When an angry and controlling man lives in the house, his demeanor can set the tone for everybody. His outlook at home is focused on judgment, criticism, and demands. The message he sends constantly is, "You should be doing better! You aren't okay the way you are -- something is wrong with you! You need to be hammered into a better shape!" The mother has to focus huge energy on how to keep his hammer from falling on her -- meaning how to stay out of the way of his put-downs and snarling and aggression.
A woman living in this atmosphere is pushed, often without even realizing it, toward adopting an outlook on her children that is similar to the one the destructive man takes toward her. She can start to view her kids as bundles of problems and faults, as broken items that need to be fixed. She may spend the day yelling and criticizing. Part of why she may fall into this stance is that she sees how her partner reacts -- with ugliness -- every time the children inconvenience him or don't meet his image of perfect kids; so she starts to work doubly hard to mold her children into people that will please him.
If you see yourself in this picture, let me say that I get it that you are trying to do the right thing; you want to protect yourself and your children from harm. But trying to crunch the children down to keep them from upsetting their father can lead in some directions you don't intend, where the tyrannical man starts to creep inside you and make you become like him.
So it's important to balance your short-term urgency with an awareness of your long-term goals. Down the road, what is going to help the most to keep your kids safe from their father's ugly behaviors and attitudes?
1) Believing in their self-worth
2) Experiencing patience and forgiveness
3) Witnessing fairness in action
4) Feeling what it's like to have their voices heard and their opinions taken seriously
5) Learning to defend themselves and to stand up for themselves
Their father is not going to help them develop in these ways, unfortunately; in fact, he keeps modeling the exact opposite by tearing you down, and sometimes tearing them down too. So they are hungry for kindness, patience, and encouragement from you.
You can't be the perfect parent, especially when your partner is bringing so much toxicity into the environment. I don't want you berating yourself about the times when you lose your temper and yell at your kids, or about the days when you are too critical of them. But keep striving. Your kids are looking to you to be everything the opposite of what their father is: patient, supportive, forgiving, and affectionate (without being invasive). And they need you to set firm limits but without harshness.
Today, work to give them this quality of love to the fullest extent you can. You are hugely important to them, whether they allow you to see that or not.
"My children and I are on the same team. Whether today is a hard day or an easy one, I'm going to keep reminding myself how much my love and kindness mean to them."