packed lunches… it takes organisation to get back into the swing of things. Children and parents may get stressed by the uncertainties of this transition.  For those experiencing post-separation abuse, emotions can become even more complex. 

But each new academic year brings with it a fresh start, a chance to reset. The reflections in this article may help reduce  anxiety associated with going back to school so that you can get things kicking off to a good start. With a bit of preparation and determination you will be able to feel sufficiently prepared so you can enjoy this new milestone while staying calm. 

The impact of coercive control:

Coercive control doesn’t just impact mothers, it can also affect children too.  

It can impact on children’s development and educational outcomes and they can become victims themselves. 

Post-separation abuse can disrupt schooling, can harm health and wellbeing, and can make positive outcomes become harder to achieve. 

Inadvertently, children may find themselves embroiled in the strategies used by perpetrators to reinforce their control and dominance over the mother. Some tactics used by abusers include not following pre-agreed arrangements, not respecting routines, manipulating the children and asking for contact at disruptive times, making various overt or covert threats.  The children will feel this tension so need an outlet to release the pressure. 

Exposure to abuse can be traumatic, and the impact on the family unit can vary, depending on the severity of the perpetrators controlling behaviour. 

While some mums can manage the effects of the abusive behaviour from the perpetrator, other mums have their lives turned upside down thanks to a combination of outrageous abusive behaviour from the perpetrator, and unfair and uneducated court decisions.

In general the start of the school term is a difficult time for parents, and can cause the abuse to become worse. It is useful to prepare for the unexpected and try to remain as serene as possible by practising mindfulness. 

For those mums who are apart from their children: 

If, like many other female survivors of domestic abuse, you are separated from your children due to coercive control then you may not want to read past this section of this article. 

Mums who are separated from their children because of coercive control deserve to be acknowledged, because key moments like these are painful to go through without those who mean the most to you. Stay strong. 

If you share the care of your child/ren, the first day back at school may fall on a day when your child is not with you. You can be excited for your childs’ upcoming prospects  but when the child is with the other parent you may also feel excluded or left out, even more so when the other parent has abusive tendencies. You are bound to feel conflicted. It's ok to feel sad and upset about this.  

This is difficult for you but also for the child/ren. You could consider how you can support them from afar. Perhaps you could send them a video message to wish them luck on their first day.

Not to forget about yourself, if you are struggling with your emotions, It could be an idea to write down your feelings. You could even write a letter to your child/ren. You don’t need to send it, but it can be helpful to get things out of your head, and onto a piece of paper.

Routine with children in the family is often built around the school year, and when those children are not present a sense of emptiness can grow. You can feel exhausted and alone.

It could be an idea to use this moment in life, as an opportunity to focus on yourself and find new activities to enjoy. 

Try to fill the void by meeting new people and mastering your calendar by planning some time to do the things that you love.  What makes your heart sing? Do more of that. 

Use this time as an opportunity to delve into new projects. This could be a new hobby, a career move or development, or a new form of exercise.  These are all things that can help you feel fulfilled. 

By looking after yourself, you are also helping your child/ren, because the way you are feeling will show and can project onto them. They will be happier knowing that you are OK. 

Another activity to keep you motivated  and occupied while being reunited with your child/ren is to map out ideas of activities you would like to do when you next see each other. Planning what you might do together will help you keep things into perspective and reframe things more optimistically.


Schools and coercive control:

Schools have a responsibility to help combat the impact of coercive control on your child/ren.

Perpetrators use moments of change in routines as an excuse to have contact with you. Create boundaries and limit communication. You could always use an app for this. 

It is a good idea to inform school of the complications of the situation at home to keep contact limited. Remember you can’t have balanced communication with someone who is exerting dominance over you.

School can help your situation by sending correspondence to both of you so that you don’t have to communicate with your abuser about the children’s routine too much.

Another advantage of liasing with your child school and informing them of the situation, is that the perpetrator is less likely to be able to triangulate  the school into their coercive control dynamics. This is a tactic where the abuser will use a third party such as a school, as a way of exerting more control over you. They may try to discredit you as a mother or make false-allegations about you.

Post separation abuse can also be threats that you will lose custody of your child. Children can sense your distress as a survivor which could cause them to feel a sense of insecurity.

Encourage your child to receive support from school. Your child may find it reassuring to speak to someone independent and schools are also well placed to make external referrals 

Despite policies around safeguarding, institutional abuse does still occur. Schools (just like family courts) can unfortunately re-traumatise victims/survivors by not having sufficient understanding of the power dynamics involved in post-separation abuse. 

It is vital for schools to gain more understanding in how to deal with post separation abuse adequately.  

Finally, check whether the previous childcare arrangement still works for your child/ren. Now they are in a new school year, it may need tweaking to take into account any new activities such as school clubs or homework sessions. You may need to go to court for this. If MIN are helping you with your journey, they can support you with this.

Behaviour at school:

Having seen the perpetrator bully their mother and asserting control,  could lead to children believing that this behaviour is ok. It is important to teach your child that bullying is never OK.

This is particularly important now that they are going back to school, surrounded by peers.

By being a positive role model, you can show them it is possible to get what you want without threatening or hurting others. Remind your child to treat others with kindness, compassion and respect. 

Don’t banalise abuse. It is important for children to learn about healthy relationships. Teach them how to keep themselves safe.  Remind them that it is ok to talk, even if it is not with you, there is always someone they can reach out to if they need to.                    

Emotional security

Starting the new school year can be traumatic for both you and your child/ren. Help to make it an easier transition by breaking down fears of the unknown.  

Discuss certain scenarios and teach them the skills they need to be able to handle them. This way they are prepared. 

Show them that life is unpredictable and remind them they are strong enough to overcome the obstacles that will arise. 

Structure and consistency from you helps to counteract the impact post-separation abuse has on your children. By acknowledging their right to have their own feelings you are supporting them to be their true selves.

Build a support network:

It is hard to manage all your duties as a mother, even more so when there is a perpetrator holding you back. A common tactic of coercive control is to isolate you. A great way to counteract this is by building a support network around you. 

It might be that you already have a good support network, but for those children who are starting a new school, now is the time to make new connections and build your support network.

Chat to other parents you encounter on the school run, join the PTA, get to know your neighbours. This will also help you to regain your confidence and self-esteem. 

If you use MIN services, join the MIN online peer group. Swap numbers with fellow survivors of coercive control. This way you know that you have someone to call if you need.


Going back to school can cause a lot of stress for both you and your family, and experiencing post separation abuse makes matters more complicated.

Coercive control impacts on the whole family. Not only you, but your child/ren also. When routine changes, there is a chance that the abuse will change or get worse. It is important to be able to look after your own mental health and wellbeing, and provide support for your children's emotional wellbeing.

If you need support from other agencies, don’t be afraid to ask.

School can also be a great form of support, and can allow you to create boundaries and limit contact. Speak to your school to allow them the opportunity to help.

For mothers separated from their children, key moments like birthdays, celebrations and milestones like the first day of school can be more difficult to deal with. Furthermore, abusive behaviours from the perpetrator can intensify on these types of days, which makes them more difficult to manage.

Being organised can help to ease the back-to-school anxiety. Teaching your kids life skills such as learning about personal hygiene, nutrition, sleep routines and the importance of self-care will help them become more resilient against coercive control. 

Hopefully, these reflections will help to make the return or transition to school go as smoothly a possible.