Breaking the Cycle: the challenges of parenting after an abusive childhood

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!!” I scream at the top of my lungs. “FOR GOD’S SAKE – YOU COULD HAVE PUT YOUR HEAD THROUGH THAT GLASS!!!”  I’m getting into my stride now and the shouting feels cathartic as I continue to berate my eldest child who has just fallen over, narrowly missing a glass cabinet in our living room. Through my shouts I slowly become aware that both my kids are crying. They’re shocked to see me this way and scared. But I can’t stop.

Gradually I manage to calm myself down but I’m left with two frightened children who can’t understand why I’m shouting because of one of them has fallen over. “I’m sorry for shouting” I manage to say but I’m still angry and it takes a few more minutes for me to soften and hug them both. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” I say, “but please don’t do that again, you could have been killed. The glass could have smashed and slit your throat”. Even I realise I’m being a little over dramatic.

I’m not sure why it triggered such a response in me but I think it was partly the noise. My son kicked the coal scuttle when he fell and made me jump out of my skin. One minute we were all sitting there watching TV peacefully and then all hell seemed to break loose.

My son recently got diagnosed with ADHD. He struggles to sit still and is constantly on the move. It’s as if he is driven by an internal motor that never stops. He bounds down the stairs at 6 o clock every morning and doesn’t stop talking from the minute he wakes up to the minute he goes to bed. When I asked him why he managed to fall over nothing when he should have just been sitting down watching TV, he told me he was walking around with his eyes closed. Why he couldn’t say.

His diagnosis made me think. I couldn’t stop talking when I was a kid either. It was one of the things my Dad constantly picked on me for. As an adult, I thought it was just because I couldn’t seem to do anything right when I was little, but now I have my very own chatterbox I’ve realised how challenging it can be. When I’m around my son, I struggle to think straight. His brain works at a hundred miles per hour and these days I can’t keep up. I can’t cope with the complex questions about why some people have so much money they own islands, yet others are  homeless on the street, when I have barely opened my eyes. I try but often I have to ask  him to stop talking so that I can concentrate or relax. I try so hard but sometimes it doesn’t work and I shout. Loud.

In this age of social media, we’re surrounded by parenting advice everywhere we look. Facebook is full of articles about what we should be doing and how : praise them but not too much, feed them nutritious food but don’t make them eat it, give them time outs if they misbehave but never tell them they’re naughty, manage their behaviour but don’t ever shout. I read these articles and am always left feeling guilty. After growing up with an abusive father I don’t feel like I can trust my instincts so I turn outwards, seeking advice, learning how to parent from the writing of others. I try so hard to be the parent that I didn’t have. I want them to feel proud of themselves and I try to instil them with the confidence and self-belief that I was never given. I use reward charts and time outs in the place of beatings and I never send them to their rooms (which is where I seemed to spend most of my childhood). I praise their achievements and tell them that I love them and that I’m proud of them all the time. Every day I try my hardest but sometimes I fail and I shout at the top of my voice.

Every time I lose control, it’s feels as if I am letting the past win. I see the look in my son’s eyes and remember what it was like to feel so scared and my heart breaks. There is a part of me that never wanted to have my own children because I assumed I would get it wrong and that they would grow up to hate me in the same way that I hated my Dad. When I see the fear in my son’s eyes it is a terrifying wake-up call and I do my best to put the demons from my past away and give him the hug he needs.

Parenting articles have their place but there has to be recognition that it’s bloody hard and that sometimes we all get it wrong. If you were parented in an abusive way yourself then it’s an uphill struggle to overcome your upbringing and break the cycle of violence. I’m not advocating shouting at your kids as a form of discipline – I wish I didn’t ever do it -but I also have to give myself permission not to be perfect. Anger is a part of life and although I’m not proud of those moments, I always make sure that I own my mistake and apologise afterwards. Each and every day can be a challenge and it’s not as simple as just following the latest ’10 tips for raising a happier child’. Throw a child with ADHD into the mix and it can feel like an impossible task.

So this article is for the parents that find it hard to remain calm at all times. For the ones who were shouted at all the time when they were little and struggle to contain their emotions when confronted with their own children. Whenever I see other parents shouting at their kids, I am relieved that I’m not the only one. I even allow myself the thought that sometimes it’s okay and that sometimes it’s actually quite normal.




3 Comments Add yours

  1. P A Brown says:

    This resonates with me so much! I struggle to be the parent my kids deserve. I find it inspiring to read about other parents who are trying their hardest to break the chain of abuse, thanks for this post and your honesty.


    1. Woman As Subject says:

      Yes, it’s a tricky one isn’t it? I try hard every day and mostly I think I manage it as I’m sure you do. Self-awareness is the first step.


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