Pregnant, late father's abuse haunting me. Sorry for length.(32 Posts)
My father died eight years ago. He was a fundamentally good and well-intentioned person, but very damaged. He had an unstable background, his own father was abusive and died when he was 17 and he had a terrible time with his mother and sisters (one older, one younger). Everyone from that side of the family is damaged, though they show it in different ways.
He had a flaming temper, and growing up there was a lot of screaming, shouting and swearing, though when I was very young there were lots of displays of love and tenderness too (he used to make me toys out of paper and wood, loved taking me and my sister out to places and so on - he very much wanted children and liked them when they were younger). As I entered my teens, though, things got tense between us and his behaviour became abusive - every few weeks an argument would end with him chasing me into my room, cornering me, and slapping me across the face, kicking me or punching me in the mouth. He would call me names ('fucking parasite' 'piece of shit' and 'cheeky bitch' are the ones I remember most vividly but there were others) and tried to kick me out of the house when I was 15. (I actually stayed purely to piss him off - yeah, I know.) I was not a bad kid - quite the opposite, I was teased at school for being such a swot, I was a dedicated Girl Guide and Scout and actually a bit po-faced. He just couldn't accept that normal teenage moodiness wasn't personal and had no control over his temper, nor understanding of not escalating situations. He never touched my mother or sister, but there'd be screaming rows with them as well.
It was never taken seriously in my family and it still isn't. On occasion I told my mother I wanted to contact ChildLine and she would cry and tell me to stop being so dramatic and that I would ruin the family. I sometimes thought about going to the police but we were a respectable looking middle class family in a respectable middle class area, I was a good student, I wasn't being starved or beaten or locked in cupboards, and I suspected I wouldn't be taken seriously, indeed even doubted whether it was as serious as it sometimes felt. My mother still talks about how it came down to Dad's 'lack of confidence' and while she has learned not to speak about it like that to me because I won't accept it, she still doesn't quite accept how very serious it was and bristles if I use the term 'abuse'. If I'd had a boyfriend who treated me that way, my family wouldn't have rested until he was in prison. I remember actually being jealous of kids whose parents were divorcing because it was exactly what I wanted my parents to do. I didn't want to have to live with my father or have any contact with him.
It got a bit better after I went to uni, though he remained foul tempered and foul mouthed his entire life. I thought I'd made peace with it all but now I'm pregnant with my first child, it is coming back to haunt me. I am getting angrier and angrier that a)it happened and b)my family refused and still refuses to take it seriously, and I am also absolutely terrified that I will do similar things with my own child. I would sincerely rather not have a child at all than have the kind of relationship I had with my father (it was one reason I wasn't sure I wanted kids for a long time). I'm finding it hard to enjoy my pregnancy and look forward to my baby with my husband (who is wonderful) because this is all haunting me so much. I don't know if bringing it all up with my family all these years later will do any good though.
Is there a way of moving on through this so I can enjoy my pregnancy and look forward to my new family life?
And I've just realised the title reads as though my father is the one who's pregnant. Which has made me laugh!
I know exactly how you feel.
When I was pregnant with my first child Alice Millar's 'For Your Own Good' helped enormously.
I'm very sure that having gone through a horrible childhood you will be more aware of it and will not inflict the same pain on your own child.
Having your own child WILL show your family up for what it was, you'll really benefit from talking therapy.
Could you have a conversation with your midwife as a starting point?
I can relate to your experience, albeit in a different way. Becoming a parent yourself makes many, many people think about their own upbringings. It can make us see the past with a new perspective and perhaps a new level of injustice.
What happened to you was very, very wrong. You are entitled to have that acknowledged. But rest assured, you know it was wrong. This means that you will break this cycle.
Talking it through with a counsellor may help.
I dint know if bring it it up with your family will help but can you get support irl? Can you talk to a therapist? Fwiw i think that it is great that you recognize the abuse and want to do better for your baby.
Sheba. Have you had any counselling to help you to deal with feelings about your father's abuse? You still seem confused by it and as though you would like to excuse it (in the first part of your post). Perhaps because your family won't accept that he abused you?
I had similar fears when I was pregnant with my DD (now 5 yo) and remember telling friends I felt sorry for the child having me for a mother. Sometimes now, if she hits me / someone else I have to walk away as I feel angry with her for a few seconds. I think I would benefit from some counselling directly talking about childhood - have always avoided that and spoke instead about anxiety.
Over all though, so far my fears about being a terrible mother were unfounded. I don't have a temper with her, have never hit her and can't imagine behaving like my father.
I think counselling could really help. Pregnancy heightens all those feelings and it's so sad to have to waste your first pregnancy worrying
Thanks for the kind words, all, and the book recommendations, I'll check those out.
I did have counselling after my father died - I went into something of a black hole for a while after that. It's obviously very helpful for many people, but it didn't really work for me. I knew, and still do know, why I feel what I feel...I guess what I need are some psychological techniques/coping strategies to get this all out of my head and concentrate on the future and the positives. I really did think I'd laid this all to rest but pregnancy has brought it all up again.
But I have a midwife appointment next week, so I will mention it to her...
OP, I could have written your post. The abuse was different but the rest of it was the same. Right down to wishing my parents would divorce. It is incredibly painful having your mother deny your experience; I think it would have made a world of difference to me if my mum had said yes that was awful and I'm sorry. It's a self-defensive thing; she can't face the fact that she let you down.
You deserve to feel angry. It's alright. It's natural.
You are at risk with your family. They do minimizes, deny and blame. They are the problems not you. But don't try to get them to admit that.
I meant to say: I don't think bringing it up with your family would help. They are too strongly in denial. Your mother is attached to the idea of "the family" and isn't willing to acknowledge anything that threatens that. It sounds like your family conformed to some of the stereotypes you find in dysfunctional families: your mum was an enabler, you by the sounds of it were the scapegoat.
I remember telling my mum I wanted to live in foster care. I wish I had told someone other than my mother...
It's understandable that this is haunting you. But you are highly unlikely to make the same mistakes with your own child. The people who repeat their own childhoods are those who are in denial about what they experienced and how they felt about it. You are doing wonderfully. You have recognised that your father's behaviour was wrong, that it stemmed from his own upbringing, that it was to do with him and his inability to parent, and was not in any way an appropriate or proportionate response to anything you did. This is healthy and good.
I second the recommendation to read some Alice Miller. I also suggest you read some parenting books e.g. 123 Magic, Toddler Taming and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. Not because I think you don't know how to be a parent, but because it will give you confidence, and hopefully help you to feel better in yourself about your ability to break the cycle.
Also. I still go round and round in circles about whether what happened to me actually was abuse. I think I do this because it's hard having to just rely on my own opinion, without any witnesses to back me up. I can describe it to someone else and have them agree it was abuse, but a little voice in my head (my mum? my dad? who knows) tells me I'm exaggerating. The people who were actually there refuse to see it that way, which makes me question myself. It's crazy making.
It has helped me to think about why they are in denial; it's because it suits them and not because they're actually right. The more I listen to my own opinion, and remind myself of the reasons why nobody else agrees, the better I feel.
Thank you again, all. I wasn't expecting this, but actually just having a few people agree that it was abuse and take it seriously - even if you are internet people who are unknown to me - helps enormously. Perhaps I was looking for a little of the affirmation and acceptance of what it was that is lacking in my family, or maybe it's just that the kindness of strangers is comforting. Whatever the reason, thank you.
buttonmoonboots, I don't know how to be a parent - I've never been one. I know I will make mistakes, how could I not? But I hope that I will always remember my role is the one of adult and parent, and I cannot expect my child to display more emotional maturity than I have. I also hope that my husband, who is very calm, level headed and gentle - the absolute polar opposite of my father and I don't think that's a coincidence - will help show me the way as well.
I really thought screaming matches and slapping your kids across the face repeatedly while calling them every name under the sun was completely normal, and therefore I had no right to feel as terrible as I did about it. It didn't help that, like all abusers, my father told me it was my fault for making him angry and he wasn't responsible for what he did when he was angry. I knew that was wrong at the time but it took some years before I really truly believed it.
But yes, I don't think there's anything to gain by bringing it up with family now. Might make me feel better for a short period, and then what? The last thing I want is to cause family rifts at a time like this.
What do you think is bothering you more: the actual abuse, or your DM's refusal to admit that it happened?
My dad went WAY overboard with smacking when I was little. That stopped by the time I was 9 or 10. But when I got into my teens he took normal teenage moodiness personally, like your DF, and became physically abusive. We actually have a pretty good relationship now. He has never apologised or admitted he was wrong, but before I had my first DC we somehow ended up in a conversation where he said it was up to me to decide how I wanted to parent, that he did what he thought was best at the time and I would do what I thought was best. I thought he sounded regretful but decided not to push it.
DM is the one who gets to me because I have heard her swear blind that I was never actually hit. I'd rather she just admitted it happened!
My mother doesn't deny it happened - she witnessed some of it herself and to be fair she did sometimes argue with him about it and tell him he had to stop, though he always maintained it was my fault for making him angry. But she doesn't like discussing it and won't admit that it was abusive (though she doesn't argue with me when I use the word). I think she is more sympathetic to Dad and his damage than I am (inevitable, I suppose, as his wife rather than his daughter) so while she doesn't think it was right, she finds it more forgivable and explicable than I do.
At this point I guess I am angry again about the abuse because I'm getting a taste of what parenthood is and I'm angry that he didn't do his duty...but I'm also angry because he's left me with a bad template and I am petrified that history might repeat itself (though I'm very grateful to the MNers who have been so reassuring that it won't). I don't have his temper but I do take after him in some regards and who knows, maybe faced with a moody, mouthy teenager I will also forget that it's not personal and lash out because I feel my parental authority is being disrespected, or whatever. The other thing I'm hugely conscious of is never ever playing favourites if I had another child (again, Dad's the reason I'm not sure I would). Dad favoured my sister quite blatantly, he even told me that she was better than I was. He wasn't even angry at the time, it was a calm, matter of fact thing.
I really thought I'd healed from all this...awful feeling it rise again.
Sorry, I phrased that badly; I mean your mother won't acknowledge that it was abusive or validate your feelings about it. I have found my DM's denials so upsetting and invalidating. These days she's adamant that I was never hit. In the past she has commented that I was difficult, I wound my dad up etc, as if that makes it okay.
It does sound like you're in a position where you could really benefit from counselling if you're willing to try it again? I don't think you will repeat things, because you recognise that you shouldn't follow this template. And also you say: "maybe faced with a moody, mouthy teenager I will also forget that it's not personal". But your dad didn't forget this; he didn't understand it in the first place. You do.
It's hard feeling this rise up, but it's a good thing because it will ensure you don't repeat the cycle. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Maybe you are remembering it to remind you not to?
Oh whistle, that makes me angry. I'm sorry that's happening to you. Denying you were even hit is essentially calling you a liar, which is insult to injury. If it helps at all, I believe you, every word. You may well have been difficult and wound him up...well that's what teenagers do, I'm afraid. I was definitely mouthy and moody and smartarsed, but I was also 15. Our parents were 25+ years older...what's their excuse?
Mum never blamed me for it, but Dad did, to the very end. His logic was that I knew what would happen if he got angry, so it was my responsibility not to make him angry,or else I brought the consequences on myself. Sounds like your situation was rather similar. Fortunately for me, I never accepted that bullshit even at age 17. He once told me he wasn't responsible for what he did when he was angry, to which my smartarse teenage self shouted back, "Then who is? The ventriloquist with his hand up your bum? You're so weak and useless you can't help anything you do, is that what you're saying?"
Maybe further counselling would help...I might mention it to the midwife this week.
Oh, I'm sorry it made you angry. Thank you for believing me. I believe you too.
I'm really sorry your dad tried to make you responsible for his shoddy behaviour. It does indeed sound similar; I was always made to feel like I had brought it on myself and if only I could behave better it wouldn't have to happen. I'm very impressed with what your teenage self said I must say!
I hope it goes well with the midwife.
Don't be sorry, anyone would feel angry to hear someone had been abused and been accused of lying about it.
My teenage self was indeed pretty smartmouthed, and as Dad said that was why she kept getting hit...but I regret the fact I had to put up with his behaviour, not my own.
shebashimmyshake Im sorry that it was so so difficult growing up.
Fwiw I think you're very wise to acknowledge that it could happen again and to look for practical ways to handle it.
About not knowing how to bring up kids - I'm in the same boat as the patterns in my head about how to bring up children were kind of fractured into little pieces. So I've taken in a lot of advice, some from the local equivalent of the health visitor, some from older parents who have done a good job raising their own kids, some useful bits in conversation with other parents. Now and then asked for advice here too =)
There's a scheme that's meant to be very good on the practicalities of parenting called Triple P. I found one link here Triple P Parenting but I think there are more links too.
This scheme gives you an outline of what's reasonable to expect and how to go about the practical things eg dealing with mealtimes etc.
I do think in depth therapy (more than counselling) might help as the sort of abusive shouting and blaming and hitting you have talked about go very very deep. With the best will in the world, children drive you to your limits sometimes and when you're at the end of your tether you can fall back on the old, bad parenting models in your head. Therapy can help you there. YOu need a therapist you click with though, the right one for you. Some people respond better to a softly softly approach, others to being pushed a bit more.
So can Mindfulness, it really really can as it's about being aware of what you're doing.
Dealing with the anger is very hard. Physical exercise can help, such as swimming. Which is also an exercise that you can do when you are pregnant, fortunately Some people find writing helps. Others find punching a pillow or talkign about it to their partner / trusted friend.
Also, I personally think that learning to say sorry helps. "I'm sorry, Mummy should not have shouted like that. You can't hit yoru little brother/throw the shoe at the wall/run across the road, but it wasn't right for me to shout like that. Sorry".
At a guess you will never quite fully escape the effects of your own upbringing. Your own child will be a trigger for it. But what happens in the long term is that you get used to it happening and you do develop ways of coping. It becomes automatic to fall back on the more positive habits that you have developed and over a -long- time the intensity of the anger / hurt does become less. It can take a long time though. But in the end it just becomes part of life and not the biggest, most difficult part either ... because it's outweighed by the lovely times with your child.
Thanks Meerka, I'll check it out. I know kids can drive you round the bend sometimes and I'm worried that I might fall back to Dad's methods if I don't have a better technique in place already. I know I'll make mistakes as a parent, it's impossible not to. But I hope I won't make mistakes so massive that it puts my own child off having children.
I'll read those links...
I found your post very hard to read, because it echoed so closely my own experiences as a child and later during my pregnancy. My father is an alcoholic, my mother his enabler. My childhood and adolescence was characterised by his drinking, outbursts of temper, black moods, and being embarrassed by him being drunk and inappropriate in front of my friends and teachers. Occasionally I would rebel against it, say I was going to leave/tell Social Services (I have two younger siblings) only for my mother to cry and tell me I was melodramatic and causing trouble in the family.
Since I left home I've buried all that and have a lovely, peaceful life with a very kind and supportive DP. I've gained qualifications and have a professional career. Haven't really dwelt on all that shit for years. Marvellous.
When I became pregnant, however, it hit me over the head like a sledgehammer. I dreamt about it, so vividly that I could see the pattern on the wallpaper in a house I haven't been in for 15 years. I was terrified of carring all that baggage into my relationship with my dc. I felt as though I didn't know what a happy, functioning family was, and therefore couldn't provide that for my child.
I worried about that throughout my pregnancy, and felt angry and resentful that all the crap I'd lived through as a child was still following me and ruining what should be a happy time.
However. The moment my son was placed in my arms I knew that I was capable of looking after him, because I knew that I would do whatever was necessary to keep him safe. It really was as simple as that.
My relationship with both parents has taken a downturn since my son was born, simply because now I'm a mother I'm so much more judgemental about the way they let me and my siblings down. I simply can't understand or forgive driving a child in a car whilst drunk, or allowing a partner to do so (and the rest).
All the angst during my pregnancy though I put down to my brain trying to work things through, all the unresolved issues, in time for me to be at peace with it by the time the baby was born. Try to see it that way. You've lived through crap, but you're not defined by it. Your pregnancy is the time for you to think about what kind of a mother you want to be, and to prepare yourself to take on that role. Your brain is just nudging you along by making you reflect upon your own childhood.
I'm sorry for the extra-long post, but your OP resonated so much with me I just.wanted to tell you that I've been where you are, and I'm on the other side of it now with an 8 month old that I'd move heaven and earth for, and I know now that I'm not destined to follow the pattern set by my parents. Nor will you be. Wishing you all the best.
Cynara, what a wise, wonderful and reassuring post. Thank you.
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