A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Learning to Love My Children After Abuse

I did not grow up feeling loved, validated or cherished by my mother. It is difficult for me to pour these words out because I desire to honor her. She died in 1998, along with my father in a car accident. I believe, with all my heart, that my mother did the very best she could. She had deep wounds, herself, and could barely manage to give any of her daughters what they so desperately needed . . . we needed her attention, her love and (more than anything), for her to be able to handle our negative emotions and help us navigate through life. By the time I was 11, I no longer wanted to live. I ached for her to see me. She was distracted by her own fears and struggles. I understand that, now. But, oh! What a difference her love would have been to all of us girls! If we all knew we were loved and cherished by our mother . . . I feel certain that the nasty comparisons and abusiveness would never have gone on among us. I remember being in loving households. I wanted so bad to have parents like some of my friends had! I wanted to feel treasured! Not criticized or scorned! I simply wanted to be loved . . . without having to perform. When I was seven, I experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood ice cream man. I told my parents when I was 16. My mother walked out of the room. She looked the other way. Oh, Mother! Please look at me! Please don’t just walk away! We never spoke about it again.

When I boldly asked my mother if I was pretty, she remarked sharply, “Beauty is as beauty does!” I never asked her again. I never felt I could win her approval. She worked us hard . . . ballet lessons, piano lessons . . . she made sure our English was perfect and that we were highly impressive to the on-looker. I lived out her own anxiety. It seemed everything she did was out of fear that we would not be acceptable . . . because I am sure she did not feel acceptable, deep down inside. I come from a long line of insecure women. My mother struggled with her mother . . . my grandmother struggled with my great-grandmother . . . and on back it went. We were picked on for how we talked. We were carefully watched and nastily scolded in that angry-whisper-voice when we did not meet with her satisfaction. If I came home upset about something that happened in school, my mother would say, “OHHHHH!” in an exasperated tone. She did not want to hear it. So, after a while, I did not share anything with her. When I became a woman, she seemed irritated by it. She frequently commented on my figure . . . how her’s USED to look like mine. I felt ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I could make my mother feel so bad just because I was alive. I felt sure she would be happier if I were gone and she did not have to look at me. I was emotionally neglected. Deeply wounded.

About three years ago, a friend came to visit. He was the same friend who first pointed out how abusive and dysfunctional my ex was. At some point, during that visit (or after, I cannot remember), he said, “I charge you to love your children.” “What?!” I said, “I DO love them!” I was insulted. The friend said, “No . . . I mean really love them.” I did not know exactly what he meant but I did remember the emptiness and cruelty of my own childhood. And I knew I did not want that for my precious four. And all I knew was what I had grown up with and what I had married into. I was sure something was dreadfully wrong but I was at a loss as to how to fix it. I was great at making home made bread and dressing the kids and doing “motherly things”. But, much was missing. As I have a thousand times in the past 3 years, I went on my knees and admitted my inadequacy. “Teach me to love,” I pleaded with Jesus, “I don’t know how. I admit I don’t know how.”

How do we learn to parent when we suffered as children? How do we learn to parent when there is only one of us? When we have come out of trauma and are in the middle of crises ourselves?

I don’t know the answer to that for everyone . . . but I will share my own journey. After my prayer, I began to be more conscientious. This is super humbling to admit but, I had to make myself learn to hug my children. This was completely foreign to me. I had never received any non-sexual affection from my ex. And my parents were not affectionate with me beyond babyhood. I would self-talk. “There is a child in the room, turn around and hug him.” Or, “Don’t let her walk by without kissing her cheek.” It all seems very basic but it just shows how much I had to learn. Now, it is second-nature to show affection to my children! (And any other children that happen to be in our house!) In fact, the rule now is that every child in this house hugs this mama when they wake up.

Next, I had to learn to listen to the children — really listen. Look them in the eye; pay attention.

I learned to encourage my children. The girls will always know that I think they are beautiful, beautiful creatures. The boys know they are handsome. They all know that I treasure them. When they accomplish something, they are praised. I also praise their natural gifts. I fill their little love cups until they do not need to hear it anymore. I have watched them bloom.

The most difficult area (that needed the most work) was being able to handle their negative emotions. If my son or daughter gets into the car after school and immediately shares a relationship-struggle or something painful that happened during their day, my heart still races a bit . . . but I can now listen, talk them through it, and give  wisdom. I can validate them. (That is huge) “Oh, son. That is tough. That would have upset me, too.” I can talk through things with my daughter. She tells me everything! I am still working on this, though. I panic a little . . . what will the other kids think about what he did? What will the teacher think? That is how I grew up . . . but I am starving out  that little fear of man. Because my children are valuable.

When I first left my ex, I went very easy on my children. I felt guilt. Big time, stifling, false guilt. Not only had I brought them into this world . . . into a bad, bad marriage . . . but I then shook their worlds further by leaving their biological father. I let them get away with far too much. A friend pointed out that I was doing them no favors. Sadly, I told the children that I was failing them by not disciplining them and then I began to pull out that Warrior-Megan that was down deep . . . that Megan that had to discipline like a mother-father. And I had to do it correctly. In love and not in anger. All single moms know how exhausting that can be. When my daughter was angry and would not look at me in the bed, I would sit by the bedside until she was ready. I simply insisted on health between the two of us. “Sweetheart, I am the only mom you have and the only parent you have right now. I will not allow you to break down our relationship. Believe it or not, you need me! And . . . I need you.”  Things got better.

Mary DeMuth helped me tremendously in the past three years. She wrote a book called “Thin Places”, a memoir about how Mary was sexually abused as a child and how her mother could not handle it. It is a true story about how Mary finally grew into a mother who loves her children. Another helpful book by Ms. DeMuth is called “Building the Christian Family You Never Had.” I highly recommend these resources for moms who are not sure where to begin.

Loving proactively is work — good work. I want it to be the very core of my nature. And it is getting easier. God is pouring out His grace on every little baby step. I still have a long way to go and, fortunately, my children are very forgiving. They know we are taking a journey together. And they have grace for that. And, in a way, I hope that my mother in Heaven is honored by the fact that I am choosing to break the cycle of distracted, emotionally neglectful motherhood. I pray that her name is honored when my daughters do not have to fight the giants I have fought. That, to me, is the best way to honor her now.

27 Comments

  1. Megan, that is such a beautiful testimony. Thank you for being so honest and transparent about your own inadequacies and failures…I wish I had heard your story when my children were still little…they are all grown now. Thankfully, I have learned from my own mistakes and have also learned to do better, love better, but I often wish I could just remove the emotional scars that my neglect and distraction as a mother may have contributed to. I am so thankful that the same Healer who healed my wounded adult soul, has sufficient grace to heal their wounds as well. It comforts me to know that God’s Grace is always greater than our sin!
    Your story is one that needs to be told and I pray your voice reaches the hearts of many young moms (and dads) who are also fighting giants from their own past.

  2. This is so hard! I struggle with how to love them while at the same time drawing lines on unacceptable behavior. We struggled SO MUCH this school year and I’m always panicking when they do something that reminds me of my ex. I parent mostly out of fear.

    • Katy . . . Your honesty is always so tender and beautiful to me. And, I know what you mean. I have had times where I was afraid the children were displaying traits of abuse. It can be scary. 😦

  3. Megan, I could have written this one. After my father’s passing, my mother moved in which placed me squarely between her abuse and the beast. She lived with us twelve years during my children’s most impressionable time. The estranged loved playing us off one another. For years, I couldn’t see what he was up to because mom kept my focus firmly on her and her ever-changing needs/demands.

    All those years I tried– really tried– to parent with love. I had no idea how much healing I needed from a childhood of shame, blame and emotional abuse. My kids were mostly grown by the time I woke up and realized the damage I’d done, the cycle I perpetuated. Its a painful thing to live with day after day. Humility can be difficult when its also time to learn the balance between self-blame and taking appropriate responsibility, especially with the older kids who’d like to lay blame for things beyond what I could control.

    God is so good and takes us where we are, moving on from that point bringing restoration. I hope like crazy my own children will heal and move forward but there’s just no way to know. At least we can talk openly now. Sometimes I feel that’s the only purpose left in still being here– to heal, to let the kids see that change and growth is possible, to move forward from the place of destruction and relearn joy. If I can’t do another thing in this life, that will be enough.

    Ida Mae

  4. Megan, this is a beautiful, heart-felt encouragement from you to all mothers to love their children well! Treasure them, give them loving discipline and show your commitment to them by not giving up even if it means to “sit by the bedside until she was ready.” I love your rule, too, that “every child in this house hugs this mama when when they wake up,”

    You have good friends. Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy. These friends have spoken loving TRUTH into your life, you listened and grew wise from it and your children are benefiting! The tide of history is being changed in your family heritage now and forever for the better because you listened and became proactive even though it is hard work! Your mother, now among the cloud of witnesses, is well honored by you and will one day rejoice with you when you see her again for a job well done!

  5. King'sDaughter

    Megan, Thank You for this! I see so many similarities in my own story! Recently, after separating from my abuser, I started to work on the things that had been neglected… Its hard to take care of ANYTHING when your very life is sucked out of you through abuse… God, in His great providence led me to a beautiful resource (an audio book on clearance) by Dr’s Les and Leslie Parrott, “The Parent You Want To Be”. It a beautiful resource for choosing the traits you want to model and instill in your children. After leaving my abuser, I had a LOT to learn on healthy parenting! The proverb about not going with an angry man or you might learn his ways comes to mind. Our home was STRICT with very little grace. My anxiety from being abused brought out the worst of parenting in me— I took some from my own emotionally neglectful mother and harshness from my husband. I’m so thankful to God for freeing me and my children from this evil pattern!
    Thanks for the post and your honesty! It is something we need to address as we emerge from the trauma of abuse!

    • Thank you for sharing this, KD! You are so right . . . “It is hard to take care of ANYTHING when your very life is sucked out of you through abuse . . . ” That’s it, right there. 😦 I will look up that audio book. It sounds wonderful. Big hugs.

      • King'sDaughter

        Right back at-cha! (((hugs)))

  6. Hi Megan, I can relate to how the effects of abuse can be very pervasive. I like the thought of proactive love. Abuse took away my voice. So for me I need to write. It also made me passive (and unfortunately every now and then aggressive when my buttons are pushed). So I’m learning to be intentional and deliberate about more things. It is a difficult process. Thank you for sharing this part of your story. Lord bless, Randy

  7. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  8. Penny

    I love you, Megan! You are so transparent and your story reaches so, so many people. God is truly using you in amazing ways! Beauty for ashes! xoxo

    • Thank you, dear Penny, and other readers! Your responses have been a great encouragement to me!

  9. His Child

    Thank you, MeganC. What a beautiful post and what a wonderful blog this is. 🙂

  10. Anne

    I was just thinking today that I’m finally starting to feel like more than an activity director with my kids. I couldn’t ever connect with them before because I had to be on the look out for signs of danger. Now I can let my guard down and actually enjoy them.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anne- And when you have to be in the hyper-vigilant mode, you get to thinking that it is normal. What you are beginning to experience now is normal!

  11. Thanks for being so honest. I know your openness will make a difference in the lives of others.

  12. Heather 2

    How do we learn to parent when we suffered as children?

    Oh Megan, what a good question. Your testimony touches my heart. So much of it is very familiar to me. And, I see from reading the others’ posts, that we all have things in common.

    The one thing that I knew was that I wanted to have a family, to have my own children. However, I was not given any good role models and had so much guilt heaped on me from being verbally, emotionally, and at times, physically abused by my mother. Having my own children meant that I would have to raise them differently. Oh, I know that we tend to parent the way we were parented, but when I came to Jesus when my oldest was a baby, He loving guided me. It took ages. But over time I saw the changes.

    I did not know that I was being abused and as an adult I could not understand what it was in me that was repelled by my mother. She did the best she could under the circumstances of her own divorce from my dad, who was abusive to her. But, there were so many times as a child that my needs never entered into the picture. Others came first in her life such as her church, her family members, her beliefs in a RCC god. I was abandoned due to the divorce and our relocating a long way from the home we knew. Mom went back to work and I was on my own back in the 60’s. It wasn’t what a little girl should have had to endure. I was robbed of a childhood that could have nurtured me, protected me, and given me guidance into adulthood. Instead, I became my mother’s protector from my dad, and took care of my younger sibling.

    Mom made sure that she never bad mouthed Dad. I used to hear her repeat that I should still love my father. But when she became angry with me, which was often during my teen years, she would tell me in an angry tone that I was just like my father. All the while I was trying to protect her from the man who I had learned to hate. Talk about inner torment!!!! I worked so hard not to be like her and I knew that I would have to be different with my own children. It was a choice. And it wasn’t always easy.

    Last year I learned that my mother was my first abuser. While dealing with the covert aggression from my ex I was also seeing my mother in the reality of my childhood. So, I was beginning to understand why I was who I was and why I did what I did, and why I heaped so much blame and guilt on myself. Oh the agony of it all. I am still processing it as I get closer to another decade of living.

    Back to my own children…..I made so many mistakes. But, God graciously showed me better ways. I had chosen to be a stay at home mom because I did not want to put my children through the life I had as a latch key kid. I stayed with their dad through the infidelities because I did not want them to grow up in a broken home as I had. And I knew that as a stay at home mom I might have to return to live with my own mother……and I didn’t want to do that! So, all those mistakes aside, I am grateful for my Father. He loved me and molded me. I was not a perfect parent. But, I loved and still do love my children fiercely. I was a mother lion. However, I was also one who was not afraid to discipline them.
    I recognized the need for balance. I was never the neighborhood mom who had all the fun ideas and spoiled everyone. But I was the one who led each of my children to the Lord. That means so much to me. I took my parenting very seriously because I was raising them for God. I wanted them to be responsible adults, loving, caring, compassionate, yet strong and secure in their ideas and beliefs. The one thing I made certain of was that they knew that their mother was not always right, and I, unlike my own mother, knew how to ask their forgiveness and confess to being wrong.

    A couple of years ago, as I was trying to reconcile with my ex, he got angry with something I said and accused me of being a “badgering parent.” That was the one thing he knew he could say to me to push me over the edge. It was the one thing I knew I had done well and for him to accuse me showed me more of who he was. It broke my heart. I had to call a couple of my children in tears and ask them if I was a badgering parent. I didn’t tell them why I was asking. My son, then 23 years old, said, “Of course not. You were just being a mom.”

    Today, all are adults and only one is not as close to me as I would like. I think it has more to do with her and all of her relationships. I struggle when I think about what I put them through when I left their dad. But, God has a way of healing us over time. He is the most wonderful parent, and let’s face it, not all of His “children” love Him. I am so very grateful for the example that He gives us, and others that He brings into our lives to help us.

    Loving our children in a healthy manner is a choice. They do not belong to us. They are on loan. We can only do the best we can. We keep our arms open for hugs, a shoulder to cry on, and courage to be tough when it is called for. We will make mistakes. But we can be humble too when we have been wrong. The love that God creates in our hearts for our children is the one thing that no one can take away from us. He put it there, and though it may be tried, we can continue to love them in so many ways even when they cannot return it.

    Megan, I so loved this post. You have a wonderful way with words. They come straight from your heart. And if this is how we see you, I can only imagine that as a mother your children will rise up and call you blessed.

  13. Lisa

    Wow, I had no idea anyone else felt this way too. You have beautifully written “my” story. I came from a similar background, single mom, looking to fill her needs, doing the best she could. I went into an abusive marriage, and my ex always pitted my children against me (8 of them). I homeschooled too, a decision that was both of ours, I thought at the time, but now I see it was part of his isolating us. I was required to be the disciplinarian for things he decided were important (which were always random and changing), but when I felt they shouldn’t stay up so late, (he would come home at all hours of the night, and expected to see the kids… I wanted a routine).. He wouldn’t support that. He always encouraged the kids to do dangerous things like ride on the roof of the car as he raced up the long gravel driveway, when I objected, the danger level would elevate. Near the end of our marriage our oldest daughter became his junior wife and I was demoted to something less than the kids. He would complain to her about his day or the other kids or even about me. she hated it, and i was powerless (i thought) to stop it. she hated me more and more. He would yell at me when I joined in conversations between him and the other kids. He would talk about how crazy I was being a woman, to the older boys. I couldn’t connect with them at all. It wasn’t until I got divorced, done some real deep healing, accepted God’s love for me (I never really knew he loved ME), that I could truly LOVE my kids. At first I found myself living by all his old crazy rules, disciplining the way he would want me too, still not connecting. I had to ask God… Who am I? What do You want me to be? Then, I let God’s love in and then I had love to give.

    Today, my older kids come over and we have a blast. My younger kids don’t remember anything else (my ex left when I was preg. With the 8th, 7th was 1 1/2yrs, 6 th was 4). My oldest daughter still desires her father even though he refuses to see any of them. She has stayed in the church that promoted that twisted theology of junior wives, and is not allowed to see any of us (except her father) because we left that church (and he has “left all that god stuff”).

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart. I know for me, that admitting I didn’t know how to love my kids was one of the hardest things I dealt with in this journey.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      The disciplining for random, changing things…I know that so well. It’s so weird and yes.

      • Yep yep yep.
        “Hey, let’s move the goal posts!”
        “Hey, let’s move them again.”
        “Hey, I TOLD you the goal posts had been moved!” (he didn’t tell you, he just did it).
        “Hey you oughta know that I’m going to shift the goal posts tomorrow, and you oughta be kicking the ball into the place where I’m shifting them to, not the place where they are now!”
        “Hey I never had the goal posts over there! They’ve always been over here! You’re such an idiot!”
        “What kind of a fruitloop would think I move the goal posts! The goal posts are always in the same place! You’re going crazy!”

    • MeganC

      Lisa . . . Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. You have been to hell and back. 😦 I so admire your strength of character in choosing to leave (brave) and then, fighting that uphill battle in disentangling yourself from the abuse and rewiring your mind and heart, rather . . . orienting them to God’s way of life and love instead of your ex’s. I completely understand that journey and feel akin to you and your story. Sometimes, I think that we lose our understanding and capacity to really really love when we are under the thumb of someone so heartless for so long. It is amazing and miraculous, really, that God preserves the part of us that want to obey Him in love throughout the entire ordeal.

      You have been through so much. I am so grateful that your children come to visit you, laugh and enjoy healthy relationships with you. Big hugs!!

    • Oh Lisa! Your story is amazing. So much abuse, piled on high, and piled on even more when you would think that the high pile couldn’t take any more without collapsing!

      “Junior wives” —— uuuuuuugh! That’s so sick, it’s direct from the pit of Satan. Coercing someone into emotional incest (and/or physical incest) is an abomination to all of God’s ways. I shall pray for your eldest daughter, and for you and all the rest of your kids.

      So far as I can remember, Cindy Kunsman has stuff on her website about emotional incest — for readers who may want to find out more about how it works and the effects it has on the target child.

  14. Lost

    Would you please advise?

    What about the screaming tantrums, nervous/constant talking and loud noises, refusals to do things (like get dressed or leave a place on time), talking back, rages, disrespect and out of control goofiness (like inappropriate humor, etc) ?

    I’m getting exhausted with this at home. It’s hard to function with the noise level and lack of respect. I’m yelling an overwhelmed and they refuse to see what they’re doing anymore. (Very Entitled). Things WERE great but now they’re acting like they did with EH here. It’s like they’re going in a cycle like their father. This is just too much to bear.

    Any posts/ thoughts/ help?

    • George Simon’s work has a lot of good tips for developing good character and relating to people with character disorders.
      Here is a recent post from his blog: Nurturing Good Character – The Ten Commandments of Character
      And I think his recent book How Did We End Up Here (which I’m in the middle of reading) would also be helpful.

      About a year post-separation, I found it very helpful myself to attend a parenting group for mothers and kids who had been through domestic violence. There were four facilitators: two for the kids, two for the mums. At each session we all met together for a few minutes then the mums had their group with their facilitators and the kids had theirs with their facilitators, then for the last half hour we came back together, had a snack and played a fun games or activities. It helped me re-think some of my parenting strategies. The group was run through the DV support service in my town.

      • MeganC

        How old are your children, Lost? And for how long have you been away from your ex? I also wrote an article on the 10 commandments of character that might help. I had each of my children study each commandment, memorize the verses and talk about it. We still talk about them:

        http://giveherwings.com/the-ten-commandments-of-socialization-by-george-simon/

  15. Lost

    Hi Megan
    How may I give you that info privately?
    (I don’t want to be identified)

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