A version of this post originally appeared here, but I wanted to update it for National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse is a topic near and dear to my heart, and not just because I’m a mama and a teacher. I dealt with it when I was growing up, and I wanted to share some thoughts on breaking the cycle of abuse. I did it, and I know many many others who’ve done so as well.
Breaking the cycle of abuse – it can be done
I’m going to step oh-so-very-far outside my comfort zone and share some of my childhood experiences with you. While I’m not ashamed of my past, it’s still difficult to talk about, and I’m aware it makes others uncomfortable. But if we don’t talk about, how else are we going to affect real change? Throughout this little post, keep in mind that breaking the cycle of abuse CAN and HAS been done. If you were abused as a child, you are not on a predetermined path to abuse your future children.
My own dealings with child abuse
It’s difficult writing this post (even the second time around) because it’s incredibly personal. However, I feel compelled to share my story because I’m no longer ashamed of it. I want to knock down some stereotypes and hopefully encourage others who have been in my situation to embrace their pasts and move forward. Phew. Well, here goes nothing . . .
I’m the product of an abusive mother. She lied to me, demeaned me, tore apart my self-esteem, manipulated me, threatened me, beat me with hangers and belt buckles and books and knife handles and anything else she could get her hands on, and she even tried to kill me. I know this sounds dramatic, but it’s not meant to be so. It’s just me stating some of the facts involved in how I grew up. I know there are many, many people who had (and still have) it worse off than I did. But this is my story, so I’m telling it as straight-forward as possible.
Move beyond the stereotypes
Some of you might be shaking your heads saying, “Oh, but my parents spanked me, and I’m all the better for it.” To you I would like to point out that what I dealt with goes way beyond the occasional swat on the bottom. It involved welts and bruises all over my body, but mostly where no one else could see. It involved manipulation of me and everyone around me so that others would never know what was being done to me. Hell, I didn’t even know until my teens that what my mother was doing wasn’t right. I honestly thought I was a horrible person who deserved what I got. Plus, I honestly don’t think spanking helps when raising kids, but that’s another story.
Others of you may be asking where my dad was while I was growing up. Well, he was never the abusive parent. I got the occasional swat on the backside, but he never once made me feel less-than-human. He didn’t abuse me in any way, but he also didn’t know what was going on with my mother. He was in the Marines while I was growing up, which meant long deployments and crazy working hours. Plus, my mother was incredibly manipulative and was able to control what he saw and knew when it came to us kids. Please don’t judge my father. I don’t. I’ve never once blamed him, and I never will. As soon as he realized what was going on, he stepped in and dealt with it. I know he still blames himself, but it’s not on him. It’s on my mother.
Still others of you may be thinking about the fact that most abusers have been abused themselves. This is actually the biggest stereotype I’ve had to deal with. While it may be true that most abusers were abused themselves, it does NOT mean that all children who are abused will grow up to be abusers. I think many people confuse those two sentiments. Those who abuse have likely dealt with abuse in their pasts. But for every abused child who grows up to be an abusive adult, there are so many more who don’t follow that path. Please don’t make a judgement about me based on what I dealt with as a child. Please remember that breaking the cycle of abuse can be done – and is done every day.
becoming a mom after abuse
With all of this “back story”, I doubt it’s a surprise when I say I was scared shit-less about becoming a mom. Theoretically, I knew that I wanted kids. I’ve always had a passion for teaching, for working with children, and I’ve always had a longing to be a mom. In reality, though, the thought of being a mom made me weak in the knees. I knew that I wasn’t like my mother, but that didn’t stop those nagging doubts from creeping in.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was excited, of course, but still very scared. During my pregnancy, I really focused on how I wasn’t like my mother. I was very intentional in thinking about how to raise my child — what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was definitely going to break the cycle of abuse that my mother had been caught in.
Does my son drive me crazy sometimes? Yes! Do I get frustrated and raise my voice with him sometimes? Of course I do! It has never occurred to me, though, to call him hateful names, to demean him, or to beat him. That’s just not me, and I now know it never will be. Those nagging doubts are always going to be there . . . “Am I a good enough mother?” “Am I totally screwing this whole child-rearing thing up?” Talking to other moms has shown me that almost all mothers have those doubts about themselves. It’s just part of being a parent — we worry about our kids all the time. We wonder if we’re doing a good enough job. We strive to be better parents. While I know that I’ll always question myself as a mama, I stand firm in the knowledge that I am breaking the cycle my mother could have brought me into. I may end up embarrassing my son when he’s a teenager, but he will always know I love him (more than books, more than chocolate, to the moon and back)! He will always know that I have taken care of him as a mama should.
ideas for breaking the cycle of abuse
Get help for yourself (whether it be your doctor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, your pastor, etc). Abuse of any kind has an enormous impact on children and adults, alike. No matter what’s running through your head, you ARE worth it. Get help before having kids, and don’t be afraid to seek it out after kiddos, too.
Focus on what you CAN and WILL do to be different. It’s very easy to drown in the feelings associated with being abused as a child. I know I’ve dealt with that on and off my entire life, and I’m sure that pattern will continue. Focusing on what I CAN control helps – I can hug my son, I can read with him at night, I can treat him well and be there for him.
Find a support system. This is different for every person, of course. In my previous post, I talked about an awesome group of mamas that helped when I was a new mom. I have a few close friends and family members who I know I can always count on, too. Their love and support means the world to me, especially on those hard days when I just need to talk to someone!
If you’re still reading this, thank you for taking the time. I hope it helps break some stereotypes that are still lingering in society. More than that, I hope it can help out other mamas who are walking into motherhood completely terrified but hopeful!
If you suspect a child is being abused, please contact the proper authorities immediately. Check out the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for more resources.