Anonymous Mom: I’m Afraid I’m Becoming My Abusive Father

child abuse storiesAnonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.

I grew up in a physically abusive home.  Fueled by alcohol, my father’s outbursts could be triggered by a bad day at work, my not picking up my things, my not picking them up properly, or, as was usually the case,  absolutely nothing at all. I’m not sure when the abuse started but my earliest memories include living in fear of him and needing to tiptoe around the house when my father was home.

As a child I assumed my mother was oblivious to his actions yet feared telling her what was going on.  It was only as I got older that I understood that she was aware and lived with the same abuse, fear and dread that I had.  In fact, our entire household, from my grandmother (my father’s mother) down to my younger brother, with the exception of my infant sister, lived with a black cloud of doom hanging over our heads.

The cloud never lifted until my father’s untimely death- ironically unrelated to alcohol- when I was 11.  It was only after this event that I felt as though I truly started living.  However, try as I might to block them out, those early memories stay me to this day and in many respects have shaped the person I am today.

As I got older I vacillated between not wanting children because I feared the type of parent I would be and wanting them so I could raise my children in a happy home. While I knew I would never raise a hand in anger at my child, I wondered what type of parent I would actually be given the environment in which I had spent my early years.  Although my fears subsided when I married Glenn, deep down I always worried about this.

Today, with an active 3-year-old who seems to make a hobby out of trying my patience, I still worry at times. But I am reassured by the fact that Glenn and I essentially feel the same way in terms of raising our son, which does include the need for punishment on occasion   And in reality, while Sidney may be all mischievous boy, he is truly a good, caring kid.

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  • msenesac

    I’m sorry that you had such a shitty childhood. If it helps, I would’ve snapped and yelled at my son if he had been doing the same thing all day.

  • C.J.

    Children push limits. Yelling at your child happens. That doesn’t mean you are like your father. You wouldn’t be worried about being like him if you were like him. I probably would have yelled to in that situation too. Three year olds generally push the limits to see what they can get away with. There is nothing wrong with raising your voice to him to get him to stop bad behaviour. We always used the corner too but occasionally my kids were yelled at too. If yelling is often and threatening it is a problem. If yelling is occasionally used to get a childs attention to get their focus off bad behaviour it is fine. Of coarse it will hurt their feelings to get yelled at occasionally. Sometimes it is necessary for their feelings to be hurt so they can learn what is acceptable behaviour. It really doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong. We all have moments where we want to tear our hair out because our children are driving us crazy. It’s normal, your reaction of yelling when you hit your breaking point with him is normal too. Try not to be so hard on yourself. As a parent you will have many moments where you wish you would have handled something differently, we all do. I’m very sorry you had such a traumatic childhood.

  • LiteBrite

    First, there is a big difference between a parent who occasionally loses their cool but makes a sincere effort to make it right (and strives to do better the next time) and a parent who is constantly raging against their child (often accompanied by verbal abuse) for the most trivial things and does nothing to correct it. No, both are not excusable, but they’re also not the same things.

    Second, if it helps, I’ve been in your shoes. As I mentioned in another similar article, I have a very strong-willed, stubborn kid and when irresistible force meets immovable object sometimes sparks fly (on both sides). No, I can’t say the situation was handled well when it happened, but I also don’t think I’m the only one who has ever raised their voice to their kid. It happened just a couple of months ago actually, and my son’s reaction was similar to your son’s. I felt like absolute crap afterward, but we hugged it out, I apologized, and I told myself that I needed to just take a deep breath and try to do better.

    Third, and most importantly, I think the fact you able to admit all of this to yourself and are making a concerted effort to be a better parent than your dad is a large part of the battle right there. I’m also not going to tell you to stop worrying because that won’t happen. However, I do think, based on what you wrote, that you’re on the right track.

  • Noelle

    My mother was a yeller and I still tense up and get scared when she yells. I struggle constantly against an internal tendency to yelling. I tell myself that as long as my yelling incidents are few and far between enough that my kids are truly startled, I’m okay. The fact that you feel guilty and are working at figuring out how to prevent repeats means that you are a completely different parent than your father. I am so sorry, because I know that guilt!

  • Lex_Discipulus

    The fact you feel guilty, that you know what lines you have for punishment, that you are aware of what can happen, all of that, plus more I am sure, shows you are going to be a GREAT mother who will raise great kids.

  • Mary

    I was never abused growing up, I came from a really happy home. My limits have been tested many times when my children were younger. The incidences were far and few between but I remember them like they were yesterday. I never hit my kids but I have screamed out of frustration. My relationship with my kids today is very healthy. As corny as this sounds, we are crazy for each other, constantly telling each other we love each other and hugs and kisses all day long, even from my eight year old son. It’s hard relating to a little toddler, we speak different languages, imo. There are mornings I will wake up really tired or grouchy and I remind myself to go through my day with patience towards them. I want a house of peace and calm and try every day to maintain that. Your son will stop testing you. My DD for many years was that child. It was hard but now (I think due to my patience with her) she is a loving, kind child.

  • Tea

    If you’re mindful of it, and working hard to avoid that end, then odds are you won’t become an abusive parent. Patience can be tried, and you can lose your cool, but there’s a huge line between what happened, and becoming genuinely abusive. Let him know he’s loved, and teach him about anger as he gets more able to understand. Let him know that It’s an okay emotion to have, it just needs to be wrangled and let out constructively, and that even if you’re angry, you still very much love him.

    I don’t have experience with children, but I fight the same battle to not turn into my mother when it comes to dealing with my partner. It can be a struggle, especially if you never learned how to express anger properly as a kid.

    Good luck AM, but I really do think things will be just fine. C.J. said it very well.

  • Bran Chesterton

    I really can’t comment any better than C.J. on the fear of being like your father issue. But as a proper discipline fanatic, I will stress that consistent, constructive discipline will make these moments few and far between as your son gets older. It sounds like you are doing a LOT of stuff right, and at age 3, your son only recently began to understand cause and effect related to discipline, so yes it might take a while! And it’s hard to be consistent when you try something 3, 5 or 7 times and it doesn’t work, or only works once. The more stubborn a child is, the longer they will wait to see if you will give up. They aren’t being bad, they are testing you for your boundaries on their freedom :)

    So continue the time out religiously. Watch the people your son obeys and see what they do differently. It sounds corny, but watching Supernanny gave me a very definite idea of how to consistently implement discipline. It might take 2 hours to get through a 3 minute time out the first time as you wordlessly (after explaining why he is in time out once at the start) place him back on the time out spot each time he leaves, but boy are those 2 hours worth it in the long run. Invest your time heavily now in training your child in the way things go with you, and you’ll get that time back tenfold when things are easier for the next 5 years!

  • bumbler

    I think if you yelled at your son once in 3 years and ended up sobbing in the fetal position afterwards, you KNOW you’re not going to end up an abusive parent like your father. This is not a parenting issue for you, it’s a separate psychological issue, which you should address separately (therapy, self help books, painting, whatever you’re into). Don’t try to drag your son into it with drama about him being traumatized now, you know he’s not. I say this so you don’t become distracted; keep the focus on healing where it belongs, on yourself.

  • rose3trs

    I grew up in an extremely similar situation. My father yelled and demeaned. We always lived in constant fear of his next explosion or next nasty comment. None of us got a manual on how to be a parent when we became one, so none of us know what we are doing, but I think we, as survivors of abuse have one great thing going for us, we know EXACTLY what NOT to do as parents. I think that gives us a bit of a step up in my regard. If we know what not to do, then we’ve got a great head start on what to do. Always remember, that if you love your child, then you are a great parent and you are DOING A GREAT JOB!

  • ReshapeTheSituation

    The living room is not for those without basic table manners to eat in (and there’s a reason to call it the parlor and treat it that way).

    (I know it’s often one of the rooms with with video and other entertainment screens in it, but meals shouldn’t take place in front of those, either. Yes, in early childhood a snack is a necessary meal and should be handled and formatted as such. )

    Children at the stage of development common to age three are still too young to have those manners.

    Specifically, it seems as if you were expecting more than you were going to get at his age out of the situation, regardless of and even before his reaction to the attempt at punishment.

    Without hatred or abusive language, simply barking out a verbal signal of displeasure (“HEY” would do, for a start) seems preferable to trying to stand a three-year-old in a corner. It’s got to be more in line with our primate evolution, and in any case give minutes is FOREVER at that age. In attempting to avoid physical abuse by swatting, parents have gone very far in the direction of applying (or trying to apply) social isolation as a punishment instead of a natural consequence for bad behavior. It’s weird and Gitmo-like and I don’t like it.

    The natural consequence of messing up a flour during a meal is to have to clean it up, and if by chance your boy at three is being allowed to eat over a floor he can’t begin to clean or furthermore is being punished for the predictable consequences of doing so, then you may have things set up to be too hard and counterproductive for both of you.

    People abused as kids often have problems as parents identifying reasonable expectations for themselves and their children. In the long run, however, you will find you did no unforgivable thing in this case.

  • wmdkitty

    I strongly suggest counseling, actually. You’re aware that you’re having issues, it clearly distresses you, and a professional can help you get your head straight and help you to NOT become your father.

  • disqus_bhosGL2XMz

    Truth be told spanking isn’t abuse. It’s when people beat a child that is abuse. I have 6 of my own and their dad had 4 boys who came to me after their widowed father and I wed. I’d die or kill for any of the 4 cause in my mind and heart they are as much my babies as any child I gave birth to. I and their father were able to discipline them without even spanking except for one young lady who needed a swat on her backside once. To date my kids all 10 are happy healthy kids. Your problem is your so afraid of being your dad you don’t put conviction in your voice. He senses where dad or nanny it’s an order for you it’s more a suggestion. You need to be firm and you can do that without smacking a child.

    • Ni

      Spanking is absolutely abuse, always has been.

    • JWinchester3567

      Excessive spanking or hitting is abuse. Spanking alone is not.

      Physical abuse is an episode of aggressive behavior, usually resulting in physical injury with possible damage to internal organs, sense organs, the central nervous system, or the musculoskeletal system of another person (Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier).

    • wialno28

      Citing a medical dictionary doesn’t make you right. Studies have shown that spanking can and does cause actual, lasting harm to a child while not improving behavior (and often making it worse).

  • jessness2013

    I’m deeply sorry for your childhood, but I feel like you aren’t like your father.
    When you yelled at your son, you felt remorse. You cried. Your son comforted you because he is learning remorse as well. That’s actually wonderful. He even helped you clean his mess because he felt the guilt for knowingly pushing you too far. It was a learning experience for him. I understand you don’t want to yell at him, but he has to understand that his actions will affect other people.

  • Trillian Alice

    The child is 3, please rethink what you think he is able to understand. I think you are expecting too much from him.

  • Talia Gamble

    Don’t worry about yelling, I yelled at my kid a lot when he was toddler. Yelling is good actually. We are humans with human reactions and stuffing it all down does so much more harm than good. You’re kid is a human too. He has those same human instincts. What matters is that you didn’t hit him or hurt him. Yelling ocassionally at your child isn’t going to scar him for the rest of his life.

  • Johnson

    lol @ “I yelled at my kid and now I’m a monster”…

    Over-sensitive people raising a child with no boundaries on punishment… Can’t wait to have this entitled child enter adulthood as an entitled adult. Keep up the awful parenting.