Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Parent Q&A

  • Husband a survivor of childhood abuse

    (11 replies)

    This is a hard topic to approach but I feel I can’t confide in my friends or other moms without judgement. My husband comes from an abusive family, verbal, emotional and physical. His other siblings still live near their parents and are unable to have relationships. He’s the only one who’s been able to move on from this and have his own family. He is aware of his background and talks to me a lot about his history. He is kind, supportive, helps a lot around the house and with our two boys. Most times he is an amazing partner and dad.

    However, there are times like last night where he snaps and is physical with our 14 year old son.  The context is that we were trying to get from the car to our apartment and there was a homeless man who sounded violent. We were trying to quietly usher kids into the house but our son was belligerent and loud and couldn’t understand. When we got into the house he was still being loud and my husband grabbed him to talk to him and try and convey the seriousness of the issue of safety. However, he didn’t just grab him, he grabbed him in anger and by the neck. I pushed him off my son and yelled at him that it is never okay to be physical. That he needs to calm down.  I am a survivor of domestic violence so part of my reaction was PTSD and part of course protecting my child.

    He has grabbed our son by the arm harshly about a year ago. He also has spanked him a few times. However I feel that any violence is unacceptable and I worry about the impact on our kids and on our marriage. We went to couples counselling and I'm willing to do that again. But I also  feel that what he really needs is his own therapy to work through these issues on his own. I wanted to get feedback from the community to see what type of therapy would be best and how I can help my kids heal from this too. They are aware that their father came from an abusive home but I don’t want that to be an excuse. I want to get a commitment from my husband, their father, that he will not raise a hand to  our son ever again.  

    This is all so terrible and I feel awful and trying not to fall into PTSD and get into a panic about it. I don’t feel that the kids and I are in danger, but I want to be able to believe he will never do this again. Am I overreacting? I don't think so... but it's hard to tell.   I hope to hear from others who have survived and moved on from childhood abuse and been able to parent without violence. Any other advice welcome.

    In a rough spot.

    Hi fellow mom, this IS a rough spot, and I send you my love and big pats on the back for opening your heart to us here on BPN. I grew up around violence and share your abhorrence for it, and have had the good fortune to find ways to recover from childhood PTSD and live a happier, more gentle and fulfilled life. There is a lot of research and awareness out there, though it seems to be aimed more at prevention than healing after the fact (and both are important!). I share what I found helpful at a blog called See also, where lots of experts and survivors share articles, research and original writing. Good luck! We're with you!

    Hey, hey there. I'm also a survivor of domestic abuse and I think the first thing for you to do is to get therapy yourself so you can get clarity on these issues and be able to think about them without worrying that you're acting out of being triggered. That's the first step. You can ask him to go into therapy, but you can't force him. If asking him won't be enough to make him go, then you just go to therapy yourself.

    I don't think you are overreacting, but I also think these few examples are not enough to give you full feedback. I have grabbed my kid's arm harshly, so it's hard for me to know if you're -- you know, who can figure out what's right in someone else's house? I am not blaming you. I am not saying you are the problem, or a problem. I just read the pain in your description and how your own past is making you second-guess myself. If his behavior puts you in the position of nearly falling into PTSD and getting into a panic about it, then you need to care for yourself and have your own therapy so that you can separate your panic from the situation at hand. I wish you well. 

    I dont think you or your kids are in danger either, and to me it sounds like your husband is doing very well. I think MANY dads from non abusive backgrounds would have reacted in a physical way to the scary situ that you describe. Rather than focus on his issues and what he might do to improve, I am going to suggest that YOU work on YOUR issues and learn to calm down and react less when something like this happens, if in fact it's as rare as you describe. I don't believe in violence either and I never spank - but as you know, millions of parents spank their kids and are not considered abusive. I think you are overreacting and this is almost as bad, in it's own way, as violence from your husband. It's not modeling calm, control and peacefulness to your children. It's modeling anxiety and fear. There have to be better ways for you to behave and manage your own PTSD. Or in your own way, you are actually likely to set your kids up for unhealthy ways of coping with anger and fear in relationships later. I do not agree at all that much benefit will come from your husband working on these issues on his own - the situ you describe is one in which you both have a dangerous role.

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How to support partner who is an abuse survivor?

May 2016

My partner and I have been together for almost nine years, and we have two kids. I have known for a long time that he was emotionally abused by both of his (divorced) parents as a child. However, I've recently begun to suspect that he was also the victim of child sexual abuse. He has not confided this to me; I'm just piecing together oblique references he's made, things he's said over the years, and what I know about some of his other family members/family history. I could be wrong about the sexual abuse, but the emotional abuse was definitely there, and thinking about sexual abuse has really caused me to refocus the attention I give to the many challenges in our relationship. Instead of focusing on everything he's not giving me or all the ways that he acts like a jerk, I have started to focus on the question of, what is my job here? How can I best support a survivor of childhood trauma? I have done some reading about this online, and I have done some learning about how his behaviors fit the pattern of abuse survivors. But all the advice for partners of abuse survivors seems to be based on a situation where the abuse survivor has been open about the abuse and is seeking help for him/herself already. This is not the case with us. While my partner acknowledges that his upbringing was emotionally traumatic for him, he adamantly refuses to see himself as a victim, and whenever the possibility of therapy has come up between us, he is adamantly opposed to going. He does not believe he has any healing to do.

So I'm looking for advice on how to educate myself on what he might be going through - books, websites, whatever - just for context and my own information. And I'm also looking for advice on how to make being a relationship with this person more livable for me. He has a lot of abandonment issues, but he's also emotionally distant/detached, hypercritical, prone to depression, and can be incredibly difficult to be around. For many, many reasons I don't have space to go into, leaving him is not an option right now.

Has anyone ever been in this situation? I freely admit that I may be on a fool's errand here - trying to support someone who doesn't even admit there's anything wrong. But it feels important for the sake of our kids and for my own sanity. Thanks for any experiences and gentle advice you can share. I'm also going to post in recommendations seeking a therapist to work with me on this issue. Thank you, BPN! Perplexed and Sad

My mother said and did things to me in my childhood that were emotionally abusive. At 40+ I finally realized she has narcissistic personality disorder. We are no longer talking, over two years now. I just wanted to say, I also don't have any desire to go to counseling. I know counseling with her is going to be a complete waste of my time. I could benefit from some counseling for myself, but I also just feel this is something I KNOW about her already (ie, it was her, not me). The best things that have helped are the days when I am just simply taking care of myself -- eating healthy, getting outside, chatting with random people at the checkout stand or what not (ie, getting some outside social interaction if not your personal friends), taking supplements like fish oil and vit D, and exercise. That's when my history with my mother is least affective, and when I can concentrate on my own life. anon

There is an excellent website,, that is designed for adult male survivors of sexual abuse and the people who care about them. They have resources for people like you who are in the position of trying to navigate these waters when the survivor does not want to confront the issue. Good luck. Anon

I could have written your post. Seriously. There are a couple differences... we've been together for sixteen years and I'm sad to say it doesn't get better, in fact it gets worse. The other difference is that while I sense some mild emotional abuse (more like parents weren't the nurturing type and they focused more on themselves than their kids), my husbands parents are still in our lives and I think they are lovely people. My husband barely speaks two words to them. Ever. I, too, suspect child abuse somewhere along the way (not by the parents) and that my husband blames them for not protecting him. It's just a wild guess because it's never been addressed. My husband refuses any type of therapy or discussion about what has been tearing him apart for years. His anger is explosive, and while not frequent, it's very frightening to witness. The only reason I stay is that I cannot bear the thought of sharing custody and my kids having to stay with him alone in such a depressing, unstable atmosphere for the next several years until they turn 18. Like you, I've tried to ''help'' him, but have been worn down by his wrath and insistence that he's not the problem. Sad to say, I don't think you can every truly help someone who doesn't want to help themselves. It's sad for me to think that my husband will die a bitter, lonely man but that is what I envision. I will be long gone by then. I truly hope this is not the case for you, but it's unlikely you can fix what is bothering your husband. That is some really hard work that he will have to do himself. In the meantime, I'm sending you peace and the strength to do what's best for your family. I think we married twins

Adult survivor of child abuse now shunned by family

Jan 2015


I'm in my 30s and have this past year done the work of admitting the events of my childhood to myself. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse for many many years by 2 close family members. I am in therapy, the most difficult thing I've every done. 25 years of repression and denial is a hard thing to uncover.

Since making my past ''public'' and calling family members on their abuse, and explaining my painful existence, the innocent people in my family that said they would stand by me, have also walked away. I am devastated by this. By choosing to avoid communication with me, they have taken sides, and I feel incredibly let down and heartbroken. I guess it's more than anyone wants to think about and confront, also they live with my abusers. I have practically begged them to stay in my life, did they ever really love me?

I have a very supportive, happy partnership and wonderful young children. But I can't help but feel so guilty, they won't know any of their extended family. I know that they're not worth knowing, but that doesn't take the pain and guilt away. Especially around birthdays and holidays. My children only have me and my partner, my partner's parents are both dead and he has no siblings.

I did nothing wrong, I was an unloved child who was abused daily, relentlessly for many many years. Yet I am the one left alone.

Have you been through this, how do you cope?

Thank you Anon

Yes, healed individuals doing their hard work are no longer compatible with abusers and enablers who don't or won't. Abandonment is another form of abuse. So, so sorry. I am glad you have a loving nuclear family.

Find more love from others, which is ultimately what your family should have provided.

Been there

Yes! I too survived childhood abuse and looking back after some therapy and a lot of critical examination I can say that the unhealthy family dynamics that facilitated/allowed the abuse (in my case, I was abused by a middle-aged male neighbor whom my parents trusted) are still very much present in my family. It was difficult, and took me several years in my late 20s and early 30s, to realize that my parents and small extended family couldn't be there for me or my kids because they were too preoccupied with self love and/or mental illness and related co-dependency. My kids and I see my parents a couple of times a year but it is not a close relationship and yet it is OK given the limitations of all involved. My parents haven't changed and I have limited interest in putting out a lot of emotional energy toward people who are takers.

Not that you need lots of examples, but I wanted to offer another story along the lines of ''it's not you, it's them.'' While my relationship with my parents has been strained/limited since my first daughter was born 10 years ago, my husband's parents (especially his mom) have always been close to our daughters and to us. Three years ago (when Homeland Security raided my MIL and FIL's home and confiscated their computers) it was revealed that my elderly, significantly disabled father-in-law was into child porn. Long story short, my husband is now an outsider to his family. My husband was the only one who wanted to talk about the devastation his dad caused to the family during to a lifetime of weird behavior and then the ongoing porn issue. My FIL, who has now been convicted of his crimes, although not in prison due to being seriously ill, railed against the federal government for invading the sanctity of his home and still feels self-righteously angry that the feds confiscated and destroyed his computers. He's even gone so far as to compare the loss of innocence experienced by abused children with the loss of his computers! Nuts! My MIL, FIL, and BIL have taken the position that husband and I should be more understanding and that we are ''just not compassionate enough" because we can't carry on pretending that everything is normal in the family.

I have observed that it is not uncommon to be treated as a ''traitor'' and ''problem'' when you are the one in a family who brings up unhealthy and/or devastating events of the past and/or are not willing to pretend that everything is normal to preserve egos. It is totally unfair but I think it underscores the importance of making your family (your husband, kids, and friends) the focal point of your emotional energies and to try to cultivate something beautiful and healthy. (Therapy continues to help.) Erin

My heart goes out to you. I myself am recovering from a family of betrayal.

I can only share my own experience and hope it helps you.

I found meditation helped with the pain. And getting some perspective. As a child I believed wholeheartedly that my family loved me and were full of super-good people who cared about me. As I've slowly and repeatedly learned that this in many ways isn't so, it's broken my heart.

You needed to believe they loved you as a child just to survive. Now you know that the price of your honesty is their ''affection.'' It suggests to me that they are unable to tolerate conflict or be truthful themselves and that was a big factor in your on-going abuse. You perceived correctly that there was no one truly safe to turn to. They are too weak; how sad. They don't know how to love.

Part of the pain is wondering why you put up with the abuse before. This is why. Now you are strong enough and have created more love in your own life--now you can be authentic and honest. Letting go of your belief that you were loved is a big part of the hurt. You needed to believe that.

Once you start being honest, there's no going back. You just have to learn to be very kind to yourself and eliminate people who don't know how to treat you properly. Being authentic hurts but there's just no other alternative to fully live your life.

--Still hurting like you but not going back

I am so sorry that you experienced abuse and adding to that awful burden, your family has responded so terribly.

I had a very similar reaction in my family. I could go into awful details about what they said and did, but it's not worth the negative energy.

Plenty of people told me to walk away from my family because these people are not family, but the people giving me the advice have never done anything as drastic as walk away from family. Nobody will know how much it hurts, or how hard it is, unless they've actually done it.

I did, after many attempts both in walking away and in attempting to connect with them on some level, walk away. I have not regretted that decision, but I have felt sad that it was necessary. It does hurt more at holidays, and I just try to process those feelings as they come up. And it's incredibly hard to explain to other people. Few people need an explanation, but when I fell in love, I did need to explain the situation to my now husband's family.

It hurts all of us. My husband doesn't really get a full experience of having in-laws, though I have an ''adopted'' family who love me and we visit them on holidays. My future children won't get grandparents in quite the same way on my side of the family, and someday I'll likely need to explain that to them.

I did make an attempt to keep the door open, telling certain family members that they knew how to reach me, and I'd be happy to visit them or have them visit, but they have yet to take me up on that offer. After some crazy and weird emails, I blocked the email accounts of two family members. If they really do want to get ahold of me, they can easily find out my address, etc.

It has been years now. My biological mother (one of my abusers) a few years ago attempted to spread lies about me to other family members and friends, as apparently her conscience is a mess and she wanted to hurt me. Fortunately a few people can tell that the accusations have no basis in facts. I cannot fathom what she or they think or how they justify this to themselves. On occasion I try to figure it out, and eventually realize that there's no real answer.

For the most part, I process it and move on when it comes up, and I've gotten to a much, much healthier place in my life. It's hard to live without a family, but it's possible. I think what helped me most was focusing on my own goals and life and working on what would make me happy rather than what would make them happy. It was tough to do so, but I am so glad and proud that I did start making my life worth living. a survivor living well now

I was touched by your post. I found out (after I'm grown) that I have a favorite uncle who abused my cousin when she was young. The family still does not know about it, and I am sworn to secrecy (I also feel that it is her right to privacy and not my place to confront.)

It is fantastic that you've done personal work to uncover what hurt you, it's the only way to heal. You must have areas in your life that the abuse has manifested and you suffered through. The family who does not acknowledge your abuse could be in denial or it's too much for them to bear, perhaps you can find sympathy for their ignorance. You cannot change them, be supported by your partner and be strong, you will surmount. Your kids are lucky that their parent has the insight to deal with the past and will be all the better for it. I don't know you, but I'm proud that you are doing something to transcend abuse and put it in the pass. Annon.

I'm so sorry to read about how your family is reacting to your pain. I don't have experience with that, but wanted to offer different advice. My parents and my partner's parents died many years ago. We have ''adopted'' surrogate grandparents. Maybe there is an older person or couple you know without grand children, or whose grand children live far who would like to become close to your family? another mom

Hang in there! Do what's right for you and your immediate family. The reality of acknowledging abuse and abusers among us is a bitter pill (for all). It can be easier for them to shun the victim than the perpetrator. But things can change over time. There has been amazing healing in my family in the past 2 decades of abuse recovery, but it was a long, hard process. Surround yourself with people, family or not, who support and love you NOW. Take the long view on your family. It likely wasn't just you who was abused so there may be more fallout ahead. Be strong, trust your truth and take good care of your heart & health. You are worth it!!

Sister abuse survivor with 24 years of recovery

My idyllic life vanished when I was nine. For the next four years, I was beaten, abused, . . . At thirteen, I escaped.

Years later, I "learned" of what had happened to me. Medical and hospital records demonstrated what had happened. Medical and hospital records also demonstrated that, although medical personnel clearly knew what was happening to me, no one did anything to stop what was happening.

When I provided clear documentation to people in what I had though of as "my family," I was shunned.

Suggestion: make a new "family" by choosing people who will be loving and kind to you and to your children and STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU EXCEPT IN THERAPY - and anonymously on Berkeley Parents' Network - and, please, don't try to ''fix'' yourself by trying to erase what happened because what happened happened and that won't change. Happy, productive adult

I am so glad you are in therapy and are dealing with the abuse. It is hard, really hard. I am a survivor of abuse and have spent much of my adult life dealing with the effects of it. I have healed a great deal, in so many ways. The things that have helped me: meditation-as in multiple retreats over the years-has been profoundly healing for me. It has helped me in all areas of my life, but one of the biggest ways is the compassion I have cultivated. I used to suffer from so much self-blame and self-hatred, and I truly don't anymore. I see how it wasn't me, it was them. I feel tremendously grateful for the peeling away of lies and secrets. And I see how I have wanted the people in my family to be-how they have been unwilling or unable (I really don't know which, maybe both) to see the truth and own it. And so you get your support and love from people who really do love you, who you can be honest with, who value what you value. Talk with other survivors, be kind to yourself. False family is truly no better than no family. And I have learned to appreciate what I can about my family, and to take care of myself and recognize when it's toxic. The other things that have helped me are bodywork, really good friends, doing what I love, connecting with my true self. And you are in a family now that you love and loves you, and that is such an opportunity and blessing. Something in you led you there, and will continue to. anon

Dealing with verbally abusive mother now that I'll be a parent

April 2008

When I got into college 7 years ago and met the person I would later marry my single mom became very difficult. She would fly into rages and tell me I was a horrible person and that I was driving her to suicide. She would lie in bed and sob for hours that I was arrogant, emotionally dishonest and that I did not deserve all the work she put into me. I would apologize and try to be perfect and we would be fine for a while. Then I would do something a little bit wrong (sound flippant on the phone, etc) and she would start a 3 day tirade of ''You are so horrible you make me want to kill myself'' I tried to distance myself by not telling her things about my life as she would use it against me. But she would always find something and threaten suicide.

When I got pregnant I freaked out that I would act like her someday so for the first time I told her that I did not deserve to be treated that way and asked her to not contact me for the duration of the pregnancy. She FLIPPED OUT and said that I was abusing her and that I was bad and owed her for my childhood. I ended the conversation and while I have gotten two hate filled emails since then we have had no contact. I am now about to give birth and am a loss for what to do. I do not want a relationship with her at all. I do not want to have to tense up when the phone rings or when I check my mail. I do not want my baby exposed to her. She hates my spouse with a passion and told me we will be terrible parents. I do not want to go to therapy with her.

I have done therapy on my own and that has helped me but they always refuse to give specific advice. Do I tell her the baby has been born and that I do not want contact? Do I have to try and work with her simply because she is my mom? Do I just not contact her at all? No one in my life knows about the true depth of this, save my spouse. What do I say when someone asks how excited my mom is to be a grandma or if she will be at the birth? ''No, she's not excited, and No she will not be at the birth and in fact she asked me why I would bother having a kid when I won't love it'' just does not cut it for normal converation. So many people say, she's your mom and you will always love her and want her around no matter what, but I do not feel that way. I have been so happy to not deal with her rages for the first time in 7 years.

At a loss for what to do

You say yourself you do not want a relationship with your mother and it is perfectly clear and understandable why you do not want one and why you would be terrified to continue one. It is also perfectly understandable why you might still be asking if this is ok. Cutting out your mom is a big deal.

A friend once offered a wonderful metaphor for having healthy vs. unhealthy people in your life. She said certain people are just not capable of being in the audience of your life play. Some people are can be in the front row, some people can be in the back, but some you just need to bolt the doors and never let them in. For your sake and for your baby's sake it sounds like you need to bolt those doors and not let your mom in. And as a good parent to yourself and your baby, that sounds like a very good decision to make. Jenny

Hi, I'm so sorry to hear about the abuse you had to endure while growing up. I also come from an abusive family, including sexual, physical, emotional abuse, alcoholism, divorce, etc. After my husband and I married I entered therapy to deal with marriage issues and wound up spending more time focusing on my family of origin. In the end I wrote them a letter describing my childhood and how I no longer wanted them a part of my life unless they sought help and radically changed their behavior.

Well, they didn't. And to be honest, not having them in my life (it's been almost 15 yrs) is a blessing. Once we had children it became even more apparent how I'd never trust them around, or even leave them alone with my kids. That's not exactly condusive to a loving relationship! Being relieved of the burden of visits, cards/gifts (how do you find cards that really express how you feel?), crazy phone calls, worry, angst, etc. is great.

I've since worked with a therapist that validated my decision. I realize that people from most families couldn't begin to understand this way of thinking but I totally encourage you to protect yourself, and your family.

I sometimes wonder if I'll regret my decision once my former family passes away. But to be honest, I feel sorry for them. I don't know how they live with their actions or themselves! I almost feel like not having a relationship with three amazing children is punishment enough for this lifetime.

You survived this abuse before and now your priority is your new family--creating and keeping a loving, safe, and healthy home. My close friends know about my family and to the rest of the world I tell them very little (it's nobodies business) Or I emphasize my husband's family whom I'm very close to. I've also created a family amongst my close friends. You do the best you can do!

As my children age (now in elem sch) they've asked about their other grandparents and I'm honest to the extent they understand. We routinely discuss abuse/inappropriate behaviors and they understand that I'll always protect them and that's why they don't see my family. Since they have wonderful family from my husband's side they don't miss anything. They also have many friends with very few, if any, grandparents left so this doesn't seem unusual. Been there, done that.

You sound like you've made up your mind (and I think correctly) to cut off contact with your mother, and your only lingering concern is how to talk to other people when they ask about her reaction to the impending birth of her grandchild. Depending on who asks you can have different responses. For a pretty good friend who doesn't know your story, you could say "Oh, that's a long and painful story! If you really want to know, we can go out for coffee and I'll tell you more." (A good litmus test for whether they really want to know or not.)

You can also just lie. "She's thrilled!" is fine. No one is going to call you on it. But, if you really want to be truthful "She's very emotional about it" seems technically correct, since your mom sounds like she is very "emotional" (negatively) about everything to do with you. I know this is hard. Many people have good and loving parents - it's not fair that you don't. But your kids will! Stay strong! Fran

If you wish, you could mail a printed birth announcement to your mother, just as a formality. I don't know why people are asking if your mother will be present at the birth, but you could say ''no'', and that your husband will be present, plus your nurse, plus the doctor, etc.

If your mother tries to contact you, you can tell her to go to ''counseling'' first, because her behavior is not normal. If her behavior is still unacceptable, tell her that her behavior is not normal and not acceptable and you will not put up with it. You've done fine without her for 7 years, but if some busy-body insists that you should talk to her, give them her phone number and let them talk to her themselves. Free at last

My heart goes out to you! My first son was born 8 yrs ago and met my dad once. my second son, now 4, has never met him, for similar reasons to your post. All I have to say is that you have to go with your gut.

Your child needs a happy mom, and that's the most important. You and your husband will give him/her plenty of love. Take it as it comes but never think you are depriving your child. YOur child is your priority, and what the grandparent does or doesn't ''deserve'' is really secondary (if that) to your and your child's well being. It's okay if you have minimal contact and it's okay if you have none at all. And it's okay to change your mind at any time :-) You don't have to justify anything to anyone but yourself.

the most freeing thing I realized was that it was okay to do what I needed, it made me a better parent and a more confident person. I don't know what will happen between me and my dad in the future but i can say it has gotten easier. The only info he has about me is my cell phone no and he just recently left two horrible messages. The sad thing is that they only confirmed his abusive nature. But *I* was fine. He doesn't have the kind of hold over me that he once did. And my kids have my wonderful mother and my husband's parents. and tons more folks who love them.

I didn't share what my dad was like with friends for a long time and it did make for some awkward moments and conversations. But honestly, the more confident I became in trusting myself to make the right choices, the less it mattered what others thought. And the more I was able to open up to others about my hard times w/ my dad. It is unbelievably sad that my kids don't have a relationship with my dad-- just as it is unbelievably sad that I don't. But I know now that that the lack of relationship is his fault-- It's what he chose to give up because the abuse was more important to him than having a relationship.

And my life with my wonderful family more than makes up for that. Congratulations on your new baby and new family. You won't become your mom, in fact, I can tell from the tone of your post that raising your baby is going to heal a lot of old wounds. Enjoy what you have now. That's the most important thing you can do. Good luck! anon

I am sorry for your sad situation with your mother but admire the way you have been able to break away and create a good family situation for yourself. I think that you need not do anything in terms of informing your mother about the pregnancy or baby; in fact, for your mental health and that of your baby, just continue the distance you have now. Unless your mother steps forward and apologizes, it does not sound wise to bring her into your life. You do not owe strangers an explanation and your close friends probably know that you are not in contact with your mother. My husband was not in touch with his abusive father for 12 years. I wanted to meet him before we married and after I met him, decided that I never wanted to see him again and never did. He was not a part of our family life. It's sad not to have the kind of grandparents we'd like, but we have brought in adoptive grandparents (kin and non-kin) who are loving toward our child and supportive towards us. Being a new first-time parent is difficult and you will need all the support you can get---not criticism! hang in there and don't worry about what others think. Remember that your anxiety and tension will be felt by your baby and the best thing for all of you is calmness. Courage!

I am so sorry you are going through this. I have had a similar experience but with my father. I ended up cutting off all contact with him years before I got married and had my children, so my situation is a bit different. Based on what you have described, I totally support you in ending your relationship with your mother or severly limiting it- your call! You have already listed all of the reasons and from the outside looking in, it is clear, even from a layperson, that your mom is in need of major professional help and is a highly toxic person for you and your new family.

I know the hard part is dealing with folks who can't understand how any parent could be so horrible. I have found it best to respond according to the kind of relationship I have with the person and their inquiry. In this situation, I think it perfectly acceptable to tell a white lie if you must in order to preserve your dignity and keep yourself from feeling vulnerable. People mostly did not ask about my parents and if they did, I would respond about my one parent and leave out the other. You can also simply tell people you are estranged from your mom and don't want to talk about it. I think it wise to prepare in advance so you have a reptoire of responses.

Lastly, you sound like you will be a wonderful mother! The fact that you want to preserve your own sanity and keep your child away from this woman is a sign of your good mental health, IMHO. These are great boundaries that may not be understood by most folks, but ultimately, any lack of understanding should not be your problem- you will have your hands full with the joys and challenges of motherhood. I wish you the best in becoming a mom. I know how scary it can be when you come from a crazy family. Your awareness and the actions you are taking now will make it impossible for you to ever be like your mother, despite her insane predictions. daughter of a crazy dad.

My opinion is you should cease contact with your mother. She obviously needs help but it seems unlikely that you can do anything about that except telling her that if she ever wants contact again she must see a psychiatrist. Often. I don't think a therapist is good enough--her behavior is way out there. By the way my mother was a single mother too.

Perhaps this will help: put your baby first. Your child and your family are your first obligation. Do you want your child exposed to this? And do you want your child's mother exposed to this and perhaps stressed by it? I hope your answer is no. From what you have written, I can see no reason to expose yourselves to what seems like a potentially dangerous situation for you and your child. Yes, it is good to respect and care for parents but not when they are abusive.

You seem to have a good head on your shoulders--you have gotten out from under this! Stay out. This is nothing to do with you. Your mother has other problems and you are just the chosen outlet. When people comment on grandma you can not answer, you can say ''sure,'' ''any grandmother would be,'' or you can say ''my mother and I have gone our separate ways and I am just not able to talk about it.'' Or some such, you are also not obligated to explain or even answer meaningless questions like those truthfully. People are just making conversation. White lies are good for that situation. If they are close you can tell them the truth and there is no reason to be ashamed of it. mother of adults

You say that your mother started acting this way when you went to college. There was no such behavior when you were growing up? If not, it sounds like she has had a very severe personality change, which usually signals a mental illness (and the behavior you are describing certainly sounds bizarre and unhealthy). Threatening suicide and staying in bed for days are classic depression symtoms, for starters, and the aggression... wow. Is there any chance you could get her to see a doctor??! anon

I too grew up with a difficult mother, tho' not as bad as yours. My heart goes out to you. I've found over the years that other people who had loving mothers, mothers with whom they sometimes had the odd problem, really don't understand how different it can be.

My advice would be completely cut your mother off, cut her out of your life, and get on with welcoming your baby into your new family. When people ask about your mother, you can just say that no, she's not involved, that she's mentally unstable (as indeed it sounds like she is) and that she's not in your life any more. With most people that is all you should say, repeating just those words as necessary. Like I say, most people can't understand, they think everyone welcomes a new baby. But alas this is far from the case. You can share more with a few close friends, as you have time and inclination. Good luck. Dianna

Letting go of parents for good is a serious decision. Something in your question makes me wonder if you haven't yet given this enough thought. You say you've been in therapy but you do not want to go to therapy with your mother and the therapists you have seen always refuse to give specific advice. Are you sure about this? The therapists I've seen have always given me advice and even suggested family sessions. I have abusive parents too. My advice would be to investigate this further with your therapist if you are still in therapy. If you are no longer in therapy, then maybe you should reconsider. No stone should be left unturned

They say you never need your mom more than when you become a parent yourself - it's true. But it also sounds like you are better off without her in this case. You'd be amazed at how common this really is. This is my situation and all you have to say is ''we're not close''. If that doesn't do it, you can always add, ''she separated from my family years ago, but I'm blessed to have my (aunt, husband, M in Law, etc) for support. Unless that person is a real busybody, they'll leave it at that.

Also, do ''lean on'' anyone and everyone you can for support. Your thoughts towards your mom might change as the years go on, it's hard but if your Mom is damaging to your mental health, you are better off without her. Just appreciate the contributions she made to you as a person, accept it and move on.

Cut her off. You do not decide if she commits suicide. Only she can do that. Clearly the woman has mental health issues beyond your control. If she was not your mother, you would not think twice about allowing this abusive woman in your life. Get a good therapist who will support your decision. If you want her in your life later, then you initiate contact. I have had a similar situation. It is sad, but you have to take care of yourself first. You will be setting a good example for your children in the long run. If people mention the grandma factor, just smile and nod your head. If they push, respond with ''we are estranged''. No decent person will push you on the issue. Good luck

From what you say at the end of your post, it sounds like you want to continue to have no contact with her. I think you should trust your instincts. If you want to tell her the baby was born, and have no further contact, you could do that in a simple note, something like "I wanted you to know that Baby X was born (date). Beyond that, it makes me unhappy when we communicate. At this time, I'm not willing to have further contact with you. Signed, Daughter. " Then you can ignore attempts, if any, of hers to contact you. I think the broken record strategy is best if she doesn't respect your wishes not to communicate. Either don't respond, or respond to any of her attempts at contact with a calm, "I'm not willing to communicate with you at this time." If she says anything, "why not/when/ blah blah blah..." just continue to repeat as calmly as you can "I'm not willing to communicate at this time" and hang up/walk away.

With regards to what to tell people, tell them whatever makes you most comfortable in the situation. You could say, "Yes, she's very excited, but unfortunately she's not able to attend the birth." Or you could say "We have a troubled relationship, she's not able to attend the birth." In either case if they ask why, you can say something like "It's a complicated situation that I don't really want get into." Period. If thay persist in finding out more in either scenario, they are rude, and you're not obligated to talk about your personal feelings/relationships to satisfy people's curiosity. Again, you can use the broken record method "It's not something I'm comfortable discussing" unvaryingly until they drop the subject. In either of these kinds of scenarios with your mom or inquiring acquaintances, although it may seem silly, it really can help to practice pretend dialogs with someone you trust.

Also, remember that circumstances change. It may be best and necessary for you to have no contact at this time in your life, but your decision does not have to be permanent. You may find in the future that you have become happier and stronger, and feel like you want to consider limited contact with your mother. You can try out varying degrees of closeness according to your own comfort level. When I had my first child, I found that I wanted to reconnect CAREFULLY a bit more with a parent with whom I had had little to no contact with (mental illness/domestic violence problems). But if the only level of comfort for you is no relationship, then that is your decision. But know that the decision you make now needn't be final for the rest of your life, if that helps lessen agonizing about whether it is the right one. Finally, there's no reason you have to have counseling with your mom if you don't want to, but if you have time/money/inclination it might help you to seek counseling again for your own feelings about your relationship with her. Besides preg./post.part. hormones messing with your emotions, becoming a parent dredged up so many unhappy/angry feelings about parental failings for me. After eliminating contact with a parent, I felt like I was in mourning for a long time: the idea that I might have a loving, supportive parent that cared about me was gone forever. But then, after being a parent of two for a while, I started to see the challenges in parenting. It didn't excuse my parent's actions, but I started to see their failings as part of them and not me personally, and made me feel less angry and hurt. And I gained so much comfort from having a loving home with my husband and 2 children. Protect yourself (and your children), and let yourself feel what you need to feel with those that love you. C.

Your mother manipulates you and you let her do it. Her threat of suicide is intended to hook you in and it works. Some part of you probably believes that if she does kill herself that it is your fault. If she kills herself it doesn't have anything to do with you but that doesn't change the reality that you feel like it does. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR MOTHERS EMOTIONAL WELL BEING. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN EMOTIONAL WELL BEING. You have tried to distance yourself and then you let her hook you back into her emotional insanity again. My advice is to keep your attention inside yourself without looking outside for causes or explanations. Let your mother spin out of control if that is her inclination. Don't try to take care of her in any way. You can do this with an open heart. Being a loving daughter doesn't have anything to do with feeling guilty. If she can't show up without her venom then she isn't welcome- ever. If she sends you venomous e-mail you can reply, ''Upon reading your letter I was very sad. I am sorry that you are so angry and hurting but whether you can see it or not, I am not doing anything to you. If you insist on believing that your misery is my fault then I don't want to have any contact with you. I love you and I wish you well.'' anon

It's very hard to understand that you owe your mother nothing. It was her job to take care of you as her daughter, and now you are your own person. I had to cut off communication with my mentally ill father and I feel much better as a parent. Both my sibling and I have had a hard time realizing we owe him nothing, as he has not returned our respect, and we care about him, but he's very ill and can only think of himself. You'll have to come up with your own style of parenting and always be aware not to channel any of your mom's anger into your own parenting. Good luck. been there

You have my permission to cut off all contact with your mother. You also have my permission to screen all your phone calls, change your email address, and leave the country if you must. Sever all contact - Do not tell her in advance, unless you want to keep the cycle of abuse going. Telling her in advance is just a co-dependent way of trying to convince her to change. I am worried your plan is to tell her first, as a way of ''teaching her a lesson''. Please resist the urge to tell her anything at all. Even better, also cut off contact with anyone in your family who insists that you keep mom in your life. Your reward? A peaceful life. Meg

I think if I were in your shoes I would try to mourn for the relationship you wish you could have, but accept the reality that your mom isn't up for it. Your mother sounds manipulative, narcissistic, abusive, and mentally ill. She's not likely to change. You already know what you want--not to be in contact with her if she is going to misbehave. Given her track record, you should not feel an obligation to inform her of your daughter's birth. You can love your mother without liking her; you wouldn't be the first person I know who has to limit interaction with a parent in order to function. In response to casual questions about your mother from acquaintances, you can say, ''Oh, she's too wrapped up in her own problems to care,'' or ''We're fortunate to have a lot of support from our friends instead.'' Sympathetic

So I read your post and found myself completely sympathizing with you. I have a similar situation. I think you are absolutely right to do what is best for you, your child and your husband. Protect the family that you have made.

When dealing with your mother, my advice is to document the things that are said, keep the emails she send you, even if you don't read them (I highly recommend not reading them)- just in case. Also, you could decide to send a birth announcement or pictures, but that doesn't mean that you need to respond to her or engage in her anger.

I think it is a very, very hard thing for people to imagine dealing with, because they can't imagine having a mother like that. I applaud you for getting out of the situation and encourage you to raise your child in a loving, peaceful home rather than one that has bursts of anger and hatred. anon

Most people have a hard time imagining not getting along with a parent and the need to completely break off contact with them, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. In the case you described, I would advise you to not have any contact with your mother ever again unless you felt confident that she has reformed.

It is a hard thing to do in our society because it is outside of the normal experiences, but it is OK to do this- do not feel guilty about it.

My similar experiences come from being a recovering alcoholic, and many people I met through AA had the same problem- they were just never going to change their problem parent and has to face the fact that their relationship with them was toxic.

You don't owe her anything for your childhood. Be strong and do what you know is right for you and your child! anon

First let me say how courageous you are for having dealt with this so long without losing yourself in it. You seem to have a great head on your shoulders despite this horrible relationship and abuse from your mother. You mentioned in your post that you have been happy not to deal with her rages recently. Keep not dealing with it. You don't owe your mother anything. You owe it to yourself to be done with this and focus on happiness and your own wonderful family now. Having a child is the most wonderful and emotional thing you can do. You'll need all the support and strength you can get and having your mother in your life won't allow you to do that. If I were you, I would continue to not have her in your life. She is responsible for her own feelings and you have no obligation to take care of her. She may also be a danger to your child emotionally if she's allowed to be involved at all. Your instincts are so right to protect your baby from her. And yourself. Stay strong and follow your instincts. You're the mom now and you can make the decisions that are right for your family, as well as your own heart. Take care and know you're doing the right thing. Congratulations on your pregnancy - focus on that and embrace becoming a mother. It's the best thing in the world. And when people ask about your mother being excited, just give a simple answer (''we're not really in touch but I have lots of people that are very excited''). Or, if you're close to your mother in law, answer truthfully with her in mind. Best to you and your family. Be true to you

Dear ''At a Loss,''

Congratulations on expecting your first. Your mother's emotional blackmail/manipulations are an indication that she is not well. I'm glad you realize that you are in no way responsible for this or for her, and I am so sorry you are dealing with this during your pregnancy--a special time of anticipation. As a therapist, I also support you choosing to not go to therapy with your mother, and instead just get support for yourself.

We therapists tend to not give specific advice, you are right. However, if you have a local therapist you haven't seen in a while who knows the background issues with your mother, I think you might get some firm responses to the questions you pose. What I hear underlying all your wonderings about how to deal with your mom is that you are on the road to establishing some firm and healthy boundaries--to protect you and your child. I think when relationships are so destructive or toxic, that it's absolutely fine to share ''at this very important time in my life, I need to focus on my health and the health of my child and that is something I find difficult to do when we are in contact. I know this is not what you want to hear, and am truly sorry that you find it so upsetting. I know you most likely will not understand this, but I lovingly and respectfully ask that you request my need for distance at this time.'' Then enforce your boundaries, gently yet firmly. She will test them.

One last thing I will mention is that becoming a mother yourself is a vulnerable time. You are very aware that your mom does not have the capacity to mother you in the way that you want(ed) or need(ed). When you become a mom, often some of your own needs for caretaking/mothering/etc. can get triggered. This is a time, especially if you don't have local or supportive family, to begin building the type of support and community you want in your life.

You are already mothering with intention--an awesome thing. You may want to consider some of the local support groups for first-time moms available for new mothers in Oakland and Berkeley. Alta Bates has some drop in groups, Support Group for Mothers has a long history of well-loved new mom's groups, and Birthways offers some as well.

Hang in there, hold your boundaries and enjoy becoming a wonderful, thoughtful mother. Sounds like you are well on your way. Local Therapist and Mom

What I have done with my mother is tell her that I will only be around her when she is pleasant and not abusive. You have to put up boundaries, and it will probably take her a long time to adapt, but it is your only hope. You don't want to subject your child to such behavior. I recommend reading some parenting books about setting limits and dealing consequences, because your mother is acting like a child. I'm sure she, like my mother, is suffering from some kind of depression and/or mental illness, but she still needs boundaries. Good luck, be brave. Lynne

Don't tell your mother anything. WHy should you open that door?

As for social situations, why do you feel it's necessary to reveal the truth to people? You can say ''yeah, she's excited; she can't make it to the birth, though'', which is partially true because you aren't inviting her. Why open the door, yet again, to people asking questions. It's private and inappropriate for most social situations. Or you can just say ''We are not in contact anymore'' and leave it at that. anon

Your mother is mentally ill. I have a brother with schitzophrenia, and have found NAMI - the National Alliance on Mental Illness - helpful. They have free groups, and might have one in your area. Their website for groups in California is here:

Their main web site at, might also have some helpful information. And as far as what to tell people who ask about your mother, just say she is dealing with illness right now and you haven't seen her recently, then change the subject. There is no reason anyone outside your immediate family has to know what's going on with her.

Hello, I sympathize with and support the previous poster (about her mom). I've not been in contact with my dad for 15 years (very abusive). Now that I have 2 young kids I am finding managing my own issues more challenging in terms of being as kind and present as I would like to be. I am wondering if others have these issues and looking for a support group or just some conversation here. I consider breaking the cycle of abuse the most important work of my life, and I want to enjoy the beautiful present I've worked so hard and been so lucky to make. Thank you. anon
I'm in the same boat - not too much physical abuse, but sexual abuse and emotional abuse abound. - an alcoholic father and stepfather, a mentally ill mother, 27 different schools before I ever hit high school - just awful.

It's difficult, every day, some days less difficult than others - I was 40 when I had my child. I wanted only one - just in case (I goofed it up, I could only handle or love one, I'm not really sure). I found a neighborhood that has kids that play with one another. I was very careful about selecting a school, so I would have only a very small chance of having to change schools and I talk to my kid, a lot, about how she feels about life, friends, how she thinks, what she's afraid of, what the world is like through her eyes.

And although I blocked out the ability to feel, really, don't feel much of anything since I was 7 years old - even with years of therapy at different times - I feel love for my daughter, and closeness. And somehow, I must have picked up some self-esteem along the way because I see some parents crumble with their kid criticizes them or has opinions about the way they are being raised, and I really think about what my daughter says. Sometimes she's right and sometimes she's wrong - and it's her opinion.

But mostly it's about providing stability, listening, sharing as I can, protecting her from harm (and having a limited relationship with my mother) and paying attention, even when I am tired. It's also about being around all different kinds of families so my daughter gets to see what is okay and normal and what is not. One Day at a Time

Hello, I would love to take part in a support group of some kind. I too went thru an emotional and abusive childhood. I am a single parent of two girls and work hard to break the cycle so that they are better parents and people in the future. Please feel free to email me directly any time if you just need to talk.

 Adults abused as kids - how to be a good parent?

May 2004

I'm wondering if anyone has some advice on navigating the difficult times of parenting when you weren't parented well? I was severely abused as a child (sexual, emotional, physical) to the point of running away when I was eighteen to escape and having to change my name and move around to keep safe. I've had over ten+ years of individual therapy and am very functional now. I'm not living my trauma on a day to day basis as is the case when one is in the early stages of recovering. I feel like I'm doing a good job of parenting in a way that is kind, respectful, and loving (I've learned this from re-parenting myself). Having a mindfulness practice (however erratic it is now with a 12 month old) sure helps. But more and more I feel out of my league now that my daughter is older and assserting her will. I have to do so much work when the urge to yell at her or be rough with her physically comes up. Sometimes to keep myself from getting angry at her I distance myself emotionally, but I know this isn't good for her either (and my own mother was very emotionally distant most of the time, so it's what I'm most familiar with). Both my partner and I are under quite a bit of psycho-social stress (financial worries, both finishing graduate school). I'm not looking for another therapist. Does anyone know if there are any support groups for parents who were abused as children--where it's possible to share about the emotional struggles that are unique to our situation in addition to all the typical things like where are the best parks, etc? If there isn't such a group, is there anyone who would be interested in forming one? Struggling mama in Alameda

I don't know of one, but I'd be interested in joining you. struggling mom, too

I would be interested in starting a group. I live in Richmond, CA. I was emotionally and sexually abused as a 14-15 year old. I also have had much therapy, and am therapied out. However, I am a single parent, with no family and no contact with the bio father (his choice). I have worked with the non violent communication techniques which help. My son is nearly 9 now and has some problems (ADHD, depression? and possibly some undiagnosed learning disabilities). He's had therapy since he was 4 and is currently attending a therapeutic summer camp. I would like to have meetings that include childcare (I will help set this up if necessary) and offer my house for the meetings. I also struggle not so much with hitting but with yelling, and I am interested in hearing from anyone else with this problem, who wants to work on it in a supportive, non-judgmental environment of parents helping parents. Max's Mom