Dear Emuna: Breaking the Abusive Pattern

January 14, 2012

6 min read


Am I destined to become an abusive mother because I was abused?

Dear Emuna,

Statistics show that abused children usually tend to become abusers. This is a very worrying thought for me. I am single right now but I have suffered enough being abused and I just want to be healthy and normal. Even more so, I want to be the most wonderful caring loving mother I can be. I think that my kids will deserve to have the best mother that they can have and this thought is a constant worry for me... I am scared to get married and ruin my children’s lives. How do I not let me past experiences shape me? How do I make sure that I will be the best mother that I can be?

-- Worried Future Parent

Dear WFP,

I think you have already made big strides towards ensuring that you will not be an abusive parent. Firstly, you are aware of the problem and the risk. You are likely to be constantly on the alert for any signs of even slightly inappropriate behavior. You are going to be watchful and careful.

Secondly, you desperately want to be a good parent. You will likely work hard at that endeavor and parent very thoughtfully. Hard work and determination are the fundamental building blocks of any personal growth and certainly crucial to parenting.

Thirdly, you phrased your concern in terms of your children’s needs (“they deserve the best mother”) instead of your own. This selfless attitude and outward focus will definitely inhibit your ability or “desire” to be abusive. Additionally, you won’t be alone. You will have your husband to support and guide you and refocus you if you start to make a mistake, to catch you before you fall.

The Sages say that the Almighty leads us in the direction we want to go. We have to make the effort and you sound like you’re prepared to do just that. I would highly recommend seeing a professional to work through some of your issues and to get more specific guidance and tools. I would highly recommend working on patience and working on letting go. But you clearly want to grow, you clearly want to change. Whatever the situation, we all need help parenting. We all need to be conscious parents; we all need to watch what we say and how we act. We are all overwhelmed and we all need the Almighty’s help. It’s possible you need an extra dose – just ask for it!

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I give my 15 year-old daughter a ride to school every day. She is so busy that I thought this would be quality bonding time for us. But when I try to engage her in conversation, she is either too preoccupied texting her friends (the ones she’s going to see in 10 minute when I drop her off!) or she responds with the current version of “whatever.” I am so frustrated. I’ve set aside this time especially for the two of us and it all seems for naught. What should I do?

-- Mom Who’s Trying to Bond

Dear MWTB,

Well, I can tell you what you shouldn’t do. Don’t take your frustration out on your daughter. She didn’t plan this time together; you did. All she expected was a ride to school!!

Whatever the age of your children, I don’t think you can really plan quality time. It has to happen more spontaneously, on their schedule, not yours. You just have to be available when the mood hits them – whatever the time and place.

That said, while you can’t force quality time or even conversation, you can (and should) teach proper behavior – decency, respect and appreciation.

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to suggest that when you are doing a kindness for your children, it is common courtesy for them to express their appreciation and to respond politely to your conversational gambits. Whether they find what you have to say interesting or not!

It is part of our job as parents to explain to them how to behave, particularly when someone else is going out of their way for them. We are actually not fulfilling our parental responsibilities if we indulge their bad character.

Don’t feel it’s all for naught. You are still creating a relationship. You are still bonding. You are still creating memories. You are still providing stability and security in their tumultuous teenage lives. You don’t know what the future impact will be or how they will look back on this time, but I am guessing it will actually be with fondness and humor.

So tough it out now, keep your spirits up, keep laughing. And perhaps along the way your daughter will learn another important lesson – that her rude, dismissive behavior is actually not in her self-interest. If she would behave just a little nicer to you, you might even consider letting her get her learner’s permit…

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

You’re going to think this is a very trivial issue but it’s actually become a major source of tension in our otherwise healthy marriage. I am a late night nosher. My favorite thing to eat in bed is really crispy and crunchy potato chips. Believe it or not, this has turned into a struggle with my husband. He says that I am “noisy, rude and inconsiderate”. I counter that my days are busy and that eating chips is part of my down time and relaxation before bed. I try to keep the crumbs to a minimum and stop eating when he’s ready to sleep but he’s still annoyed. It’s become an unpleasant way to end the day. What should I do?

-- I Can’t Eat Just One

Dear Nosher,

Since I am a big potato chip fan myself, I am empathic to your situation. And while I would be happy to spend time with you discussing the merits and drawbacks of the different brands, I’m afraid that I have to side with your husband. I’m sure he’s tired at the end of the day also. He crawls into bed looking for his down time which probably includes peace and quiet. Loud crunching is jarring and disturbs his sense of calm. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those crumbs migrate across the room. If you must eat chips before bed (Although, as I said, I empathize, I do recognize that it’s a bad habit), do it in another room, out of earshot of your spouse – or develop a fondness for quiet food like puddings. You mention that you have an “otherwise healthy marriage.” It seems foolish to allow this to interfere. Count your blessings – and shut your mouth.

-- Emuna

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