5 Things You Need to Know About Parenting if You Grew Up in an Abusive Home
Sit down and buckle up, because this is going to be a good read.
But first! Can I just say that if you clicked on this blog post thinking, “Oh my gosh. That’s totally me.” I am so sorry.
I’m sorry for the wounds inflicted on you, and for every day you’ve had to spend fighting back the lies that were spoken over you by the very people who should have been fighting for you.
You need to know that there is hope for a better future! And that you are capable of changing yourself.
Being a parent is one of the most incredible, most difficult journeys in life. You are signing up for years of diapers, stained T-shirt’s, and tired eyes. But you also get love and laughter and joy. Parenthood is ALL the things.
Some of us literally cannot wait to be parents. Others, like myself, stand on the edge of reasonable doubts and fears and decide that parenthood just isn’t for us…but then decide it is, and have three babies in five years…in your bathtub (Like the cutest most hilarious little babes that ever walked the face of this earth!)
But beneath the joy of it all I carry a burden. I carry a secret I’m slowly learning to talk about: I grew up in a home steeped in abuse and I am terrified to the marrow of my bones that one day I will go bat shit crazy and end up giving my own children a story that mirrors mine.
He never leaves. Never gives up. Never places on our shoulders the burdens we insist are ours to carry.
Honestly, this is an impossible lesson. Your heart will ache as you learn it, that the unspoken weight placed on your life was just an evil lie and nothing more. And as you take those first steps of crossing over from “this is who I am destined to be” to “I can be remade” you’ll find yourself wanting to burn every lie ever spoken over you to the ground, the ground, the ground.
It is easy to compare yourself to someone else’s story, to think someone else out there in the universe has had some big revelation you haven’t. Stop. We each have our own lessons to learn, and by God’s grace, we’ll all get there.
There have been too many tears to count. I’ve been so frustrated that I’ve shoved my face into a pillow and screamed bloody murder and then shook with self hate as I wept on the floor because I didn’t know what to do with a naughty child or how to love them through the mess of toddlerhood and all the hurt and pain inside me just built up and spilled over into an ugly, dark mess I could no longer ignore. That’s when so many things changed inside me, and I started healing from the abuse I’d learned to endure with a smile on my face.
Here is what I’ve learned after 7 years of motherhood to three amazing babes and one angle baby. I still have much to learn, but this…you guys, THIS is a great start.
1. There is such a thing as healthy, respectful discipline. And you are fully capable of it.
The goal of discipline is to “train and instruct”. Sometimes, we discipline for obvious reasons of safety, like, “Do not eat the chicken poop off the ground!” (This has actually happened to me. Many tears and loud, panicy shouts followed.) But most discipline is the day in and day out repetition of “training and instructing”. No, you can’t hit your brother. Say thank you. We don’t treat pets that way. Begging is never attractive no matter how cute you are………..and a million other things. Lord, help us all.
Your discipline should be respectful. Void of shame. Never physically abusive. And always, always conducted in love and humility.
Any and every time your discipline does not look like this you need to apologize to your child and ask for forgiveness!
Your child ought to be taught to demand respect and know they are intrinsically worthy of loving discipline. It is ok for your child to call you out and say, “You are not treating me with respect.”
Your learned behaviors and emotional triggers are responses that can be relearned and healed. Because, don’t we just have a Father who delights in restoring what has been lost and in redeeming our broken stories?
You have the ability to change. To fight for your children by refusing to stoop to abusive levels.
I would also like to say, that if you were physically abused and/or if discipline in your home growing up was violent in any way, seek counsel from several wise people about how to discipline.
Many counselors and psychologists say you shouldn’t spank your child if you were physically abused as a child. Even though I do believe a swat on the bum or hand can be effective discipline at times, there is wisdom in caution. In the moment, if I’m too emotional or I’m being triggered myself, I will not use physical discipline. It’s not healthy for my child or me in that moment.
Here…we have an opportunity to learn that should not be overlooked or taken lightly.
Action Step: Write out a working definition of what healthy discipline looks like and what it’s goals are. Read “Dare to Discipline” by Dr. James Dobson.
2. Emotionally healthy parents exist and you can be one.
This need not be a foreign concept. Healthy adults take responsibility for their actions. They repent. They learn and grow. They are brave and vulnerable and know that there is wisdom in community. They are capable of acknowledging that a child is his/her own, separate, invaluable self and of celebrating that individuality.
Healthy adults surround themselves with other healthy adults!! They might be friends with a great deal of different people, but their closest friends will be leaders, servants, humble, hardworking and honest, trustworthy, and probably hilarious in all the best ways.
If you don’t trust your closest friends to reprimand your child should they endanger or disrespect themselves or another human or animal, FIND NEW FRIENDS!
Part of living life in community means situations like this absolutely will occur…surround yourself with amazing people. (But don’t trust blindly. And be willing to confront should a reprimand ever go too far. Because even the best of people have day when they wish they’d acted differently.)
Action Step: Define “emotionally healthy”. Read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Saczerro. Make a list of the most emotionally healthy people you know, and intentionally place yourself around them.
3. Abusive parents demean and devalue their children. Healthy parents don’t.
You should treat your child with so much respect and honor that no one ever hears you even come close to demeaning them.
Calling a child names is unacceptable and shameful behavior.
Your words should bring life, speak life, expect life.
Action Step: Routinely tell your child qualities you love about them. These should be traits they cannot help, like eye color or skin color, and also personality tendencies, like their favorite animal or hobbies or the way they always smile sooooooooooo cute when you ask them to “say cheese” for the camera. Revel in your child. In who God created them to be.
4. Just because you learned it one way, doesn’t make it right.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “My parents simply did the best with what they knew at the time.”
Some people, yes, for sure. Because we are all learning and maturing. I hope I only become a better mother as I grow older.
But…if you were raised in an abusive home, this does not apply to you. Telling yourself your “parents didn’t know any better” excuses the sin and neglect and ultimately demeans your value.
The abuse I suffered was intentional. It was relentless. And it never stopped…not on my college graduation day or my wedding day or after I had babies. The mental capacity was absolutely there to know better…know how I know? Because it never happened in public. It was controllable. They just didn’t want to control it because they wanted to treat me that way.
None of the abuse YOU suffered, makes poor behavior permissible. Just because you learned a twisted form of parenting, doesn’t make it right. And it certainly doesn’t mean you are destined to follow in your abusers footsteps.
So, what do you even do if you grew up in an abusive home and have no idea how to parent in a healthy way? You learn. You mourn your own life. You take responsibility for your own actions. You find a really good counselor. You lean into what God says about love and about himself and you dare to believe it all. You learn that vulnerability is strength. That love can cover a multitude of sins and you learn to let God love you, to let other people love you and see all of you. You learn that living in community isn’t just a “nice way to live”…it is the only way to live a full life.
I am learning these lessons HARD right now. And they are SOOO hard.
Call a friend, talk it through with your spouse, be brave (I’m totally writing this for myself). It is possible to choose a new life. To behave differently. To treat your own children lovingly.
You are going to mess up and make mistakes. THAT IS OK!!!! Apologize humbly, learn and grow. Ask other adults to check in on you. Check in on yourself. If your kids are old enough, ask them to keep you in check. (What a revolutionary concept!)
Action Step! Ask yourself and then ask your kids these six questions:
Do I treat you with respect when I’m disciplining you?
Have I ever made you feel ashamed of who you are?
What is something I do or say to you that you don’t like?
What is something I do or say that you do like?
If you could change one thing about me what would it be?
What is your favorite thing that we do together?
Let them speak without interruption. Cover what they say in prayer. And learn.
5. God is big enough.
You guys… Parenting is super hard, in a lot of ways it is impossible. But we are not on this journey to do it perfectly. To have our lives fashioned perfectly into little Instagram squares, photos to capture all the good, all the seeable parts of our lives, all the smiles, because sometimes life is triangles or circles or blobs of incoherent messiness.
Expecting your motherhood, your parenthood, to look a certain way can rob you of the joy of the day in and day out moments that truly will take your breath away. Friend, you’ve got this. You can do this. And you can do it so well. You can thrive as a parent, and you can do it with confidence and humility and all the love.
Never give up. It doesn’t matter what your story is, even if it’s the worst story you’ve ever heard. You are capable of succeeding, capable of changing, capable of forging a new life and a new legacy for your family. As your kids grow older, tell them your story. Tell them about the hurt and the heartache And the abuse that you endured. Tell them you were afraid to be a mom or dad. Tell them that you love them with all your heart and you were so glad God gave them to you.
I tell our kids all the time, “I am so glad God put you in our family. I am so glad God gave me you. You are perfectly what the world needed. You are exactly what our family needed. And we love you so much.”
I can promise you that if you cover your kids with words like these that when it comes time for discipline it won’t be hard to treat them respectfully. Because you will both know the intrinsic value of the human soul.
Seriously, every person I know who grew up in an abusive home and has forged a new life for themselves and their family is a hero. It is so brave what you were doing. It is so beautiful what you were doing. Just never forget that all that we are and all we are doing is ultimately to bring glory to our True Father. He sees us and he knows us by name and he is not afraid of our struggles, weaknesses, failures, doubts. He’s big enough to see it all and be present in it all.
And he loves us perfectly…