Q&A: Is it abuse?

Ellen is struggling with a problem with her ex-husband, the father of her children. Dave (in the email) is her new husband, who also has a child from a previous marriage. She writes:

"I guess my question is one of what truly constitutes abuse in the minds of most parents.

My ex is a bit of a bully, always has been. He yells, cusses and calls names when he gets mad. He does this with my boys too (6,8,10,13). More so with the older one...but he gets rougher on all the boys as they get older. When he is angry, he gets in their faces...will back them up against walls and scream at them. He also does this thing where he grabs their face and squeezes their cheeks really hard while he's yelling so they can't move or turn their heads. He also does childish stuff like call my 10 years old, who is chunky and very sensitive about it, "fat ass" and "chubs" when he gets mad. I know exactly what they are talking about because he used to do it to me when we were married.

Anyway...this past week he smacked my 13 years old twice. I wasn't there but I have a good idea of what happened. My 13 year old does not respect his father at all...because dad yells and hollers but never really implements any true form of discipline. So, they got into an argument and my 13 year old was being really disrespectful, calling his dad names (loser, bully, etc). He doesn't do that here but I know he can get a pretty bad attitude towards his dad because I've heard it on the phone. His dad lost his temper and started yelling and getting in his face. Instead of backing down like usual, my 13 year old challenged him. My ex threatened to pay a kid to come "beat his (Alex, my son's) ass" and this made Alex really angry so he didn't back down. My ex ended up slapping him twice in the face. My son says hard enough for his mouth to bleed inside because of his braces. I get a call from my ex and he is yelling "Where are you? You need to get here right now before I beat him". I have to drop what I'm doing and head over there asap. In the 10 minutes it take me to get there I get 2 more calls from my ex...all along the same theme. "Hurry up before I knock his fucking teeth out"...all the while I hear my son in the background crying and yelling "hurry mom, he's gonna' hurt me".

I have talked to 2 attorneys and 241-kids and because there were no external marks it is not considered abuse. I quote "A parent has a legal right to physically discipline their child".

Now, I have lived with some form of abuse my whole life so my views on what is really abuse are somewhat fuzzy....and I am aware of this about myself.

Dave is certain, 100% that, whether it legally is or not, this is abuse, plain and simple. And I agree. Since we don't really have a legal leg to stand on, we have decided to move away from him as far as we legally can to limit his time with the kids. He is lazy and won't make a 40 minute drive to get the boys a couple time/week. He will probably become and every other weekend (at best) dad. Right now he gets them 2 1/2 days each week.

Here is my question...is this abuse bad enough to take his kids away from him? The younger boys really love him and are torn up about the thought of moving. Alex is totally on board with it and wants to move right away. He refuses to go see his dad at all right now. He says he really believes that his dad is capable of hurting him. My gut says that he would never escalate it any further (i.e. punch them or anything) because he is a cop and knows not to cross the legal line.

So now I have vented on an unbiased party and just need to know what you would do if these were your kids...and what other parents would do.

Would you move away?"

I would move away.

I am in complete agreement with Dave. There are all kinds of abuse, and for many people, emotional and verbal abuse is at least as bad as physical abuse is. This is very clearly verbal abuse and emotional abuse. Even if he'd never physically touched Alex, your ex is bullying him (and the 10-year-old) and saying vicious, nasty things that no person should say to another person, let alone an adult to a child, let alone a parent to a child.

I don't think that you could prove physical abuse, but if you involved a psychologist I'm wondering if you could prove emotional abuse.

But at the least, moving will help alleviate the situation. If, as you predict, he fades out of their life, then that's yet another bad choice he's making. Plenty of people grow up under horrible circumstances and make the choice not to become abusive. He makes a choice, every time he says something hurtful or threatening, to abuse his children. You need to protect them until they're old enough and physically big enough to draw their own boundaries for interacting with him.

Readers? Thoughts? Empathy? Stories? Am I on the right track? Should Ellen and Dave move?