“Go ahead, hit me! You can’t hurt me any more than you already have.”
My father jumped up, knocking his chair back from the table. He raised his “boxing-glove” hand to slap me for talking back to him. He was a man with limited parenting skills.
I screamed the words, “Go ahead and hit me! You can’t hurt me any more than you already have.” at him with as much hate and anger as I’d ever summoned in my short fifteen years.
He was stunned. That XXL hand hovered above his shoulders, ready to strike. His face went white as I stormed out of the kitchen and went upstairs to my room. Was he afraid I’d tell his big secret?
Somehow, I considered physical abuse to be preferable to the sexual abuse I suffered at his hands. At least with the physical abuse, I could get angry and fight back. I had no fear of dying back then. For a fifteen-year-old kid, that sounds horrible, but it was true.
Unfortunately, I suffered sexual abuse far more frequently than the blows which could launch my brother and me across a room. I felt ashamed and dirty. I believed every girl in school was better than I was.
Parenting Skills Without Counseling
Eventually, I grew up and married. The sad truth was that I knew I had no real parenting skills. I thought I could simply be like my grandpa, and everything would turn out okay.
The real monster was the silence around me. People back then never talked about abuse. There was no internet for me to research to find help to understand the ‘why’s.’ I was too embarrassed to talk to my minister, so my husband was the only one I confided in. He deserved to know I was damaged, even before we married.
The terror of becoming a parent filled me every waking moment and yet I wanted babies. I ached to show a child the love and protection that was denied to me. There were daily prayers for sons because I believed I would over-protect a daughter. I knew I wouldn’t know how to teach her to properly protect herself against a world filled with men who felt they had the “right” to abuse women.
I Lacked Appropriate Parenting Skills
There was no doubt in my mind that I would never raise a hand to my children.
It’s impossible for me to imagine how anyone could hurt a child. Those who do are monsters. I don’t particularly care what excuse you use for the abuse. No one has the right to seriously hurt a child.
One thought constantly crept into my consciousness: I wished for physical abuse. It would be simple to react to that with anger instead of shame.
Fighting back, even if it meant death, was something I practiced over and over in my head each night when I went to the bed where my monster could pop up at any moment.
There was no way to fight a man four times my size.
I never trusted anyone enough to tell them my secret. My father was too wealthy and essential in the community for anyone to believe me. He had all the power. I became the sacrificial lamb, and that comparison broke my spirit. Every day, my attitude toward everything was submissive.
Why did I believe I could develop the right parenting skills to raise children?
Abuse Has Many Faces
I did have two sons, and they became my world. Although I hated the fact that their father yelled at them frequently, I was relieved by the fact that he wasn’t hitting them. He didn’t abuse them the way I suffered and I believed over time he could improve his own parenting skills.
I thought we’d broken the chain of cruelty. You see, my first husband’s father yelled at him and hit him frequently. We talked about it, and we believed we were doing better than our parents did. The two of us truly thought we were doing a good job.
We had both survived abusive fathers and submissive mothers who couldn’t stand up to their men to prevent their children from suffering harm. Read that first sentence again. Being an unassertive mother is where I made my biggest mistake.
What I didn’t understand was that my husband and I resembled drowning victims. It’s nearly impossible to break the pattern completely and learn to swim when you’ve experienced a traumatic event.
I became my son’s safety net. Every day, There were times when I’d stand up to their father if he raised his hand. It was my job to get between the boys and him when he was angry and screaming obscenities at them.
It didn’t take long for the little one to mimic my ability to divert the bad attention to myself. My youngest son began to do horrible things when he saw his father get angry with his brother or me. Our lives resembled a car stuck in the wrong lane of a roundabout at rush hour.
It was extremely hard for me to watch the untreated anger which seeped into my husband’s every waking moment. I hated his rages and tried to protect the children so they wouldn’t become an outlet for the pent-up verbal rages.
The end of each workday was something we all dreaded. The boys and I listened to the sound of the front door closing. If it slammed, the kids would race to their rooms and play quietly to stay out-of-the-way of whatever upset their father at work.
I played the game the same as I did with dear old dad. It was a constant battle to redirect his feelings. I baked cookies and bars nearly every day. He loved the homemade baked goods, and they would settle him down and make him happy. That too, became a problem because he’d accuse me of making him fat. (His father died of obesity.)
For my part, I was guilty of allowing my children to suffer the verbal abuse. In my mind, verbal abuse was so much less than physical and sexual abuse that I believed we were okay.
I was so wrong about that!
The boys were in grade school when I confronted my husband and told him I wanted him to leave. I couldn’t stand the anger any longer. I screamed at him that my sons were not $&*)#@Y%^)_+’s! His favorite curse term when he yelled at them.
I Was Unfit: Parenting Skills After Abuse & Trauma
It only took him a brief second to explain quite clearly to me that he had all the medical records from the car accident. There was no way I could support the children, and my brain injury alone would make me an unfit mother. He informed me that there would be no court which would allow me to have custody of the boys.
My spirit was totally broken. The only hope I had was to stick it out until they grew up and protect them as much as possible. I did everything I could think of to be a positive influence in their lives.
The youngest son has my grandfather’s heart. He’s the kindest man I know today and always has been. The older one struggles with anger once in a while. He does a good job of it, but it’s such a demon for him, and I ache knowing I was a big part of his battle to not reflect what he saw every single day.
Why do some children grapple so hard to live above the abuse of their childhood when others carry on the same traditions without finding any form of control?
Is it because we live in a society that still refuses to speak openly about the abuse? Why is it impossible to get the counseling we so desperately need to manage our lives adequately? Does our culture pander to the denigration of women and the lack of rights of the children we still turn away from?
Where is the religious support our children need as they grow out of the abusive home and into their adult lives facing the memories of a lifetime?
Who Must Report Abuse?
In every state, the following people are required by law to report suspected abuse:
- Mental health professionals
- Social workers
- Daycare workers
- Law enforcement personnel (Source)
I’m going to take this one step further: YOU have a responsibility to do something if you believe someone hurts a child in any way! There’s no excuse in the world to give you the right to allow abuse to continue; I don’t care what the law in your state dictates!
Did anyone suspect I suffered unspeakable mistreatment? I can’t answer that question., But if there was even one person who knew what happened behind the closed doors of our house, I pity the guilt they must have felt by keeping their mouth shut. Today I have no hate for anyone, but it’s taken a long time to get to this point.
As a young mother, I didn’t understand that verbal abuse can be just as harmful as physical or sexual abuse. I struggled to raise my children with the same amount of love and compassion my grandfather showed to me every single moment I was in his presence. That is the kind of parenting I gave my sons. And yet I allowed them to be humiliated and degraded on nearly a daily basis.
Dr. Alan Kazdin heads up the Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. He is the author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child and other books on parenting.
Kazdin says kids learn by example — so parents have to be careful about what behavior they model.
“If you want this child to comply and show respect, you don’t start screaming and shouting and making threats,” Kazdin said. “That will only make it worse.” (Article)
My sons are successful young men. They never were stupid, but one parent told one of them they were, and that is just plain wrong! We can never excuse the behavior when a child cries out, “Why can’t you get it, Mom? I’m stupid! Everyone knows it but you!”
Children who suffer any torment (more than one time-out in a day) will become rebellious, and the problems will simply escalate.
My current husband describes his father as the “Fairest Man” he has ever met. Wow! That’s the kind of parenting skill we all hope to achieve. I can’t think of a better description of Jim McAloon. He was an incredible role model and raised a son who treats me like a princess.
I have a husband who cherishes every moment with me and never judges or criticizes. Unfortunately, I can’t even imagine what it might have been like to have a father like my grandfather or my husband’s father. My sons adore my husband, and he cherishes each moment he’s able to spend with them. Hopefully, that’s the kind of role model you want your children to emulate.
What Will You Do?
You have the ability to develop better parenting skills than I had and change how you interact with your children. Each day you can leave them with the disgust I feel for the man who fathered me, or you can become the hero they describe to their children as my husband does.
It’s probably the biggest choice you will have to make in this lifetime. Don’t mess it up! Develop parenting skills that will give your children the best foundation possible as they grow into parenthood.
Share Your Best Parenting Skills
Let me know in the comments below who the most positive influence in your life was and why. It’s time we show the world what it takes to make a positive impact on the life of a child.