8 Things I Learned About Parenting From My Abusive Parent
I hate giving my abusive parent credit. In fact I don't, because I'd like to think everything I've accomplished and everything I've become is in spite of him, not because of him. Still, it's hard to think about what my life would be like if I didn't grow up in an abusive home, as I'm not too sure my son would be in this world if I didn't. So while my abusive father doesn't deserve an ounce of credit for the type of mom I've become, there are things I learned about parenting from my abusive parent that have shaped how I take care of my amazing 2-year-old son.
Of course, this isn't to say that you have to survive an abusive childhood, or suffer at the hands of a toxic parent, in order to be a good mother. This isn't to say that the lessons I learned because my father was physically, emotionally, and financially abusive, aren't lessons I would've learned if I had grown up in a safe and loving home. I'm simply saying that it's important (if not necessary) for me to find the silver lining from a childhood I am still recovering from. It helps me move past the abuse if I can pinpoint an area (or areas) in my life that somehow benefited from something that just doesn't make any sense. I mean, I look at my son and I can't imagine ever hitting him or hurting him. I look at my partner and I know he can't possibly fathom hitting or hurting me. Physical abuse is just mind-boggling in its existence, so I have to focus on how I have managed to turn something so devastating into something so positive, in order to continue to live my life to its full potential.
So, while my father deserves zero credit (and I will obviously never thank him for hurting my mother, my brother, or myself) I did learn a lot from him. He was a walking "this is what you should never, ever do" lesson, and I paid attention. My son will never know what it's like to live in an abusive household, and here are just a few of the reasons why:
Staying Together For The Kids Isn't Beneficial
I spent the majority of my childhood begging my mother to leave my father. Of course, thanks to my youthful naivety, I didn't know how difficult it is to leave someone who is emotionally, physically, and financially abusive. However, I knew (even at that young age) that there are a lot of things way worse than divorce.
My brother and I would have grown up in a stable, loving, safe environment if my parents had divorced. Instead, we grew up in fear, because my father didn't want to look like he had "failed" at marriage (again) and because my mother didn't have the support system in place to leave. I know that if worse came to worse and my partner and I split, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Children can, and usually do, recover from a divorce. Recovering from an abusive childhood is much more difficult.
Kids Notice More Than You Know
My mother did her damnedest to hide the abuse she was suffering through. However, my first memory is one of physical pain. You can't hide fighting or violence. You just can't. Children are in-tune with their parents, and I knew something was wrong even before it was too obvious to escape.
I know that when my partner and I disagree, and even argue, my 2-year-old toddler knows something is up. I keep that knowledge in mind whenever we don't see eye-to-eye, and make sure that any situations we encounter in which we end up arguing are done in a respectful way that teaches our son how to disagree with someone you love (or anyone, for that matter).
Kids Learn About Romantic Relationships From Their Parents
Because I didn't know any better, I honestly thought that "being in love" meant you controlled everything your partner did. I thought yelling at someone and constantly arguing and going through excrutiating highs and lows, is what made partners "strong." My parents' toxic and abusive relationship shaped my romantic relationships for way too long, and is one of the reasons why I allowed myself to be treated so poorly by so many people.
So I know my son is learning how to treat romantic partners (regardless of their gender) by the way my partner and I treat one another. I keep that in mind always, and make sure we model healthy romantic relationship behaviors, so that my son will not only demand the best for himself, but give the best of himself to whoever he ends up partnering with.
Phrases Like, "Because I'm The Parent" Are Meaningless
My abusive parent prided himself on being "in charge," so we had to follow exactly what he said because, well, that's what he said. As a child I didn't understand that parenting tactic and, to be honest, I still don't. I didn't end up listening to my father simply because he was my father. I listened to him because I was afraid, and that kind of fear isn't something I want to instill in my son.
So, instead of simply saying, "Because I'm the parent," I work hard and put in the extra effort to help my son understand why he cant't do certain things. Sure, he's just a toddler so it's hard to gauge what he is truly comprehending, but as he grows older I know that helping him see where I'm coming from will only aid me in making sure he continues to be a safe and responsible human being.
You Have To Take Care Of Yourself If You're Going To Be A Good Parent
This was a lesson I learned less form my abusive parent and more form the parent who was being abused. My father made my mother feel like she didn't matter. He made her feel like being a good mother and a good spouse meant thinking about yourself last, and I witnessed the devastation that mindset brought. My mother wasn't happy, wasn't healthy, and just wasn't herself.
Now that she's no longer with my abusive father, she is vibrant and full of joy and thriving. Why? Because on top of not being physically, emotionally, and financially abused, she's able to put herself first. I know that even when motherhood demands all of me and my romantic relationship demands the rest, I have to continue to put myself first. My child will benefit from it, as will I.
There's No Place In A Relationship (Or Parenthood) For Gender Stereotypes
My father believed in gender stereotypes, and demanded my mother parent accordingly. So, when she became pregnant with me she quit her job and, as a result, lost a piece of herself. She always had to have dinner ready when my father came home from work; she was in charge of the household chores; she was the primary caregiver, with my father "babysitting" or "pitching in" whenever he felt like it. It was horrible.
I refuse to parent that way, or allow ridiculous gender stereotypes dictate how I live my life. My partner is an equal parent, and does just as much (if not more) when it comes to caring for our son and our home. We are a team, gender stereotypes be damned, and I know that is helping my son grow up to be a person who believes in and will fight for equality.
Children Benefit From Physical Affection
I can count on one hand, maybe, the number of times my abusive parent hugged me. I was hit more than I was kissed, and best believe that made a lasting impact on my self-esteem and self-worth.
I refuse to make my son feel an ounce of how my toxic and abusive parent made me feel. So, in my house, we hug and kiss and cuddle and let one another know we love each other through acts of physical affection. Of course, we also make a point to teach consent, and make sure that we always ask permission before we touch one another, but showing someone you love them through physical action is a staple in how I have decided to parent my son.
Children Don't Forget
I still have flashbacks to physical fights. Sometimes, I can still hear my mom begging for my father to stop hitting her, or screaming for help. Sometimes I can still feel the black eye or the slap across my face. It's difficult to forget something so traumatic, and I will no doubt carry those memories with me for the rest of my life.
I don't want that for my son. Instead, when he thinks back on his childhood, I want him to remember warmth and happiness and security. I know I can give that to him and break the cycle of violence in the process. My son will not know the horror I knew when I was a child, and that almost makes my childhood worth it. Almost.