Abusive Parents Know They’re Abusive – and here’s why

I’m talking about parents who mistreat their children, who scream at them, humiliate them, hit them. They know for a *fact* that if the other person were a friend who was older, bigger, independent, and could leave, they wouldn’t scream at them like that. I’ve seldom seen abusive parents treat their friends the way they treat their children.

Abusive parents have full knowledge that what they’re doing is horrible, because they reserve their abuse for the most vulnerable, weak, and dependent people in their lives. People who had neither the choice to be with them in the first place (for unfortunately children don’t get to choose their parents), and who have no ability to leave them. For a child, and the younger they are the truer this is, leaving means death. And that’s the person in their lives that they choose to abuse.

The cowardice of this is unimaginable.

The Discipline Defense

Some of these abusers will claim that their abuse is not abuse at all, and that they’re merely teaching their children a lesson. “I wish I didn’t have to hit my children, but how else will they learn?”

Bullshit. If you can’t relate to another human being without using violence, you need to get into therapy, right now.

Change that sentence to “I wish I didn’t have to hit my wife, but how else will she learn?” and now in the minds of most people your abuse is quickly revealed. Unfortunately, wives, who choose their husbands and can leave, are seen as far more deserving of protection from abuse than children, who have no choice and cannot leave. This double standard, in which for many people the first sentence is perfectly fine, is a large part of the problem.

As a parent, it’s your job to find another way. And in fact, you already have.

When you disagree about something with your spouse or your friend, you don’t scream at them and abuse them. At least, not as a solution. If you do, you know that they’ll just end up growing to hate your guts, and that the disagreement will never be resolved that way.

And if screaming matches are what characterize your relationship with your spouse, the absolute last thing you should be doing is bringing a child into that mess.

Dysfunctional families know full well that abuse never leads to any kind of reconciliation or understanding. It certainly doesn’t lead to friendship and love. What it does lead to is a lot of hate.

You know that if you want to communicate well with someone you don’t scream at them. What do you do when you want a promotion at work? Do you scream at your coworkers, hit them, and call them names? No, that would be a fast way to get fired, because when you act like that around people who can remove you from their lives, they do, unless they have no self-respect and tragically grew up in an environment where abuse is all they knew.

Look at people talking to each other in stores. And then look at people talking to their kids in stores. Indeed, the kids are not treated as people. Their needs are disregarded as an inconvenience, their emotions are looked down upon as an annoyance. They’re called names, pushed around, hit, and shouted at. They are treated as sub-human.

The Defense from Ignorance

Is the defense of an incurious coward. Someone who does not have the courage to even research what it is that they’re getting into.

Yet in any other matter they know that this is the path to success. When it comes to driving a car, everyone knows that there’s a theory and a practical aspect that needs to be learnt before it can be safely done. When talking about exams, everyone knows that if you want high grades, you need to study a lot. There’s no denying that preparation as a key to success is widely known. Yet I’ve seen few parents prepare to take care of their children’s emotional needs or to break the cycle of abuse that they were subjected to, going back hundreds of generations.

Language gives away abusive parents

‘Don’t treat them like children.”

A phrase that quickly evokes the double standard present here. You see, children deserve a special kind of treatment. To not treat someone as a child means to not take away their responsibility when they’re able to handle it and need it to grow; to not scream at and be mean and sadistic to them. If you want your kids to grow up to be independent humans beings, treat them like that as early as possible. If you want your children to grow up to be respectful, treat them with the same respect you treat your friends.

“I’m your parent, not your friend.”

Because you know full well that if you treated your friends the same way you treat your child, with a blatant disregard for their feelings and wishes, that they would leave. You don’t treat your child like a friend, you treat them much worse than that, and yet they can’t leave. You know you’re not being friendly. You know the mask of niceties you wear around your friends has been taken off and you’ve been revealed to be a brute tyrant. And you take pride in that.

The above is all proof that abusive parents know they’re being abusive. That a person selects exactly the most vulnerable and dependent person in their lives to be abusive towards because they can’t leave them, is absolute cowardice. In fact, I would go further to say that in such situations, the parents probably had their child just for that reason. They didn’t have anyone else in their lives who would put up with their crap, so they made someone for whom leaving would mean death.

How many parents have their kids in mind when they have kids?

Do they ask themselves: “Well, what’s my kids experience of me going to be like?” Based on the kind of “role-modeling” I see so many parents provide for their children, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t. Abusive parents want children not because they think they can do a great job and raise some wonderful kids, but for selfish reasons.

They want children because they want a retirement plan, or because they’re lonely, or because they want the power and control they never had as a child, and that they can now have over their own helpless, defenseless, and dependent children. And sometimes the reasons are much worse. Not being able to leave is precisely the whole attraction to having children for such parents.

“Let’s have kids, that’ll solve our problems!”

Right… You can’t maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, so bringing more people with unmet needs and unheard feelings into your life is going to make your life easier. The selfishness of such thinking is mind-boggling.

The way you dysfunctionally relate to others around you (which you role-model for your kids), and the way you dysfunctionally relate to your kids, are all going to be how they grow up to dysfunctionally relate to the world, their friends (or lack thereof), their partners, and eventually their children.

It’s been my experience of talking to people that many of those who would become the best parents, don’t want to have children. They understand that meeting all the needs of children is very hard work, and they choose not to have kids. It’s the people who don’t even empathize with their child’s perspective, who most readily run off and have them unprepared. This is tragic.

Newsflash: parenting is not mandatory. In fact, parenting is very costly, both in time and money. You could be trekking through a forest, backpacking in Europe, jumping out of airplanes, and still have money left over for the cost of a year of parenting. Here’s a simple rule: if you don’t think you can do a good job of it, don’t have kids. Wait until you’re ready to be a good parent, because for all the problems our species is facing right now, extinction due to underpopulation is not one of them.

I’m not ready – not even close, so I’m not on some kind of high horse here. I have all kinds of dysfunctional behaviors that I need to figure out before I’m ready to have kids, and it’s going to take years. And yet I don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs. I don’t scream at people or hit them. I’ve got plenty experience of working with and looking after children that are not my own, and they seemed to enjoy being with me, and I have an enormous amount of empathy for children. But I’m not yet emotionally healthy enough to be a parent, nor do I have enough money saved up or enough knowledge about parenting. Perhaps one of the reasons I have such high standards for parents is to make sure that I don’t become one myself until I’m ready.

Forgiving abuses by other people is a convenient way of forgiving our own. Sometimes even preemptively.

There are two very simple tests for good parenting

These are the questions every child and adult should ask themselves about their parents:

  1. If you could choose any parents in the whole world, would you still choose your parents?
  2. If you weren’t related to your parents, and by chance met them somewhere, would you want to be friends with them? Would you seek them out and spend your free time with them?

And this is the set of questions reserved for parents to ask of themselves:

  1. If your child could choose any parents in the whole world, would they still choose you?
  2. If your child wasn’t related to you, and as an adult met you somewhere, would they want to get to know you better and hang out with you as a friend?

These questions are all the more critical because this choice does not exist. When you grow up, you can certainly move away and even cut ties entirely, but for your entire formative years in childhood, you’re stuck with whatever the parental lottery served you up.

So if as a child, your answers to the above questions are “No”, then you need to get sad, and then you need to get seriously angry, because your parents failed you. And it is only when you get angry at your own parents’ abuse, that you will ensure you will never allow yourself to repeat it.

Forgiveness of such abuse is the path to repeating it. Repudiation of that abuse is the first step to breaking the cycle.

This, in my experience, is the only reason I’ve seen people defend abusive parents. Because they don’t want to take a closer look at their own parent’s abuses.

Or worse, because they’ve already become a part of the club, and replicated those abuses themselves.

13 thoughts on “Abusive Parents Know They’re Abusive – and here’s why”

  1. PersonWithLostPotential

    I don’t normally comment on articles. But wow.

    Just utterly wow.

    Both of my parents were and are emotionally abusive. They didnt hit me, and they didn’t scream anywhere near as much as most parents but their abusive behavior was done in a very manipulative way as to make it look like it wasn’t abuse.

    Your article is so well written and so clear, and so much parellels my experiences.

    My childhood was robbed from me, and than because I was getting such a late start in life, the best years of my adulthood was robbed from me because even though people are so eager to tell people to “man up, your an adult now, what your parents did was nothing…” etc., they are so far off base and so ignorant and if the majority of people had experienced what I went through as a child they would’ve committed suicide by now.

    Yet I’m not, I’m struggling, but working very hard to fix my life.

    I have no desire to have kids but if I have kids I will not continue the cycle of abuse.

    My roommates want kids and just recently got a puppy, and the way they talk about wanting to have kids, and how they treat the puppy they just got, it’s very clear they only want to have power over someone because they feel powerless themselves.

    Not to say they aren’t victims of their parents, I know some stuff one of my roommates went through and his parents were definitely abusive, but seriously…. to get a puppy just to feel like you have control over your own life — that’s so inconsiderate of the puppies life.

    Not to mention how they only want kids so they can control the kid(s).

    My same roommate also said things about the girl who was recently on the news in an elevator and who’s millionaire football player husband beat her and was caught on tape.

    I was explaining to him how difficult my life was and how I’m struggling and he voided it out and he said I could’ve left at any time.

    I explained to him how that’s not exactly true, and mentioned her situation and said it’s the same thing it’s just emotional abuse not physical abuse and he said i could’ve gone to the school guidance counselor at any time.


    The abuse changes the way you think so you don’t think you can even if (a non-abused person would clearly see the way out), a currently abused or recovering from abuse-person won’t see it.

    You very clearly explained in this article why it’s not exactly easy/possible at a young age.

    And once the pattern of abuse is set and you don’t have a frame of reference, your screwed growing up BECAUSE of how it would mean death to leave as a child so you couldn’t leave the abuser(s) and than abuse over time gets its chance to work numbers on your mental state.

    Thanks for this article.

  2. Zev TheClusterLizard

    “I’m your parent not your friend” is a legitimate thing to say, but I’ve no doubt abusive parents misuse the term.

    My mom is mentally unstable. I’m still in contact with her but I cannot trust her. Interaction with her has improved drastically now that she’s medicated and I live far away from her, but conversations still take horrible turns when she inquires about my personal life or asks me her favored “did you eat?” question (long story).

    1. Well, I am a black person raised by an EXTREMELY abusive Jamaican mother, both physical and emotional while African American dad wasn’t present. I don’t want to support racists claims but what else am I left to think. ( I also saw it in a Puerto Rican and Italian family where the mother was VERY verbally abusive to all her stepkids and put her own bio daughter above the others, creating a narcissist.) It probably has to do with generations of abuse from white slave masters. It was the ultimate control. Why wouldn’t an abusive black parent use those techniques?

      1. Libertarian Prepper

        I’m sorry about your experience with child abuse.

        To support your comment, I’ll say the fact that black parents are more abusive towards their kids than white parents is a statistical fact. You can look up statistics regarding abandonment, physical abuse, etc., Black parents are always ranked at the top. Not that white parents tend to rank that well either. The difference is not that huge when it comes to physical abuse, although rates of abandonment for black fathers in America are way higher than for any other ethnicity. That’s relatively new though – the black family was in much better shape (in terms of present fathers) about a century ago.

        I can’t say for sure what the higher rates of physical and other abuse are caused by. Parenting is passed on through the generations, but, it does seem that parents in Africa who are descendants of people who were not enslaved, are no better than black parents in America, so I would guess that this precedes slavery.

    2. I noticed that in Chinese communities as well.
      Chinese are not really that different from other Blacks or Asians in their common abusive tendencies.
      Chinese are also known to be extremely abusive in workplaces.

  3. antigordonandjustin

    Thank you for this article.

    While I wasn’t raised in an awfully abusive home, my wife was. Her father was verbally & physically abusive to both her older brothers, and her mother was too (just to a lesser extent). I still see the abusive behavior from her 90 year old mother towards my stepdaughter, who is now 13. Grandma may have mellowed somewhat as my stepdaughter has grown, but the hostility still surfaces at times. If I tried to protect my stepdaughter from her grandmother’s abusive language (‘brat, ‘imbecile’) or phrases (‘are you deaf?’, ‘do you understand the English language?’), I was subjected to verbal abuse myself. In other words, how DARE anyone stand up to the great MIL. My wife frequently had it out with her mother over this, so Grandma was very careful not to do it in front of others (although she did it in front of me). I hate my wife’s mother but my wife defends her by saying ‘that’s just how she is, and you just have to put up with her. You don’t have to love her’. I think my wife has been groomed by her mother to put her birth family first, at all costs.

  4. My mother has been abusive to me since I was about 4 years old.(but maybe even before then I can’t remember though) She has been mean to me & has ripped out my soul & stopped on it a thousand times. She’s weird because she actually smiles & will laugh at my discomfort & emotional pain. She would make me cry in front of my friends & laugh hysterically, even on my birthday. She will then spend $$$ on me & says “you have no right to be mad at me, I just spent $300 on you ungrateful little brat” she would then backhand me across the face. Or throw my toys out of the toy box & say in a scary nasty voice “clean this mess up now!!” She would yank me around by my hair if my hair wasn’t doing what she wanted when she was fixing it. Like it was my fault my hair wasn’t styling itself. & She would hit me, beat me with a belt very bad, spit in my face etc. and she actually tried for like 3 years to have me. Then when my dad left her she told me almost yearly, it’s MY fault he left. Like what the hell?
    I’m 32 now & I can see she’s very very mentally unstable. She will offer me money to do yard work then talk shit saying I only come over for $$&. It’s sick games& I’m done with her. Once she’s gone I think I’ll be able to actually breath easier w/o always being scared I’m doing something wrong.

  5. I believe my parents knew they were mistreating me in the beginning but eventually blamed me for “making them” abuse me.
    Both my parents were narcissists and each had a child they chose to be their “golden child” who they adored and spoiled and who worshipped them.
    I was chosen as the family scapegoat and was abused by both parents and siblings.
    Eventually I believe my parents labeled me as a “problem child” and blamed ME for the abusive way I was treated.
    Both my parents are dead and I don’t miss them at all. I went no contact with my siblings who grew up with the family dynamic that I was not worthy of respect.
    I believe scapegoating is the most common form of child abuse because it is the easiest to get away with. Outsiders see a lovely happy family and a “black sheep”.

  6. Rates of child abuse investigations and interventions are higher among Black parents than white parents but that does not mean that the actual rates of abuse are higher. We simply do not know that. Most of the existing stats we have pull from reported incidents of abuse, and researchers are not sure what role bias may play in reporting. Epidemiological research on child abuse incidence has been neglected and underfunded to the point that there are a lot of ‘basics’ we don’t really know, as well as methodological problems that we haven’t sufficiently addressed. Adopting universal screening of adverse childhood experiences may shift the state of data in the future, but at present the data on child abuse incidence has methodological problems that affect estimates by race. The literature on child abuse does not provide a “statistical fact” that Black parents are more abusive than parents of other races.

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