I Don't Hit My Kids

Mayhap I should get a bumper sticker that says it, eh?  Can you see it in the Costco parking lot? "MY KID IS AN HONOR STUDENT" "MY SON IS A MARINE" "MY OTHER CAR IS THE BATMOBILE" and then, on my Ford Focus: "I DON'T BEAT MY CHILDREN".

I don't talk about it very often, and when I do, it's in the company of good, trusted friends and usually after a few healthy servings of liquor.  It's not something one brags about, you see, but I think it's about time I boast:

I was beat up as a kid. A lot. Kicked, hit, slapped, punched a few times. Shoved, screamed at, embarrassed in front of friends and neighbors and sometimes complete strangers. It started when my mom married my stepfather, and continued until I was big enough and old enough and brave enough to fight back. The scars I bear are all in my head, I was lucky enough to never need stitches or a cast. The only doctors I needed then, and still need today, are the kind who try to mend broken minds.

My mind isn't completely broken, but I do have my own set of limps from the beatings I endured.  If you look up "Symptoms of adults who were abused as children" you'll pretty much find my eHarmony profile:

"Hi! I'm Jenny. I'm a divorced mom of four with low self-esteem and severe trust issues.  I like to eat and drink my feelings, and my feelings usually taste like inadequacy and panic.  I don't like to be touched but OMG do I love dogs!  If you're looking for a mate with strong family ties and great interpersonal skills, you might want to skip me.  However, if you have always wanted to be with someone who can't remember most of her childhood, I'm your gal. Plus I make a great bowl of lentils AND I love action/adventure movies. BOOM."

I didn't even remember what had happened, had virtually no memories of it, until I had a chat with a close friend after one of our high school reunions.  She had been unable to attend and wanted the deets. As I filled her in on who looked fabulous, who got fat, who was bald, who left with whom, she chimed in: "I still can't believe you turned out okay, Jenny." I laughed, a confused and nervous laugh..."What are you talking about?" I asked her.

"I mean, the way you were beat up all the time. It was awful. I remember the couple of times it happened in front of me, and it scarred me, Jenny. I can't believe you're as normal as you are."

I pressed her for more details, and as they spilled out I felt so detached, almost like I was listening to her read aloud from a book. A book about a girl who army-crawled out of a room, trying to avoid the punches and the kicks of a madman. A girl who sought refuge under her bed, looking for big feet under the hem of her Laura Ashley comforter while she sobbed big silent sobs.

After we said our goodbyes and made promises to meet up for lunch or dinner, I sat on the edge of my unmade bed. The kids were at school and I was alone,save for my sweet dog Walter. I sat there, quietly, for what felt like days but in reality was more like ten minutes. I remember shaking myself out of my fugue and getting on with the tasks of the day: the laundry, the cleaning, the facebooking. On with my normal life.

That night I woke up screaming. My dreams had morphed into black nightmares full of pain and sorrow and big fists and a red face, beaded with sweat and screaming at me. Images of my mom, watching. Standing in the background with her own, smaller, fists clenched. Doing nothing until it was over, and then I heard her voice: "Go apologize to her" she'd said. A man's voice, still choked with anger:   "I'm sorry."

I'm sorry. You know what? I'm sorry too. I sometimes wonder what I would have turned out like if I hadn't gone through those scary times. Would I be different? Would I be happier?  More well-adjusted?

I bet I would love massages.

I can't get massages, you see. Something in me recoils at the thought, and up until that phone call with an old friend I laughed it off as one of those "Crazy Jenny Things".  Now I kind of understand why I don't like them. I understand why I have trouble trusting anyone, even the people closest to me. I understand why I sometimes find myself paralyzed, unable to move from a spot because my mind has decided to take a break. Like it did when I was younger, after I pulled myself out from under my bed, dried my tears and winced as I put on my Lanz of Salsburg nightgown and tried to finish my homework.

I remember now, how I used to go about my days like everything was hunky-dory, like the biggest concern in my life was whether or not my hair made me look like Belinda Carlisle, not whether or not I was going to have the shit beat out of me later that night. I dealt with the teenage crap like most of us did, and even though I wouldn't call myself the Poster Child of Success I'd like to think I did okay.

But the biggest test, by far, was motherhood. Of course, the fact that I had successfully blocked out 99% of my childhood memories gave me a leg up on the whole "cycle of abuse" thing but it's not all about memories. Feelings can't be forgotten, they get stored away like Christmas decorations. I remember holding my first newborn as he cried for hours on end and feeling helpless, feeling stupid and feeling something else...rage.

The anger I felt as a mother was something of epic proportions. Never before had I felt such a seething hot surge of emotion, roiling and crashing into my head. Looking back, now I see that one thing I never learned to handle was the anger I felt as a young girl. I was furious. Furious that someone was hurting me, furious that nobody would help me. I did a great job of burying that fury, but having kids unearthed all of it.

But here's the kicker:

I don't hit my kids.

Do I get mad? Hell yes. You know the trite old saying, "I see red"? I really do see red. Like Red-O-Vision. My pulse quickens, my face gets hot, and sometimes I look down and see my own pale hands coiling into tight fists. A good shrink would tell me that the anger takes me back, back to fifth grade, back to the day I first got hit and looked at the giant red handprint on my ten year old thigh, looked at it with an almost comical disbelief. "He hit me!" I remember thinking. I remember my childish indignant anger.

That anger is still with me, and sadly it's still somewhat childish and still very indignant.


I yell sometimes. I swear. At my weakest, I slam things. I say things to them that I probably shouldn't, things that we talk about after the clouds break and the air in our house has stabilized. Oh, yes, there was that one time I took a swing at my eldest with a spoon I'd been stirring mac and cheese with, but in my defense, he's over six feet tall and it was Winter Break.

I don't hit my kids.

What's the point, Crazy? Is that what you're asking yourself, if you've read this far? I do have one, aside from my need to tell you that I DON'T HIT MY KIDS.

My childhood didn't turn me into a monster. It could have, oh so easily. I could have grown up into a horrible child abuser, or become a runaway or I could have tried to find safe love by having a baby of my own when I was 15. But I didn't. By the grace of God, or a guardian angel, it didn't destroy me. Maybe because the abuse didn't start until I was 10? Maybe because it stopped when I was in high school? Who knows.

I do know this: right now, this very second, there is a child being hurt. Someone you know, maybe a kid from your child's school or your church or down the street...they are being abused. Maybe a stepparent is punching them, maybe a mom is hurting them, maybe the stereotypical creepy uncle is touching their privates. Maybe you were hurt when you were little and innocent and defenseless. Maybe your spouse was abused.  Child abuse is epidemic, and we don't talk about it as openly and as honestly as we should. And that's a shame.

It occurred to me, one morning. My daughter was doing her Final in Culinary Arts and we woke up early to package up her supplies for the meal she's making this afternoon. I showed her how to julienne her carrots and we laughed about that old Saturday Night Live skit where Dan Aykroyd played Julia Child and cuts his finger (I've cut the dickens out of my finger!). As she and the rest of the kids left to catch the bus, they called out "Bye! Love you, mom!".

My kids have known grief. They've no doubt felt anger, too. But my kids have never felt that fear I felt, they've never fled a room in terror like I did. They've never had to face an adult who has just violated their rights and listened to a pathetic apology. They've never looked at my handprint on their bodies, rising up as an angry red welt.

I want those kids who have been hurt to know this, and I want the people who love them to know this: They will be okay. This will not ruin them. Get them some counseling, love them extra hard, be there for them. But believe me when I say, this will not wreck their lives.

You want to know how I know this is true?

Because I don't hit my kids.

And just to lighten the mood before I go, because you all know by now that I prefer laughs over tears, here's a dickens of a flashback:

The French Chef by y10566


  1. This is so brave. And so beautiful, in its own way. From my heart to yours, peace and awe.

    Rock on, woman.

    1. Thank you. And wowza, glad you commented so I could read your stuff! We have some common ground, my friend. I look forward to digging in there and reading more.

  2. I never cry. Frick..

    I am actually unable to say anything intelligent here, right this second, other than to say I can relate to your story in many ways and it touched me deeply.

    Thanks for sharing.

    That took guts.

    1. Awww...well, sorry about the tears but thank you for reading. This was easy to write but hard to publish, in fact a day hasn't passed where I haven't thought about deleting it. But the response I've received has convinced me to keep it up.

      Thank you for reading, and responding.

  3. Wow Jenny. This is one powerful post. I had absolutely no idea you went through hell like this. I am so very, very sorry...I can only imagine how horrible it was. I still do not understand how anyone can ever harm a child -- or how anyone else can stand there and just let it happen. I'm not trying to judge anyone here...but it's alien to me, just sayin'...
    I took a class on children's mental health once, and one of the concepts that stuck with me is how fatally easy it is for people who were abused to continue the cycle of abuse with their own kids. Even if they block out the bad memories like you have. Sadly, it's a lot more usual than cases like yours. So you should be profoundly proud that you don't hit your kids!! One more way in which you are an incredibly strong person, and far more mentally healthy than you probably feel sometimes. In fact, I'll end this with one of my favorite quotes ever: "No matter how messed up you may feel sometimes, there is ALWAYS someone who loves you and knows you are amazing." (And -- I say this from experience -- no matter how hard that may be to believe sometimes, it IS true!)
    Oh, one more thing: One other person who would have admired you profoundly for not hitting your kids, and who I wish was around to hear your story, is my Dad. He had the same experience as you: his mother was very abusive to him when he was a kid, emotionally as well as physically (she was a profoundly unhappy person). I didn't even know how badly she treated him till I was all grown up. Evidently he promised himself that when he grew up and had kids of his own, he would treat them the polar opposite of how he'd been treated...and he was always very wonderful and never at all abusive to me, like you with your kids. So he would be really, really, REALLY proud of you...and so am I.

    1. Man..now I'm all weepy. Sounds like you got a lot of your essence from your dad..what a great guy. I appreciate your friendship and support more than I can properly express.

      Thank you.

  4. Don't know what to say here. Just that I'm so sorry that you had to go through that mess as a kid. I want to reach out and give you a cyber-hug. And I think you're really brave for writing about it, and letting people know that you don't have to become another statistic and follow down a dark path. You can forge ahead and make your own.

    Oh, and that SNL clip had me cracking up. Hope you're enjoying the sunshine today. I think it's burning my retinas.

    1. Thank you Traci! Hugs back my interweb friend. I don't know about the brave part though, part of me feels like I'm pulling back a curtain on a dark space that should never see the light of day. But I needed to write about it as a sort of self-healing, if that makes sense. A lot of stuff going on in my life and I needed to get down in writing why I react to things the way I do.

      Holy crap...do I owe you a co-pay now? Thanks for the therapy session, LOL.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. This is a terrific post. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Haddayr! I am looking forward to meeting you. Although..you look SO familiar to me, I think our paths have crossed before. We shall see!

      Thank you for reading. And congratulations on LTYM!

  6. I didn't see this before; I'm glad you linked to it today. I'm so sorry for what you went through. I had some icky things happen in childhood that I don't talk about, so I think you are very brave.

    I love you!

  7. I'm a regular reader of your blog and just now came across this post. I can't get massages either. I can't stand to be touched by anyone other than my husband and my kids. And I finally realize why. All these years and I never figured it out. thank you for sharing. ((((Hugs)))))


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