How can I help my kids heal after years of verbal abuse from their dad?
It would be naive to think that your kids won't be affected by the years with their father, and it will take you time to build their self-respect. However, there is significant hope for them if you are consistent in teaching them new and positive messages. It will be important that they see examples of men who treat others with respect, courtesy and gentleness. You can take the initiative to identify such men at their school, religious organizations, clubs, civic organizations or sports teams and ask them to mentor your sons.
How you speak of their father also is important. It is unwise for you to speak of him in an abusive way, which reinforces the problem. You will have to look wisely at your circumstances, but perhaps it may work simply to say that he was not taught how to be a father and you are unhappy they were in that difficult and unhappy circumstance. Tell them that you are committed to helping them learn how to be good people and parents as they grow up. You may choose to teach them compassion and perhaps wish for their father to be happier. Help them to see whatever positive qualities in him they can because that will help them to see the positive in themselves and in other negative situations. He probably has some good qualities, even though you may have to work at identifying them.
You may find it helpful to write down very specifically what you mean by good people and good parents. What words and actions do you want them to learn so that they fulfill this future? Then, consistently teach them through your words and examples what these words and actions look like. One key practice to do with your kids is to acknowledge them for their positive efforts and encourage them in balanced and appropriate ways. If they are courteous, responsible, generous, truthful, respectful or whatever other qualities you identify as important, then be specific in letting them know that you saw them demonstrate the given character quality and how much you appreciate it.