Secrecy. Lies. Guilt. Shame. These are the cornerstones of any abusive family. It doesn’t really matter the type of abuse, or the severity; the secrets, the lying, the overwhelming guilt and shame are there. In my case, for my childhood, it was sexual abuse that caused the secrets, and the lies, and the guilt and the shame. I hadn’t even acknowledged my own abuse before I had children, but before I ever admitted anything to myself, I knew I wanted things to be different for them.
If you ask my children, they will tell you I never lied to them. Ever. Sometimes, I bet they wished I would have. As they have grown up and grown older, I think it is one of the things they have come to count on: they can trust me. “Is there really such thing as the Easter Bunny?” my then two-year-old asked. My answer, “No. He is make-believe.” There is probably some appropriate middle ground between the lies and the secrecy of abuse and the honesty that I required of myself, but I couldn’t find the way there and so I made truth the only option, no matter the circumstances. I never kept secrets. I told them anything and everything they wanted to know.
Breaking the cycle is not an insurmountable task, nor is it an easy one. I went to the opposite end of the spectrum for my children. I was young and naïve. I thought if I gave them my time, and my heart, and my honesty that I would have successfully broken the cycle for my children. I believed if I was nice, they would be nice and that was my only rule – “be nice.” Again, there has to be a middle ground between abuse and never showing negative emotions. Thankfully, for my children, my approach worked. They were and are kind, considerate, wonderful people. When they were little, I thought if I was angry it made me a bad person. It took me a long time to realize that I was allowed to be angry. It’s what you do with the anger, or in the midst of it, that makes you either abusive or not. Simply having a negative emotion doesn’t make you horrible; it makes you human.
While my parenting tactics worked for my family, my children, they may or may not work for others. No one way of parenting works for every child or every family, and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but I do know this – every child deserves a peaceful, safe home, and it doesn’t really matter the reason for creating it for them.
Editor, Ask Lala
Laura Fogarty writes “Ask Lala” for the Stop Abuse Campaign. She is a mother, an advocate and the author of two children’s abuse prevention books: I’M THE BOSS OF ME! and WE ARE JUST ALIKE!