being a mom

Every Parent With An Abusive Childhood Worries About Becoming Part Of That Cycle

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holding kids handsMy early childhood was less than perfect. But thanks to a mother who found the strength to keep me safe and a stepfather who loves me like his own, I thought I had overcome my past — until I became a parent. Raising children of my own brings back memories I’d rather forget and makes me worry about whether being an awful parent might be hereditary.

Growing up I thought all kids spent their Saturdays practicing how to climb out the window and run to a neighbor’s for help. When my classmates talked about building forts, I had no idea they didn’t also choose their hiding places to be openings under the stairs because their father couldn’t fit through to get them. I never knew that a dad and a step-dad could be in the same place without the former trying to bite off the fingers of the latter.

I spent a good part of college and my early 20s working through these issues. Some methods, like seeing a therapist, were probably more helpful than others (trying to “fix” a boyfriend is a horrible way to deal with your childhood problems). By the time I was pregnant I thought my troubled past was behind me. I had a promising career, a great husband, and had completely cut ties with my paternal side of the family. I was ready to raise my kids in a safe and loving home, one where they would never ever confuse the sound of laughter with a frantic scream.

But as much as I want to believe that part of my life is over, I find it creeping back into my awareness now that I’m a mom. If my husband expresses his frustration when the kids aren’t falling asleep for the fifth night in a row, instead of commiserating with him as I should, I start to wonder if I need to sleep in the nursery to protect them. My husband won’t even kill spiders — he vacuums them up, so I know that my fears are irrational and a reflection of my past, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from happening.

I wonder if my father’s erratic temper and penchant for violence lie in wait within myself, too. Every time I scream at my kids when they’ve pushed me to the limit, or in those dark moments when I think about slapping them for no other reason than that it will make me feel better, I see him within myself and I don’t know to exorcise the demon. I want to believe I’m a better parent than he ever was, perhaps even a better person altogether, but if alcoholism and addiction are hereditary, I worry these personality traits could be as well.

I hope fighting not to repeat the mistakes of the past will get easier as my children get older, as my family makes new memories for me to draw on instead of those from my childhood. But becoming a mom has made me realize that while it’s possible to move forward, maybe there is no moving on.

(image: Vasileios Karafillidis/