TRIGGER WARNING FOR VIOLENCE, CHILD ABUSE, AND SEXUAL ABUSE. ALSO SWEARING. LOTS OF SWEARING.
My husband and I come from extremely abusive families, and we’ve both made the painful choice to cut our parents out of our lives for the sake of giving our own child as normal a childhood as we can.
Sometimes that’s really hard. Growing up under the shroud and stigma of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse makes it pretty difficult to differentiate normal childhood behaviors from abnormal ones. But, dammit, we try. We try so hard it hurts.
As the main childcare provider for our homeschooled child, I have to deal with this stuff 24-7. He doesn’t want to do his math and would rather roll around on the ground like some sort of grub: Is that shit normal or is he manipulating me? He tells me I’m the worst mom EVER! Is that legitimate, or should I tell him he’s lucky to have a bed, food and an intact hymen? Well, not the hymen part, but maybe skull?
My husband recently got a call from his older brother’s ex-wife.
My mother-in-law stabbed my brother in-law-in the back, thirteen times, with a pair of scissors. Apparently, he was confronting her and her husband about the molestation of their sister and his own abuse when they were kids.
The sister, her husband, and son were murdered in their home almost 10 years ago, so she doesn’t even get a voice in this mess.
You know, just to add another layer of fucked up.
So I, from an insanely abusive childhood, get together with my husband, also from an abusive family, and we have a baby. And that baby grew. He grew and grew and grew. And the more he grew, the more we realized that we wanted more for him than what we had for ourselves. We each sought reconciliation with our abusive parents, but we were both bullied and shamed every time we spoke out.
Eventually, I made the decision to cut my mother out of my life. A year or so later, my husband did the same with his parents. Both sets were told they could be a part of our lives if they could seek the help they needed. Both sets refused.
So we said: “Sorry, fuckers. We want more for our kid” and we cut ties. No grandparents for our kid is better than abusive ones, right?
And we’ve mostly done okay without them. Sometimes our kid gets sad that he doesn’t have grandparents to take him to the zoo or buy him Christmas presents, but he’s mostly good. As he gets older, we share more of our histories with him. Maybe he knows more than he should, or maybe he knows exactly the appropriate amount. Who can say? At nearly 12, he’s aware that my parents were drug addicts and that I was sometimes homeless. He knows that my mom hit me so hard I passed out or that I bled. He knows that my parents disappeared for days at a time and I was left to care for my younger brother. When I was 8.
He knows that my husband’s parents were verbally and physically abusive and that they did some inappropriate touching. He knows that both sets have been offered a chance to re-enter our lives if they’ll get help for their issues, but that none of them are willing to.
He knows some stuff that kids shouldn’t know. And that’s the shit of it right there. A 12 year old should never have to know these things.
As a parent who survived childhood abuse, it’s impossible to shield him from the reality of our childhoods because those realities manifest themselves in a thousand tiny, sharp ways every day. Maybe it would have been better to tell him that his dad and I grew up in the forest, under the loving yet firm guidance of a family of muskrats or whatever. Maybe that would have been the more responsible thing to do. Maybe I’m full of excuses for the mistakes I’ve made.
You can’t tell a kid who’s being a total fucking shit: “DUDE! If I did this when I was your age, I’d be bleeding right now!” You can’t tell a kid “I would have chopped off my mother-loving nose for a mom like me! What’s your fucking deal?” So I try to shove it all down instead. But no matter how hard I try to hide my pain, he can see quite clearly that I’m upset out of proportion to the situation, and he needs to be told something.
I try to navigate what to dole out to my son at what age so that he understands our histories without feeling like we’re dumping our shit on him.
There is no handbook for this. Doctor Sears doesn’t give a timeline for when to talk about your abuse with your child, and he most certainly doesn’t address how to explain why grandma attempted to murder uncle in a drunken dispute over abuse and molestation that took place 40 years before.
But even without the tutelage of wizened doctors or muskrats, my husband and I both know that the cycle of pain and abuse ends with us. There’s not choice here. It has to stop with us. We may fuck up sometimes. We may yell or threaten or say things we don’t mean, but in the end, we’re the last stop on the abuse line. We hold each other accountable for our mess-ups and we call each other on our shit. And, together, we make sure to settle things with our son before they spiral out of control. We get each other, and that helps us be kind and patient with each other.
At the end of the day, we’re still faced with the reality that neither of us has parents, but worse, our kid doesn’t have grandparents. That makes all of us sad, our son most of all. Even when he puts on a brave face, we both know that he wishes for a normal childhood…
Just like we did.
Thank you for writing this. Coming from a long legacy of abuse I find that I have a very hard time relating to other parents. Even my husband who had a radically different childhood will sometimes look at me in bewilderment when he sees how out of proportion upset I am over relatively minor issues. I get a lot of well meaning advice on how to parent but you are right there is no book on how to explain bizarre violent family legacy. I’ve been stuck with the questions of how to explain why my father is in prison and the violent death of my sister and I feel at a loss sometimes of how to answer.
I’m so sorry that you can relate to my post, but I appreciate the comment. All the well meaning advice in the world doesn’t help when it comes to parenting a child through your own abusive past. It colors everything and pops up in a hundred little ways, oftentimes out of the blue.
Lots of love and peace to you, BlueMouse.
Dannie, you and your husband have my complete and total respect and admiration.
My mom also cut off contact with her parents and it had a powerful impact on me as a child. Even as a kid, I understood that my mom made that choice as a mother protecting her family. Keep sharing with your kids as it’s appropriate. And good for you.
It’s good to hear the other side of it. Sometimes I worry so much about what I’m causing my kid to miss out on that I forget that maybe, at some point in the future, he’ll appreciate the sacrifice.
Thank you for writing this! There’s so much here. Not having people understand that *really* you have nothing positive from your childhood to draw on. Wanting to say to your child “you don’t know how much better you have it” when it’s not their fault, and you really don’t want them to know how bad it can be. You are making good choices. Grandparents are only a wonderful thing when they are capable of being wonderful.
That pretty well hits the nail on the head. It always so uncomfortable for me to be around people who talk about how they didn’t get their parents until they became parents themselves…then they got it! They understood the struggle and heartache of parenthood and, suddenly, they forgive their parents for their cruddy childhoods. It’s not that I begrudge these people their revelations, it’s just that I can’t relate. The best thing I took from my childhood is the ability to make myself *not* cry if my heart is breaking. That, and knowing that I’m strong enough to survive anything, since it’s all basically easier than surviving my childhood.
My son is amazing. He expresses sadness that he doesn’t have grandparents in one breath, but he turns it around and expresses that he’s glad I’m making different choices in the next. In the end, I guess we all have an ideal that we strive for. My goal is to be a mother who is truly worthy of her son.
Fortunately for me, I can’t relate, but your post does a great job showing the struggle.
We need more conversations like this – abuse is a reality for too many people and the silence perpetuates it. Thank you for speaking out. My best wishes are with you.
Thank you so much for the warm wishes.