IT’S difficult for men to get it right. Amid charges of mansplaining and domineering behaviour it takes a brave chap to wade off-message into a female led conversation. Given how long we’ve been fighting to have our voices heard, can the lads not pipe down for a bit?

And so is it, at first glance, either a brave or a tone deaf move for Families Need Fathers (FNF) Scotland to stick its tuppence worth into the debate - so far dominated by feminist charities and lobby groups - around the consultation on the Scottish Government’s draft Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill.

The bill introduces criminalising coercive control, a move praised as groundbreaking and progressive by the likes of Scottish Women’s Aid and Glasgow Young Women’s Project. It responds to the fact we now recognise domestic abuse to be far more than physical assault but to also include the emotional and psychological grinding down of an intimate partner.

Criticism of the Bill comes from the tricky issue of defining exactly what coercive control involves. It is, in reality, insidious. It involves undermining the other person, isolating them and manipulating or dictating their behaviour.

Legislation to tackle these things must be wide ranging because all the small things - choosing a partner’s clothing, checking their emails, criticising their friends - that add up to coercive control are, by their nature, difficult to frame in law.

Which leads to, perhaps, an unwelcome consequence. FNF Scotland proposes - in very careful language - that the bill be used to criminalise parents who use their children to coerce the non-resident parent.

So, while feminist charities want this bill to tackle abusive men, a men's charity wants the bill to tackle abusive women. How do mothers use coercive control? Well, says FNF Scotland, they undermine the father’s parenting skills. They isolate them by criticising them to friends and family. They manipulate and dictate their behaviour by changing or refusing child contact at short notice; by hiding listening devices in the child’s clothes or toys; and by specifying what the child is allowed to do while with the non-resident parent.

Scottish Women’s Aid’s chief executive Dr Marsha Scott disagrees with FNF Scotland. “I think it’s a misuse and exploitation of the term and not helpful,” she said.

It does, somewhat, highlight the problem of legislating against coercive control. Just as many romantic partners will hear coercive control described as “being critical” or “spying on emails” and feel a guilty pang of recognition, so too will many separated mothers hear “changed contact plans” and “undermined dad” and similarly know that they could have behaved better in the painful aftermath of a difficult break up.

Nearly all relationships involve bad behaviour. They involve humans, with all their flaws and emotions. The difference between this and coercive control is that the latter contains sustained and coordinated behaviour that causes fear in the other person.

While Scottish Women’s Aid and FNF Scotland have different hopes for this legislation, one thing both interpretations of the definition of coercive control can benefit from is a shift in public attitudes.

In divorce cases there is a concerted move away from talking about “main carers”; both parents are considered equally responsible for their children. However, we still talk about “single parents” in reference to the resident parent. Aren’t all separated parents single parents? When a relationship breaks down a mother becomes a “single mum” but what, then, is the dad? It is still shocking when a mother takes less responsibility for her children than a father and no surprise when the father slithers off over the horizon. Single fathers are more than twice as likely to be widowed than single mothers, suggesting it takes something as shattering as bereavement for men to be deemed single parents. This attitude goes a long way to enabling situations where children are pawns in their parents’ messy games.

Fathers are parents too: a simple notion but one that needs to be reinforced. Controlling behaviour is never acceptable is another. While we wait for this legislation to be scrutinised perhaps we can also be talking about how we treat the ones we love. Prevention is always better than cure.