It's difficult to find a silver lining in a childhood riddled with domestic violence and abuse. When I was growing up, right until I left my house at 18 years old and, honestly, to this very day, I continuously ask myself, "Why?" "Why did this happening to me?" It turns out, an answer to that question doesn't exist; not one that can justify my abusive parent's actions, but I have found one that seems to have given me that silver lining I didn't think existed: my son. There are things I've learned from having an abusive parent that made me a stronger mom; things that I couldn't have possibly foreseen or imagined; things that I'm, now, grateful for.
When I became a parent, I realized that I learned an endless amount of valuable, necessary lessons from having an abusive parent. Those lessons have helped me through pregnancy, helped me through a long and painful labor and delivery, and have continued to help me now that my son is a toddler and testing my patience on the regular. I had the quintessential example of what "not to do," at my disposal for a substantial part of my life, and those examples have made me a better, stronger, and all-around great mother for my growing, thriving son.
They're not lessons I wanted to learn, at least not in the way I learned them. But because of these eight lessons you learn from having an abusive parent, I'm able to give my son everything I didn't have, and be everything my abusive parent couldn't be.
There Are Some Things An Apology Just Can't Fix
When you're a parent, you're bound to make an endless number of mistakes, of which you'l likely apologize for. Those mistakes (the innocent kind that you learn from and grow from and use to make yourself a better parent) do not involve abuse, in any form. Abuse isn't a mistake, and it most certainly isn't something an apology can wash away.
When I was growing up with an abusive partner, my life seemed to be going in a predictable cycle: that parent would be angry for no discernible reason, that parent would hurt me, that parent would apologize, that parent would buy an expensive gift to "prove" their remorse, then that parent would do it all over again. There isn't an apology in the world that can make me forget those endless cycles, and now I'm acutely aware that even though I'll make plenty of parenting mistakes, it will never, ever, make a mistake I cannot successfully apologize for or learn from.
Your Kid Learns From Watching You
So much of what I learned from my abusive parent was what not to do, and I learned it from watching. I learned how not to argue with a partner; I learned how not to handle anger; I learned how not to settle disagreements; I learned how not to speak to women; I learned how not to do pretty much everything a person should never do. It wasn't because someone sat me down and explained these things to me, or because I had a lesson handed down to me by a caring teacher. I learned by watching, and I know that the majority of the lessons my son will learn will come from him watching me and my partner go through life. I know that there is no "off" time when it comes to being a parent. My son is going to be learning from me continuously, so I always need to be acting in a way that I would, one day, want my son to mimic.
The Difference Between Discipline And Abuse
Surviving an abusive parent has caused me to second-guess discipline, especially corporal punishment. I can't bring myself to spank my son, as I know all-too-well what it feels like to experience pain at the hands of a parent. Now, I know this personal parenting choice isn't made by everyone, and I'm not one to judge someone who does decide to spank their child. Different discipline techniques work for different children and their parents. I do know, however, know the difference between abuse and discipline. I do know that hitting a child is not the same as spanking a child. That knowledge has kept and will continue to keep my son safe, and me constantly trying alternative discipline techniques.
Being A Parent Doesn't Always Make You Right
When you become a parent, you don't magically become incapable of messing up or making a mistake. You definitely aren't endowed with all the parenting knowledge known to man and you most certainly are not always right. My abusive parent didn't realize this tiny fact, however, and their god-complex contributed to their abusive behavior. They didn't like being told they were wrong; they didn't like someone else being right; they didn't like swallowing their pride and admitting that they aren't perfect. That was detrimental and horrible and why I lived in fear the majority of my childhood and adolescent life. It also taught me humility, and I know now (more than ever) that I won't always be right. Sometimes, my son is going to be right and when that happens, I won't hesitate to admit that I was wrong, thank my son and learn from my mistake. Convincing myself and everyone else that I'm always right won't make me a good mother; having the courage to admit that I'm not, will.
Your Kid Will Always Remember How You Acted
To this day, I struggle with memories I desperately want to forget but am constantly re-living. I see my son running down a sidewalk, and I remember running away from my father. I hear my son cry when he's hurt, and my own five-year-old voice, screaming in pain, echoes back to me. There are memories I'll never have (of a happy and safe childhood home) and the rare memories I can't forget, and that has made me realize that my son will remember certain things I did or say, forever. If I ever make him feel scared, he'll remember it. If I ever make him feel worthless, he'll remember it. That's why, I won't.
Respect Isn't Earned, It's Automatic
My abusive parent convinced me that their love was conditional; that their respect had to be earned through our actions which, by the way, had to be extraordinary and perfect. I never felt good enough, and that was because my family lived at the mercy of my abusive parent's belief that respect is earned. I knew then and I know now, that just isn't true. Everyone deserves respect. Can it be lost? Sure. But it has to be there for it to be lost, which means that, yes, it should always be there. There isn't a single person in the world (regardless of their age, race or gender, sexual orientation or any other factor) that should prove their worth as a human being to someone else. That worth is inalienable and a default and I am so thankful that my son will never be made to feel like it's something he has to fight to obtain.
Self-Care Keeps You From Snapping
I can't tell you why my abusive parent acted the way they did. I have my own theories, some valid and some probably not, but it's a question that will probably never be answered. I can say, however, that having been a parent for close to two years, currently in the throes of toddlerhood, that self-care is vital in ensuring that I don't end up like my abusive parent. I have to take care of myself, treat myself, take a break and enjoy myself, away from my son and sometimes, even my partner. I have to do what is best for me, before I can possibly do what is best for anyone else.
There's Nothing Bad About Asking For Help
My family was trapped in an abusive, dangerous and violent environment, because we were all too afraid to ask for help. One parent was being emotionally, physically, verbally and financially abused, and was successfully convinced by my abusive parent that they were the problem. No one asked for help because we were all convinced that we were weak and unable and so, asking for help, only solidified what we were told we were. Of course, it turns out that asking for help is the only way to end the cycle of violence, and it's also the only way you'll survive parenthood. You're not meant to do it all on your own, so whether you ask a partner, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a nanny, anyone who is supportive; when you need it, ask for help.