My heart was filled with compassion when I opened my home as a safe haven in her time of need. I listened to her recount the many ways her husband had abused her. My first inclination was to empathize with her and share my own stories of victimhood. But for some reason I was stopped dead in my tracks as I really listened. She was describing actions that I had perpetrated on my own spouse and children. Actions that sounded horrifying as they were spoken out loud by this sweet, sobbing woman.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5–6).
Drowning in the sea did not seem like punishment enough as I recollected how many times I had yelled, and swore, at my children because they would not do what I said immediately. If only I could reverse the damage I knew I had caused. I cannot. The damage is child abuse.
I know all parents get stressed; and often lash out verbally at their kids. However, there is no excuse for abuse. Provocation from my children does not equal child abuse as an acceptable means of discipline. Hitting, kicking, slapping, shaming, yelling, swearing…. these were all tactics I had used to one degree or another to gain control when my emotions were out of control. Abuse is abuse, you just can’t spin it any other way.
My children were strong willed and tested me to the limit but I had also fostered their independent natures. In desperation, frustration and disempowerment, I emotionally abused my children because they were being strong willed, being who they were born to be. My need to be respected and obeyed often outweighed my desire to love and protect.
There is always an unequal balance of power between children and adults and it is the adults responsibility to use the power in a way that helps not hinders. My vocabulary range and intonation was greater than my children’s and therefore a more potent weapon. I could have chosen to use my words to heal and help, but instead I used my toxic tongue to hurt and demean.
I am aware that no amount of apology will recover the hurt they experienced at my hands. I was the adult and I should have used the power to change my behavior. If I had only had the sense to bite my tongue when I wanted to lash out verbally, or remember the hurt look on my child’s face, I would have been doing my job as the mom to protect my kids. Instead… I was the monster they feared.
Right now I am an advocate for protecting this woman from abuse. I am also a parent being brought to the realization that I have been an abuser, not just of my children, but my spouse as well. The regret I feel is real, the shame – crippling. When people hear of abuse they automatically think of sexual or physical, but verbal abuse creates scars on the inside that nobody can see.
I should have taken time to consider the potency of the words that fell from my mouth in moments of anger. I should have known that yelling, screaming, swearing and sarcasm directed toward my children are forms of emotional child abuse. So why didn’t I? I could cite all kinds of reasons that would make sense to anyone. The bottom line is: there is NEVER an excuse for abuse.
I know I have sent apology emails, texts and letters in the past, but I recognize that while well meaning, they were passive-aggressive and filled with excuses. Those apologies did not express true regret for what happened, they didn’t show any concern for how my children were impacted by the abuse. My apologies were band aids placed on our hemorrhaging relationships.
It pains me to realize that I may be the cause of any abuse directed from my children to their spouse/significant other or worse yet, my beloved grandchildren. I have modeled for them a dysfunctional way of relating in a family dynamic. They have shown great resilience and character, so I pray that they will be the generation to stop the cycle of abuse.
I write to you now my Child,
I’m so deeply sorry for all the pain and suffering and neglect that you endured through my actions or inactions. If I could go back in time, I’d right those wrongs and treat you with the love and respect that you are owed as a human being… You are loved and cherished, and I am profoundly sorry that I didn’t make you feel like the great gift you are in my life. You’re someone I would have liked to have loved better and known more. I am so very, very sorry.
You still need to heal, grow, and learn to be you. You need to focus on being a child of God, on being the you that is. Because that you is perfect.
I also apologize for denigrating your father. He is an amazing man who put up with more than his fair share of abuse from me. My need to be the victim often painted him in a Picasso like fashion and that wasn’t fair to you or to him. I know many of his actions were simply reactions to years of pain inflicted by me. When passing judgement on the faults of your parents, just know that he deserves your mercy.
I know that apologies do not merit forgiveness and I expect none. I only wish to convey to you that I know what I did and I take responsibility and it was wrong, so very wrong!
from your mother who loves you deeply but did not love you well enough.