I used to think that, for sure, surviving an abusive childhood would make me a bad parent. I feared that I would continue a cycle of anger, hatred, violence and hostility, as if it was cosmically written in my DNA and I was powerless to stop the inevitable. Then I had my son.
I have since learned that surviving an abusive childhood has actually made me a better parent. I had front row seats to the "What Not To Do" show, and as a result of having a parent who was the worst, I learned all the ways I could be the best parent for my son. I wouldn't necessarily thank my toxic parent for providing me with the experience, but I can't say that my abusive childhood didn't end up benefiting me as a mother, a partner, and a person.
Now, this isn't to say that people who grew up in non-abusive homes with loving parents and a stable environment are horrible parents. I'm not saying that people with abusive childhoods have a leg up on other parents, because they were punched instead of praised. I'm definitely not suggesting that an unhealthy environment is a necessity if we are to become the best parents we can be. Clearly, having parents who exemplify all the correct ways to love and nurture a child provide those children with awesome role models to pattern their own parenting after later in life. Parents can either be examples of what not to do, or what to definitely do (and it's usually a mix of both), and ideally, their kids will grow up and make an earnest effort to reject the negative, damaging behaviors that were patterned for them, while retaining the beneficial ones. That, in simplest terms, is how we improve our parenting from one generation to the next, even if it rarely works out that perfectly. It's the goal anyway.
So I'm not saying that having an abusive childhood is some magic ticket to being an amazing parent. (Unfortunately, for so many people, the opposite is true, although the long-term effects of childhood abuse as people grow up and have their own kids is complicated and evolving.) What I am saying is that even a painful history shapes our present. I'm saying that through resilient, inspiring, supportive friends, and an inner strength that can only be forged in the weakest and most hopeless of moments, people can turn a sad story into a happy and uplifting one.
I'm saying that there are plenty of people who can break a cycle and take what was an otherwise horrible example, and use it to shape their decisions and parenting choices for the positive. This is how that looks.
You're Incredibly Patient
You don't have a short fuse because you've seen what a short fuse can do. More than likely, you were also forced to be patient as a child, waiting until you could escape your unhealthy living environment. You know what it is like to close your eyes, count to ten, and wait for the storm to pass, and that ability helps you get through a bad toddler temper tantrum or a seemingly endless night of crying and feeding.
You Know How Powerful Your Words Are
You think long and hard before saying something, especially when you're angry or frustrated or sad. You know all too well how powerful words are, and how children hang onto them when they're spoken in their direction. Words can cut deep and stick with you for the rest of your life, so you are very conscious of what you say to your child, and how it is that you say it.
You Think Twice Before Punishing Your Kid
It is difficult for me to even consider spanking my child, which is not something I do at all. While everyone has their own methods for doling out discipline with their children, I think my history of abuse made me the least likely to use corporal punishment with my own kid. Knowing what it is like to feel physical pain at the hand of a parent, I'm more than willing to exhaust any other punishment option first.
You Won't Argue With Your Partner In Front Of Your Kids
If my partner and I have a disagreement, we discuss it in another room, away from our kid. Growing up in the middle of too many screaming matches, being asked to pick sides, or being yelled at when I did, I refuse to put my kid in the same position. I don't yell at my partner or call him names (even if he's being a jerk, and it would probably feel awesome to do so), and I definitely don't do it within earshot of my mini-me.
You Stay Away From Negative Words/Reactions
I try to use positive words and phrases more than negative ones, because I'm acutely aware of how the negative input (even just negative energy) can change a kid's mindset. I don't want to foster a negative environment that my kid can't wait to get away from, and I know that starts with my own words and actions.
You Constantly Check In With Your Kid
Even though he's still very young, I honestly value my kid's thoughts and feelings and opinions because, well, mine weren't valued when I was a kid. I want to make sure that my son is OK and that he feels comfortable speaking to me because — you guessed it — I couldn't talk to my abusive parent. I want to have a healthy, respectful relationship with my kid, and that means opening up lines of communication from the very beginning.
You Don't Take Anything For Granted
Because I know what the worst of the worst looks like, I don't take anything for granted. I finally have a safe and healthy family, who live in a house that feels warm and inviting instead of cold and dangerous, and none of that is lost on me. Every day, I'm thankful for coming out of the other side of an abusive childhood, and providing the exact opposite for my kid.
You Know That Sometimes Being Separated Is Better Than Being Together
Obviously my partner and I will always work toward staying together as long as being together continues to be the healthiest thing for all of us, but I also know that there are worse thing than a split or a divorce. And if it comes to that, I won't force my kid to live in the middle of an unhealthy relationship and the toxic environment that swirls around that, because I know just how detrimental that can be. If something were to happen or go wrong, I know that I would do what is best for myself, my partner, and my kid, even and especially if that means leaving at some point.
You'll Give Your Kid Everything You Didn't Have
Sometimes it can be dangerous to try to overcompensate for a loss, but when it boils down to it, because I was robbed of a healthy, happy and safe childhood, I'm determined to provide that for my kid. I want them to have everything I didn't have, and to feel safe when I felt scared, and to see me as a protector instead of an abuser. I can never forget how I felt in my own home, at the hands of a toxic parent, and that lasting memory drives me to make sure that my kid never knows what it feels like at all.
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