Mothers Without Custody:
Grieving the Loss of Your Stolen Children

Dr. King

by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

One of the most crippling life losses is the loss of a child to legal domestic abuse. Routinely, we are approached by women denied access to their children and grandchildren because of the whim of former abusive partners or family members.

The pain they bear is beyond words. So, I won’t pretend to suggest we can actually capture the depths of their despair in this article. But I will tell you some of what they say and of what I know firsthand.

1) At first, there is the utter disbelief. “How can this be?” they exclaim.

2) Often there is a vacillation between the denial and the waves of rage beyond anything ever experienced.

3) For many, it’s a vacillation between disbelief and a sorrow so deep it pulls one to their knees, to the ground wailing in tears and cries from every fiber of their being.

4) The worst part of this experience is the mental blaming they do to themselves and the internalization of the heinous crime perpetrated upon them.

5) Many refuse to let the grieving in and remain focused on their pursuits to reunite with their children or grandchildren.

6) Some remain in the ring of warfare determined not to let go until death due us part.

There is no right or wrong way to be relative to the horrific loss of a child to improper legal maneuvering. There is only the fact—the reality that it is. And it is not uncommon.

I’ve heard shelter directors from coast to coast claim that at least one battered woman faces this loss at any point in time in each domestic violence shelter.

I have known women say the burden they bear is worse than the death of a child. They declare that death would bring closure; whereas, their loss leaves an open wound that continues to ooze on and on, again and again.

How one copes with this is as individual as those facing it. I walked this path a decade ago. As I’m approaching the ten year anniversary of my breaking free from legal domestic abuse, I will say being on this end is heaven compared to that hell.

The fortunate thing about time is that it allows space for change, for transformation, for growth for you and your estranged offspring. And now, here is the good part. You are always their parent and they know.

My hope for you if you are living this nightmare is that your day will come when you re-unite with your children, as doing so will complete your grieving cycle like nothing else. Trust me, I know.

If you walk this path, I urge you to find ways to heal within. The sooner you do, the more of you will be there available once your little ones come reaching back to you.

For information about healing within, see Domestic Abuse Healing from Within and Psychological Healing for Domestic Abuse. Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people end and heal from family violence and legal domestic abuse.

Copyright 2009 Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

This series of eInsights is presented to you by Partners in Prevention, a nonprofit organization. If you find this eInsight article useful, we invite you to contribute to the maintenance and growth of the Survivor Success Tips & eInsights. To make a tax-deductible donation, please visit

Dr. Jeanne King is a licensed psychologist and domestic abuse consultant. Feel free to contact us if you need help with physical and/or emotional pain, stress-related illnesses, or relationship abuse issues at home or in court. Contact Us to reach Dr. King.