I swore I’d never do to my children what my mother did to me

A report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2011-12 reveals incidents of child abuse and neglect has almost doubled since 2001.

This gives me chills. Because I was abused as a child and it was never reported. I can only imagine how many cases there are like mine. Children are being abused and it's being kept silent.

I still remember the terror.

I was running as fast as I could but I was only four. I had a feeling my attempt to escape was in vain, but survival instinct kicked in. I knew if she caught me I was a good as dead.

I felt her before she got me. She was right behind me. She grabbed my hair and spun me around. Grabbing a second handful of my hair she shook me and screeched with rage in my face.

Then the hitting began.


My earliest childhood memory is of being beaten and my entire childhood is mapped out by similar events. My mother just couldn't cope with us. She was a monster. She cooked for us, she cleaned us, she fed us, she clothed us and she beat us.

I was the third of four children and I never felt loved. I felt hated.

I knew the sensation of a dizzying blow to the head better than the feeling of a parent's embrace. In fact, the only time I ever remember my mother hugging me was when I ran off at a shopping centre one day. I thought she'd left me there and gone home without me. To my then 5-year-old  brain, she didn't love me anyway so it was perfectly reasonable to think I'd been left behind.

I started walking home and a family drove me back to the shopping centre where my mum was running frantically through the shopping centre trailed by security guards and my sisters. When she saw me she ran to me crying and I ran to her and burst out sobbing. She picked me up and hugged me for minutes.

That was the first day I ever felt loved.

But it didn't last.

I can't remember the things I did wrong. Sometimes I probably made a mess. Sometimes I probably cried. Sometimes I probably fought with my sisters. Sometimes I accidentally broke things.

I wished I didn't have hair because that's how it always began. She'd grab a handful of hair and then the rest of the abuse would begin. I remember her smashing my head into the concrete wall, I remember her hitting me with a wooden spoon and when that broke I remember her taking off her shoe and continuing with it.

My sisters received much worse punishments than I did because I quickly learned to run and hide. If I hid until I heard dad's truck coming up the driveway I knew I would be safe. She wouldn't dare do it in front of him.

The beatings continued until I became a teenager and stood up for myself. I was taller than her then and sick of it, just sick of it. I told her that if she ever touched me again I'd kill her. From that day she never laid a finger on me again.

Research by the Society of Neuroscience in New Orleans has found that adversity in childhood affects you well into adulthood. It affects brain function as well as physical well being. Eric Pakulak at the University of Oregon, found that people who grew up in abusive homes have poor working memories, more emotional and physical challenges.

After the childhood I had suffered, how could I expect to ever become a successful adult? How could I ever expect to be a good mother? My makeup had forever been altered and I knew it, I felt it. I had been programmed to become violent whenever I was angry or frustrated.

I started out by taking it out on things. I'd hit myself or my possessions and I'd throw things. It seemed better than hitting anyone else. Then I started yelling. I'd yell and scream and run and cry. I just had to release the feelings I had never been taught how to express.

Nobody ever knew how bad my childhood had truly been and to this day my mother can't talk about it. We're friends now. I know it seems strange, but it wasn't her fault. This is how she was raised. She struggled with being a mother, was left alone with us for long stretches of time and received no understanding or support from her husband.

She just couldn't cope.

She told me she went to see a doctor begging for help. She was worried she was going to kill us. He told her to take vitamins and sent her home.

Even though I forgave her I knew that once I became a mother I wanted to be the complete opposite of her. My children would feel loved, cherished and adored. They would never know the feeling of the ringing in their ears after being hit unexpectedly or the shock of knowing it was their  mother who had done it, the one who was meant to protect them. They would never see my face contorted in a rage of hatred and anger. They would never be scared to be in their own home.

But my default setting when angry and frustrated was to hit. Whenever I felt angry with my children I felt the urge to hit them.

But I couldn't do it. I wouldn't.

It is possible to break the cycle of violence. The key is to accept and move on from your past.

In the book Parenting From The Inside Out by Dr Daniel Siegal and Mary Hartzell, negative experiences from our childhood need to be processed in order to move on from them and it is crucial to our children's happiness that this occurs..

The authors write, "The way we communicate with our children has a profound impact on how they develop. Our ability to have sensitive, reciprocal communication nurtures a child's sense of security, and these trusting secure relationships help children do well in many areas of their life.”

My sister was suffering from the same violent urges as I was. We had never discussed our childhood with anyone else or attempted to process it in any way but becoming mothers jolted it to the surface.

We started calling and texting each other several times a day.

Our children were of similar ages and starting to become more challenging. Instead of lashing out at them and becoming monsters ourselves, we'd call each other. It took about a year and a half of constant phone calls each day for us to break the cycle. We'd talk each other down from the ledge each and every time.

"You don't want them to feel like we did," we'd say to each other. "Remember how scared we felt? We're better than that. We're good mothers. Our children are going to have everything we didn't.

"Go for a walk."

"Scream in a pillow."

"Hit a pillow."


I can now say that the cycle of violence in our family has been broken. Our children have never felt the kind of fear we did. They KNOW they are loved.

I will never approve of hitting as a form of punishment. Never, never, never. Even yelling is a form of violence.

I've yelled, but never directly at them. I've shrieked, but not in their little faces. I've hit pillows, but not them. I don't even need to do that any more.

My instinct now when angry is to just snap out of it, hug them, tickle them, laugh with them and then make them help me clean up the mess. If they hit each other or throw things I grab them, hug them and rock them as I quietly explain why they shouldn't ever be violent.

My children are loved, just as I should have been loved. I am their safe place. I am the one who protects them from pain and suffering, as I should be.

The power is in each of us to break the cycle of violence that exists in some families. And we can do it. Because our children are worth it.

How has your own childhood affected the kind of mother you are today?


More articles